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

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Dewitt was living with his fiancée, three-year-old son, and four-year-old daughter when he began chatting with Palchak on an anonymous phone application. The men met in an online group, “Open Family Fun.” Palchak was actually an undercover member of the FBI’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Dewitt told Palchak about his children. Palchak reciprocated by conveying information about his (fictitious) nine-year-old daughter. Dewitt admitted to sexually abusing his four-year-old daughter but indicated he preferred slightly older girls at the beginning of puberty. He offered to send images of himself abusing his daughter if Palchak would do the same. Dewitt sent one video and one still image of fully nude girls, with descriptions of the sexual acts he would like to see Palchak’s nine-year-old daughter perform. The FBI arrested Dewitt and searched his phone, revealing the images sent to Palchak and a photo of Dewitt engaged in a sexual act with his four-year-old daughter. Dewitt was convicted of three counts relating to the production, distribution, and possession of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), 2252(a)(2), and 2252(a)(4)(B), and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Dewitt’s argument that the government’s evidence was insufficient because the jury heard no expert testimony about the age of girls depicted in images sent from his cellphone. The jury heard and saw more than enough to make a reliable finding that Dewitt possessed, produced, and distributed images of children. View "United States v. Dewitt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Around 2009, Saccameno defaulted on her mortgage. U.S. Bank began foreclosure proceedings. She began a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan under which she was to cure her default over 42 months while maintaining her monthly mortgage payments, 11 U.S.C. 1322(b)(5). In 2011, Ocwen acquired her previous servicer. Ocwen, inexplicably, informed her that she owed $16,000 immediately. Saccameno continued making payments based on her plan. Her statements continued to fluctuate. In 2013, the bankruptcy court issued a notice that Saccameno had completed her payments. Ocwen never responded; the court entered a discharge order. Within days an Ocwen employee mistakenly treated the discharge as a dismissal and reactivated the foreclosure. For about twp years, Saccameno and her attorney faxed her documents many times and spoke to many Ocwen employees. The foreclosure protocol remained open. Ocewen eventually began rejecting her payments. Saccameno sued, citing breach of contract; the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act; and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (ICFDBPA), citing consent decrees that Ocwen previously had entered with regulatory bodies, concerning inadequate recordkeeping, misapplication of payments, and poor customer service. The jury awarded $500,000 for the breach of contract, FDCPA, and RESPA claims, plus, under ICFDBPA, $12,000 in economic, $70,000 in non-economic, and $3,000,000 in punitive damages. The Seventh Circuit remanded. While the jury was within its rights to punish Ocwen, the amount of the award is excessive. View "Saccameno v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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Centralia’s “Rude Boyz” gang threatened a boy who witnessed a gang-related shooting. The threats were investigated by Peebles, who had arrested many Boyz and was the “go-to guy” for gang intelligence. As Peebles and Sergeant James arrested the gang members on open warrants, Barnes drove by. According to Peebles, Barnes parked and yelled epithets. Law enforcement knew that Barnes had gang connections and that the Rude Boyz used Barnes’s home. Barnes posted on Facebook: “This thirsty b**** Mike out here on the same on [sic] bulls***.” Barnes later posted: “But this b**** don’t believe that what goes around come[s] around and when you got kids of your own.” A police secretary saw the posts and texted Peebles, who felt that these were credible threats against him and his family. Sergeant James arrested Barnes for intimidation. Weeks later the state dropped those charges. Barnes sued Peebles for unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the city had an express policy or widespread practice that motivated her arrest and prosecution. Peebles and James testified Peebles made his complaint against Barnes as a private citizen. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. With no evidence Peebles acted under color of state law in his role as a witness in Barnes’s arrest and prosecution, Barnes cannot prove Peebles violated Barnes’s rights against unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution. Barnes’s submitted no evidence to support her contention that Centralia failed to train its officers in handling profanity and that her profanity was the cause of her arrest. View "Barnes v. City of Centralia" on Justia Law

