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

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United Airlines hired Taha in 1988 and laid him off in 2003. He retained recall rights under a collective bargaining agreement. After a 12-year furlough, Taha returned to work. Weeks later, Taha learned his mother had suffered a heart attack. She lived in Saudi Arabia. Taha asked for six months off to travel and care for her. United gave him 30 days. He sought assistance from Starck, a human resources representative, and the union’s president, Stripling. United denied Taha’s extended-leave request in a letter sent to his Indiana home. Taha never saw it; he remained in Saudi Arabia and did not return to work, which the airline construed as job abandonment. He was fired. Taha grieved his firing. At a Joint Board of Adjustment (JBA) hearing, Stripling represented Taha. The JBA denied Taha’s grievance. Taha asked the union to demand arbitration; the union replied, more than six months later, that the CBA barred further pursuit of his grievance. Taha then sued, alleging a breach of the duty to fairly represent him under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151–188. He cited only two facts: before the JBA hearing began, Taha overheard Stripling and Starck “chatt[ing] genially” about Starck acquiring airline tickets for Stripling’s friends, and, during the hearing, Stripling “prevented Taha from presenting several strong and important exhibits.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, finding no evidence of unlawful union conduct. View "Taha v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters" on Justia Law

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Day, age 18, weighed 312 pounds and had an underlying heart condition. Day was confronted outside a store after apparently shoplifting a watch. Day refused to return to the store. A mall security officer noticed Day had a gun. A chase ensued; Day eventually collapsed. Police arrived. Day’s gun was out of his reach. Officers handcuffed Day behind his back. Day stated he was having trouble breathing; officers instructed him to take deep breaths. Day would not maintain a seated position. Officers positioned Day to lie on his side to prevent Day from asphyxiating by rolling onto his stomach. An ambulance arrived to evaluate Day five minutes later. Day appeared to breathe normally, stated he had no preexisting medical conditions and was able to speak clearly. After multiple tests, paramedics concluded Day did not need to go to a hospital. When the jail wagon arrived, Day was unresponsive, lying on his back with his hands still cuffed. A second ambulance arrived 43 minutes after the first. Day was pronounced dead. There were no visible signs of trauma. The autopsy report listed his cause of death as “Sudden Cardiac Death due to Acute Ischemic Change” with contributory causes: “Sustained respiratory compromise due to hands cuffed behind the back, obesity, underlying cardiomyopathy.” Day had never complained about the handcuffs. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the court concluded the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed. There is no precedent clearly establishing that the officers violated any right of an out-of-breath arrestee to not have his hands cuffed behind his back after he complains of difficulty breathing. There was no evidence that the handcuffs were the cause of Day’s breathing difficulty before the autopsy report. View "Day v. Wooten" on Justia Law

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In 1998, an Illinois state court convicted Williams, a teenager, of first‐degree murder. Williams was paroled in 2008 but had his parole revoked after pleading guilty to domestic battery. In 2017, he traded cocaine to his employer for a firearm. His employer cooperated with the government. Williams pled guilty to possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). The court confirmed Williams’s admission that he possessed a firearm; that the firearm had traveled in interstate commerce; and that he had been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year. The court sentenced him to 96 months’ imprisonment, below the Guidelines range. Four months later, the Supreme Court held that an element of a conviction under section 922(g), 924(a)(2), is the defendant’s knowledge of his status as a felon or alien illegally in the U.S. The government would have needed to prove—or Williams to admit—that he knew he had “been convicted in any court of[] a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” Williams sought to vacate his conviction and withdraw his guilty plea. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. Williams failed to carry the burden of showing that his erroneous understanding of section 922(g) affected his decision to plead guilty. Williams cannot plausibly argue that he did not know his conviction had a maximum punishment exceeding a year. Williams would have to convince a jury that he either had no knowledge of where he spent 12 years or that he believed Illinois had imprisoned him 11 years beyond the maximum punishment for first‐degree murder. Most defendants would want to avoid informing the jury of a murder conviction. