Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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MacIver, a “think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government,” sponsors a “separately branded” MacIver News Service. Some of Wisconsin Governor Evers's press events are open to the public, and others are limited to subsets of the media of varying size. The Governor’s Office maintains a media advisory list to notify members of the media of events. The original list was based on newspaper circulation, radio listenership, and TV viewership.MacIver reporters learned of an invitation-only press and, although not invited, sent an RSVP. They were not admitted. Hundreds of other media personnel were also not invited to the small event. MacIver requested the criteria used to determine which journalists would be allowed access. The Governor’s Office distributed guidance for determining how media would be granted access to limited-access events, noting that the “most important consideration is that access is based on neutral criteria.” The factors were adapted from standards used by the Wisconsin Capital Correspondents Board and the U.S. Congress. According to the Governor, MacIver is not included on the list because MacIver Institute “is not principally a news organization” and “their practices run afoul of the neutral factors.”MacIver sued, citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Governor Evers. The press conferences were non-public fora and the criteria that the Governor used to accept or exclude media were reasonable. There is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination under any First Amendment test. View "John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Inc. v. Evers" on Justia Law

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Gamble, an African-American, began working for FCA in 2015 and received a copy of FCA’s policy concerning sexual harassment, which could result in termination. Months later, two female employees complained that Gamble had sexually harassed them. After interviewing witnesses, Pollard, a human resources manager, concluded that Gamble had violated FCA’s policy and issued a warning. He acknowledged the warning and attended remedial training but disputed the harassing nature of his comments. In 2017, Gamble’s supervisor reported that he had witnessed Gamble acting inappropriately toward a female. Pollard initiated another investigation. Another woman complained that Gamble had also acted inappropriately toward her. Gamble was terminated.He filed suit, alleging discriminations based on his race, age (63), and disability (having battled cancer), and citing Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; 42 U.S.C. 1981; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C, 12112; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.A. 621–34.1 The district court granted FCO summary judgment. Gamble had abandoned his ADEA and ADA claims; his section 1981 claim for race discrimination was time-barred by a provision in his employment contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable jury could infer that Gamble was treated less favorably than a similarly situated employee outside of his protected class. There was no evidence FCA gave a pretextual reason for firing him. View "Gamble v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC" on Justia Law

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Pavlicek, age 49. applied for Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. He suffers from anxiety, depression, severe tremors, and pseudoseizures that resemble epileptic seizures but stem from psychological causes. A truck driver, he has a high-school education. Two non-examining agency consultants determined that he could function with some limitations. Pavlicek testified that he had constant tremors and had seven pseudoseizures in the past 16 months when he lost consciousness; in seven other episodes, he remained conscious. A vocational expert testified about employers’ tolerance for absenteeism and about a hypothetical employee with various restrictions. The treating psychiatrist reported that Pavlicek could not work.The ALJ determined that Pavlicek retained the residual functional capacity to perform medium work with exceptions and could perform work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ largely dismissed the report by the treating psychiatrist, who had not justified how his findings could apply “as far back as 2013,” having not treated Pavlicek until 2015 and who relied heavily on Pavlicek’s subjective reporting. The ALJ noted the “infrequent” nature of the treatment relationship and that the report’s assessment of severe functional limitations was unsupported by the clinical records. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The decision was supported by substantial evidence. The court rejected claims that the ALJ gave inadequate reasons for rejecting the treating psychiatrist's opinion, afforded too much weight to the opinions of non-examining agency physicians, and posed hypothetical questions to the vocational expert that failed to account for his limitations. View "Pavlicek v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Jones and Wansley worked at Illinois Post Office branches. Working with Smith and other co-conspirators, they arranged and executed a scheme to ship packages containing marijuana and marijuana derivatives through the mail. Jones and Wansley intercepted the packages and handed them off to others for cash bribes.They were charged with bribery, 18 U.S.C. 201(b)(2)(C), conspiracy to commit obstruction of correspondence and theft of mail, 18 U.S.C. 371, and obstruction of correspondence, 18 U.S.C. 1702. The government presented evidence of trash pulls at Smith’s home, surveillance of Jones improperly scanning packages, text messages concerning addresses and payments, observation of hand-offs, and “controlled” deliveries of packages that the government had intercepted and repackaged. Jones and Wansley made statements to postal inspectors following their arrests, admitting to the crimes and describing some of the transactions. At trial, Jones testified that Smith was simply a customer who was having trouble with deliveries, so Jones offered to help intercept Smith’s packages and that the payments from Smith were tips for good service. Wansley testified that she was just following orders from Jones, her supervisor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their convictions and their sentences, Jones to eight months’ imprisonment and Wansley to 30 days’ imprisonment, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 1987, Central purchased certain Soo assets, including LST rail lines. Soo agreed to retain liability and indemnify Central for “all claims for environmental matters relating to ownership of the Assets or the operation of LST that are asserted” within 10 years of closing, after which Central would assume all liability and indemnify Soo. Years later, contamination was discovered in a former Ashland industrial area, now Kreher Park, which contains a railroad right-of-way purchased by Central under the Agreement. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) identified an old factory as the likely source; its owner, Northern, named as a potentially responsible party (PRP), undertook to shift responsibility to the railroads. Central kept Soo apprised of the situation. Central sent notification to Soo in 1997 that it was seeking indemnification for environmental matters, including at Kreher Park. Soo did not agree to indemnify or defend.In 2002, the EPA designated the area as a Superfund site (CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. 9601). In 2011, the EPA issued PRP notices to Central, Soo, Northern, and others. Northern sued Central, Soo, and the city for its cleanup expenses. The EPA cited evidence that the railroads engaged in activities contributing to the contamination. The railroads settled the EPA and Northern claims for $10.5 million.In breach of contract litigation between the railroads, the district court granted Soo summary judgment, finding that no claim had been asserted during the claim period. Central then argued that it should not be responsible for the portion of the environmental claims attributable to operations and land not purchased by Central. The court rejected the argument and awarded Soo $10,799,427, prejudgment interest, and $1,776,764 for attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No “claim” was asserted against the railroads during the Agreement’s claim period; Northern never threatened litigation and the WDNR did not take any action that imposed any legal duties or impending legal peril on either railroad. The operation of the railroad business, not just the ownership of the assets, was identified by the EPA as contributing to the contamination; the claims are within the scope of the indemnification clause. View "Wisconsin Central LTD v. Soo Line Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The Hayward Walmart store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is especially busy on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer. Walmart offered Hedican a job as one of eight full-time assistant managers. Hedican then revealed that, as a Seventh-day Adventist, he cannot work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. The store’s manager believes that each assistant manager should have experience with all available schedules and all of the store’s departments. The human resources department concluded that accommodating Hedican would leave the store short-handed at some times, or would require hiring a ninth assistant manager, or would compel the other seven assistant managers to cover extra weekend shifts despite their preference to have weekends off. Hedican was told he could apply for an hourly management position, which would not be subject to the rotation schedule. Hedican filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, under Title VII, which forbids employment discrimination on account of religion, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2(a)(1).The district court granted Walmart summary judgment, finding that an hourly management job would have been a reasonable accommodation, even though the pay of that position is lower. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Title VII does not place the burden of accommodation on fellow workers, so accommodating Hedican’s religious practices would require Walmart to bear more than a slight burden if he became an assistant manager. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Walmart Stores East, L.P." on Justia Law