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Frederickson lived in Joliet. He was homeless, had a sex crime conviction, and was subject to the Illinois Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA). He has to register every week in the jurisdiction in which he resides. Joliet requires that a person moving to a new jurisdiction register with the new jurisdiction, and “register out” of the old jurisdiction within three days. For Frederickson's first four years in Joliet, Frederickson complied. In 2007 Detective Landeros took over Joliet’s SORA registrations. The relationship became so contentious that Frederickson began bringing witnesses to his registrations. Landeros arrested Frederickson several times. In January 2011, Frederickson informed Landeros that he was leaving Joliet. Landeros threatened to arrest Frederickson (on unclear grounds) if Frederickson relocated. Frederickson moved to Bolingbrook on February 8. On February 9, Frederickson registered in Bolingbrook. Landeros believed that Frederickson had to “register out” of Joliet. To update Illinois’s Law Enforcement Agency Data System database, Bolingbrook needed Frederickson’s LEADS file. Only one law enforcement agency can “own” a LEADS file and only the agency that owns the file can update it. Joliet refused to transfer Frederickson’s LEADS file. Landeros indicated that Frederickson was not actually residing in Bolingbrook. Several additional problems followed and Frederickson was convicted of failing to register on March 3. 2011. In Frederickson's civil rights suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a finding that Frederickson had adequately alleged that Landeros had singled Frederickson out for unfavorable treatment, was motivated solely by personal animus, and lacked a rational basis for his actions. The court denied Landeros’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Frederickson’s equal protection right to police protection uncorrupted by personal animus was clearly established. View "Frederickson v. Landeros" on Justia Law

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While shopping at a Wal-Mart store, Waldon believes she slipped on a plastic hanger and fell causing her injuries. Under Indiana premises-liability law, a defendant must have actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises that involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee. Wal-Mart offered the testimony of employees that they had not been aware of a dangerous condition. After discovery, the district court concluded there was no evidence Wal-Mart knew of such a condition and granted it summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and, because Waldons’ counsel had deleted date stamps on photographs submitted to the court, ordered counsel to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Rule 46 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure for misrepresenting the record to the court. View "Waldon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Clay, on parole, broke into his neighbor's home, abducted her and drove her across state lines to withdraw all he could from her bank account—$140. He shoved her into her car's trunk and drove to a parking lot, then raped her, strangled her until she passed out, doused her with lighter fluid, set her afire, and left her to die. She survived. Clay was arrested days later. While in pretrial detention, Clay entered the office of caseworker Martinez, grabbed her arm, took her keys, locked the office door, and pressed a homemade knife against her throat. Jail staff unlocked the door and subdued Clay. Clay pled guilty to kidnapping, attempted murder, and using fire to commit another felony; he stipulated to the conduct involving Martinez--kidnapping a federal employee. His Guidelines range was life in prison. Clay pointed to his acceptance of responsibility, his terrible childhood, and the statistical improbability that he would re-offend if released at an advanced age. He claimed that he had taken Martinez hostage in an “attempt at suicide by police.” A physician testified that his neighbor was in intensive care for five months and endured life-threatening infections and organ failures. The prosecution emphasized Clay’s violent criminal history. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Clay's sentence of life in prison for kidnapping, with a concurrent 30-year sentence for attempted murder, a statutory minimum consecutive sentence of 10 years for using fire. The judge had cited the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, noting the “ripple effect of trauma and sadness and worry and fear” through the victims’ family, friends, and coworkers and that she saw only “recidivism” and “potential risk.” View "United States v. Clay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Indianapolis pharmacies were robbed of opioid pills at gunpoint. A pharmacy employee reported that a man in the store, Fisher, had been involved in a previous robbery. An officer approached Fisher, who pulled out a semiautomatic pistol and fled. Another officer apprehended Fisher. Officers found a pistol along Fisher’s escape route. Employees of three pharmacies identified Fisher. Fisher was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a); brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii); and being a felon in possession of a firearm section 922(g)(1). The judge orally sentenced Fisher to 57 years plus one day in prison—one day more than the mandatory minimum sentence; ordered the forfeiture of any firearm involved in the crimes; and stated conditions of supervised release The text of the subsequent written judgment stated the conditions differently. Months later, the First Step Act, amended section 924(c) sentencing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, remanding for correction of the inconsistency between the oral sentence and the written judgment. The court rejected arguments that the district court erred by failing to ask if Fisher would like a jury trial regarding forfeiture and abused its discretion by using the phrase “psychoactive substances” in his supervised-release conditions; that his section 924(c) convictions were invalid because Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence; that the written sentence is a nullity to the extent it conflicts with the oral sentence; and that these errors required a remand for new sentencing, applying the First Step Act. View "United States v. Fisher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The FBI took over a child-pornography website, “Playpen,” and kept Playpen running to locate people who distributed and viewed child pornography. Playpen allowed visitors to remain anonymous. The FBI obtained a warrant authorizing the use of a “Network Investigative Technique” (NIT). When a user logged into Playpen, the NIT installed malware on the user’s computer and relayed identifying information to the FBI. The warrant application said that the property to be searched was “located in the Eastern District of Virginia” but an addendum stated that the NIT would be “deployed” on a server “located at a government facility in the Eastern District of Virginia” to obtain information from “activating computer[s]” of “any user” who logged into Playpen. Grisanti logged into Playpen from Indiana. The NIT sent identifying information. The FBI obtained Indiana search warrants and found evidence of child pornography on Grisanti’s computer. Before the FBI could complete its investigation, Grisanti destroyed the hard drive and a flash drive. The court denied a motion to suppress, concluding that the agents relied on the warrant in good faith. Convicted of destruction of evidence and child-pornography offenses, Grisanti was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment. The court noted that Grisanti possessed more than 600 images of child pornography—some involving prepubescent children—and destroyed the evidence. He never sought treatment and blamed others when he was caught. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that it had already held that the good-faith exception applies to the warrant at issue. Grisanti’s sentence was not unreasonable and the district court did not make any procedural error. View "United States v. Grisanti" on Justia Law