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Vasquez-Abarca’s parents brought him to the U.S. in 1986. In 1995, at age 14, he was arrested for having sex with a 12-year-old but told authorities that he was either 16-17 years old and was convicted of a felony sex offense. He was deported in 1997. Vasquez-Abarca reentered illegally and was arrested for disorderly conduct. In 2001, he was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender and charged with illegal reentry, 8 U.S.C. 1326(a). He was sentenced to 57 months in prison. He was deported in 2005. Vasquez-Abarca reentered in 2006. In the following years, he committed multiple driving-related offenses, resulting in two felony convictions in Georgia; after his release, he was sentenced in Illinois to an additional 24 months for violating the terms of his supervised release on the illegal reentry conviction. He was deported in 2015. Vasquez-Abarca illegally re-entered again in 2016. He was arrested on an outstanding warrant for using a fake driver’s license and was convicted of a felony. Vasquez-Abarca also pleaded guilty to illegally reentering. The guidelines range was 30-37 months. The defense argued that Vasquez-Abarca’s driving violations stemmed from his lack of legal residency status. The court imposed a sentence of 72 months; 8 U.S.C. 1326(b)(2) authorized a sentence of up to 20 years. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The sentence was a reasonable exercise of the judge’s discretion under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). The judge gave a sufficient explanation for the decision, based primarily on Vasquez-Abarca’s criminal history and that a previous 57-month sentence for the same crime had not deterred him. View "United States v. Vasquez-Abarca" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Subdiaz‐Osorio stabbed his brother to death during a drunken fight in Wisconsin. He attempted to flee but was stopped in Arkansas while driving to Mexico. At Subdiaz‐Osorio’s request, the interview in Arkansas was conducted in Spanish. Neither Subdiaz‐Osorio nor Officer Torres had any trouble understanding each other. Subdiaz‐Osorio signed a waiver of his Miranda rights, indicating that he understood his rights. During the interview, after discussing the extradition process, Subdiaz‐Osorio asked in Spanish, “How can I do to get an attorney here because I don’t have enough to afford for one?” The officer responded: If you need an attorney‐‐by the time you’re going to appear in the court, the state of Arkansas will get an attorney for you. The interview continued for an hour with Subdiaz-Osorio’s full cooperation. Denying a motion to suppress, the court concluded that Subdiaz‐Osorio’s question about an attorney was not a request to have an attorney with him during the interview; he was asking about how he could obtain an attorney for the extradition hearing. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed, that Subdiaz‐Osorio did not unequivocally invoke his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Subdiaz‐Osorio’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). The state court finding was not contrary to or based on an unreasonable application of established Supreme Court precedent. View "Subdiaz-Osorio v. Humphreys" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Guerrero, a Chicago police officer who participated in drug trafficking, pleaded guilty to conspiring to participate in racketeering activity, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana, interfering with commerce by threats or violence, and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to crimes of violence and drug trafficking. Guerrero’s guideline range for the first three counts was life in prison and for the fourth count was 60 consecutive months. He provided substantial assistance in prosecuting co-conspirators and the government recommended that he serve 228 months. Sentencing Guidelines Amendment 782 became effective in 2014, retroactively reducing by two levels the offense levels for most drug-trafficking crimes. Guerrero sent the district court a letter requesting that he be appointed counsel in order to seek resentencing under the amendment. The district court rejected Guerrero’s 2015 request and additionally found that Guerrero was eligible for a two-level reduction under Amendment 782 but that the reduction would make no difference to his ultimate sentence: Guerrero filed a motion for clarification. The court construed that as a late motion to reconsider and denied it. In 2018, Guerrero tried again, with counsel. The district court denied the motion without considering the merits. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The 2015 proceedings should not be counted against Guerrero as his one chance to seek relief under Amendment 782. View "United States v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Lett worked as an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. In 2016, Lett was investigating police involvement in a particular civilian shooting. The Chief Administrator, Fairley, directed Lett to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the shooting victim. Lett refused because he did not believe that the evidence supported that finding. Lett raised his concerns with Fairley’s deputy, who spoke with Fairley. Soon after, Lett was removed from his investigative team, then removed from investigative work, and ultimately assigned to janitorial duties. Fairley opened an internal investigation that concluded that Lett had violated the office’s confidentiality policy. Fairley ordered that Lett be fired. Lett initiated a grievance through his union. The arbitrator ordered the office to reinstate Lett with back pay and to expunge his