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As a Chicago Midway International Airport ramp supervisor, Saxon supervises, trains, and assists a team of ramp agents—Southwest employees who physically load and unload planes. Ostensibly her job is purely supervisory but Saxon and other ramp supervisors frequently fill in as ramp agents. The ramp agents are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Supervisors are excluded and agree annually as part of their contract of employment—not separately—to arbitrate wage disputes. Believing that Southwest failed to pay ramp supervisors for overtime work, Saxon filed a putative collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219. Southwest moved to dismiss or stay the suit pending arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 3).The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, citing the FAA exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The last category refers not to all contracts of employment, but only to those belonging to “transportation workers.” The act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is commerce, as that term was understood at the time of the FAA’s 1925 enactment. Airplane cargo loaders, as a class, are engaged in that commerce, as seamen and railroad employees were; Saxon and the ramp supervisors are members of that class. View "Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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Jeffers underreported his 2008 income and was audited. The IRS assessed additional taxes and penalties. Jeffers filed his 2009 tax return late, reporting that he owed more than $12,000 in taxes without including any payment. The IRS assessed the unpaid amount plus interest and penalties. An installment agreement was terminated when he failed to make payments. In 2012, the IRS mailed Jeffers proper notice of the tax lien on his property with respect to unpaid debt from the 2008 and 2009 tax periods, 26 U.S.C. 6320(a), 6321, explaining the right to a Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing. Jeffers did not request one. He filed amended returns claiming he was owed refunds. In 2017, the IRS notified Jeffers of its intent to levy on his property. This time, Jeffers timely requested a CDP hearing.The officer found the liability issue precluded because Jeffers had a prior opportunity to raise the issue in 2012. The Office of Appeals issued a notice of determination sustaining the proposed levy action. The Tax Court granted the IRS summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Jeffers could not challenge his underlying tax liability because he received notice of the federal tax lien and had the opportunity to dispute his tax liability then. The settlement officer was not obligated to consider the amended tax returns because there is no right to have one’s amended return considered. View "Jeffers v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Woodbridge Winery cellar employees held an election and certified Local 601 as their collective bargaining representative. Woodbridge challenged the certification before the National Labor Relations Board, then successfully challenged the Board’s order. The case remains pending before the Board. In 2016, Chavez wrote “Cellar Lives Matter” with a marker on his safety vest, which he wore for about two weeks. No employee complained to him about the slogan, Chavez claims that many of his co-workers responded positively. Woodbridge informed Chavez that “numerous people” found the slogan offensive and directed him to stop wearing the vest. Chavez stated that the slogan was not racially motivated but was only about supporting the union’s position. He stopped wearing the vest.Local 601 filed charges against Woodbridge; separately, the Board’s General Counsel issued a consolidated unfair labor practices complaint against the winery. The union alleged that Woodbridge violated section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act by directing Chavez to stop wearing clothing bearing any pro-union message and, unrelated to Chavez, that Woodbridge violated the Act by maintaining a policy in its employee handbook that limited eligibility for a bonus program to “non-union full time and regular part-time employees.” An ALJ found that Woodbridge had violated the Act on both fronts. The Board affirmed. The Seventh Circuit granted enforcement of the order, finding it supported by substantial evidence. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Constellation Brands U.S. Operations, Inc." on Justia Law

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Todd and Shelly Cibulka drove to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where their daughter Emily was a freshman. They went to a bar and imbibed for several hours. Upon leaving, they were clearly intoxicated. Emily, wanting to get them home, called the police non-emergency number. Conducting a welfare check, Officer Johnson said he could give them a ride but the Cibulkas would not identify the location of their truck. Todd staggered toward Johnson Street. Officer Erwin thought Todd might tumble into the busy street, grabbed Todd, and told Todd to sit down. Todd would not comply. It appeared that Todd might strike the much-smaller officer. The officers took Todd to the ground to reduce the risk of harm, told him to stop resisting, and handcuffed him. Todd declined medical attention. The officers walked Todd to the squad car. Todd resisted and was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. He was lifted into a police van and taken to jail. He was released at 2:30 the next morning, returned to his truck, and smashed through the gate instead of paying the exit fare.The Cibulkas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity. It was reasonable for the officers to believe there was probable cause to arrest Todd for disorderly conduct and for resisting an officer; the officers stopped well short of such unnecessary roughness. View "Cibulka v. City of Madison" on Justia Law