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Signode assumed an obligation to pay health-care benefits to a group of retired steelworkers and their families. Signode then exercised its right to terminate the underlying benefits agreement and also stopped providing the promised benefits to the retired steelworkers and their families, despite contractual language providing that benefits would not be “terminated … notwithstanding the expiration” of the underlying agreement. The retirees and the union filed suit under the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction, ordering Signode to reinstate the benefits. The agreement provided for vested benefits that would survive the agreement’s termination. While there is no longer a presumption in favor of lifetime vesting, the court applied ordinary contract law interpretation rules and concluded that the agreement unambiguously provided retirees with vested lifetime health-care benefits. Even if the agreement were ambiguous, industry usage and the behavior of the parties here provide enough evidence to support vesting such that resolution of any ambiguity in favor of the plaintiffs as a matter of law would still be correct. View "Stone v. Signode Industrial Group LLC" on Justia Law

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Amling began working in the horticulture industry in 1965 and continued in that career for the rest of his working life. At one point, Robert worked for National Greenhouse, whose products allegedly contained asbestos. National’s assets and liabilities were transferred to Harrow. In 1990, Harrow executed an asset‐purchase agreement with Nexus, transferring all of National’s assets and some of its liabilities to Nexus. Amling was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015. The Amlings sued Harrow, Nexus, and others in state court and, while that case was stayed, sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that under the terms of the 1990 agreement, Harrow, not Nexus or any other entity, is liable for National Greenhouse’s torts alleged in the Amlings’ state complaint. The district court dismissed the suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is virtually certain that the state suit will answer the question presented by the federal suit: whether under the terms of the asset‐purchase agreement Harrow or Nexus could be liable for their injuries. That fact makes this a live controversy but simultaneously justifies the district court’s sound exercise of its discretion in deciding not to issue a declaratory judgment. View "Amling v. Harrow Industries, LLC" on Justia Law