record. Fairley immediately placed Lett on administrative leave with pay. Lett was assigned on paper to the Police Department’s FOIA office but was not allowed to return to work. Lett sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment retaliation for his refusal to write a false report and Monell liability for the city and Fairley in her official capacity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Lett spoke pursuant to his official duties and not as a private citizen when he refused to alter the report; the First Amendment does not apply. View "Lett v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The Chicago Police Department (CPD) periodically administered an examination for sergeants seeking promotion to lieutenant. While the CPD retained discretion over whom to promote, those who scored highest on the exam were generally first in line. Word has served with the CPD since 2001. When he took the exam in 2006, he was ranked 150th. The sergeants ranked 1-149 received promotions; Word was the highest-scoring sergeant who did not. In 2015, when Word next took the exam, his ranking fell to 280th. He was passed over. Word alleges that three senior CPD leaders each had “wives or paramours” who were sergeants who took the 2015 exam and then received promotions. Word alleges that one defendant had early access to the exam and provided test content to the wives and paramours. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit, which alleged violations of equal protection and due process under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and breach of contract. While Illinois law prohibits “wilfully or corruptly furnish[ing] to any person any special or secret information,” there is no property interest in any municipal promotional process. Class-of-one equal protection claims are barred in the public employment context. Word’s s theory does not amount to gender discrimination. There was no contract and Word has not plausibly alleged that the city and exam administrator intended to confer legally enforceable rights on the test takers. View "Word v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Barnes works in facilities management at UIC, reporting to Donovan. UIC hired Barnes in 2008 as an operating engineer and later promoted him to assistant chief engineer. In 2015, a chief engineer retired. UIC identified 11 candidates, including Barnes, who received one of the top-three exam scores and met the minimum qualifications. Barnes and another candidate were African-American; nine candidates were white. Donavan interviewed the candidates without looking at personnel files or performance evaluations. Donovan selected Civito. Civito and Barnes both have several decades of education and relevant experience. Donovan had interviewed Barnes for 15-30 minutes. Barnes did not bring anything with him to the interview, nor had he been asked to. Donovan interviewed Civito for about 20 minutes. Civito, unprompted, brought written materials including his résumé, a letter of reference, a proposal to solve problems with a UIC building, and training items he developed. Barnes sued, alleging that UIC had a practice of not promoting African-Americans to the chief engineer level. Barnes learned during discovery that in performance reviews by the same supervisor, he had received a higher score than Civito. Donovan claimed that he selected Civito because he came to his interview fully prepared,, articulated the most thoughtful approach to the position and demonstrated a commitment to professional development. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Barnes lacked sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of discrimination or to allow the inference that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason offered for hiring Civito was pretextual. View "Barnes v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois" on Justia Law

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Chicago officers Valadez and Reyes, in an unmarked police car patrolling a neighborhood where a gang-related shooting had recently occurred, saw a passenger in Cruz’s Chevy Tahoe fire gunshots at the occupants of another car. Cruz sped away. The officers followed Cruz’s Tahoe, which had dark, tinted windows, but did not activate emergency lights or sirens. Cruz turned and struck a parked car, pushing it forward into a second car, which rolled into a third. Cruz kept driving before crashing into another car and coming to a stop. The officers parked behind Cruz’s Tahoe, believing that it had stalled. Valadez began getting out of the car, announcing that he was a police officer. Cruz put his Tahoe into reverse, striking the police car, then pulled forward into a parking lot. The officers followed on foot, wearing bulletproof vests that displayed the police star. The parking lot was “pretty well lit.” Cruz’s passenger testified that he knew that Valadez was an officer because he could see Valadez’s vest. Cruz did not stop but turned back toward the exit. Cruz’s headlights shone directly at the officers, who opened fire. Cruz died as a result of a gunshot wound. Approximately 90 seconds elapsed from the initial shots until Cruz was shot; roughly 16 seconds elapsed during the encounter in the parking lot. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The officers acted reasonably in using deadly force to protect others in the vicinity by preventing Cruz's escape. View "Ybarra v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law