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

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O’Donnell, represented by attorney Horn, challenged the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. A magistrate remanded the case, awarding O’Donnell $7,493.06 in Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(b), fees, paid to Horn. On remand, an ALJ found that O’Donnell was disabled. SSA determined that she was eligible for benefits dating back several months and withheld 25% of O’Donnell’s past-due benefits, $14,515.37, for possible future payment of fees under 42 U.S.C. 406(a), which authorizes SSA to award a “reasonable fee” to persons who successfully represent claimants in administrative proceedings.Horn filed an unopposed motion for authorization to collect $14,515.37 in section 406(b) fees; having already received the $7,493.06 EAJA award, Horn proposed to keep the EAJA fee, with SSA to pay the balance ($7,022.31), leaving $7,493.06 with SSA for future payment of section 406(a) fees. The magistrate’s order stated that Horn was awarded $14,515.37 under section 406(b), payable by the SSA from the past-due benefits and that “Horn will refund" to O'Donnell $7,493.06, equal to the EAJA award, so that Horn would have to look to O’Donnell, not SSA, to satisfy any future section 406(a) fees. An ALJ subsequently awarded Horn $4,925.21 under section 406(a); he had to seek that amount from O’Donnell. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No statute requires that the court order netting; the Savings Provision contemplates a refund by the attorney. View "O'Donnell v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Ramirez crashed his car into a truck and fled from the police. Speeding off, he hit a passenger who had jumped from his car. He ran a red light, drove around other cars in parking lots “at a high rate of speed,” then fled on foot. A search of his car revealed a loaded revolver and ammunition, which Ramirez confessed were his. Ramirez pleaded guilty (without an agreement) to possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g). The PSR factored in Ramirez’s flight and acceptance of responsibility and his criminal history, which included a drive-by shooting from 19 years earlier, burglary, theft, drug use, aggravated battery, resisting arrest, and parole violations, resulting in a guidelines range of 46-57 months’ imprisonment.The court addressed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and concluded a two-level enhancement for reckless endangerment during his flight did not adequately account for the severity of his conduct, which endangered many people, and that Ramirez’s criminal history score understated his true history because it excluded some older convictions. Ramirez argued that he had aged out of crime at age 44, but admitted that he had spent much of his life in prison. The court concluded that a sentence within the guidelines range would not effectively deter him from endangering others. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 72-month sentence. The district court appropriately handled the “aging out” argument as no data supported it, and reasonably justified its above-guidelines sentence. View "United States v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Barrera sold a handgun to a fellow Latin Kings gang member, who was actually a government informant wearing a wire. Barrera, who had prior felonies, was indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). An order barred Barrera from disclosing any discovery because of the risks that the video’s dissemination posed to further law-enforcement efforts and the informant’s safety. Barrera, while released on bond, posted the video to Snapchat, naming the informant and sending the posts to fellow Latin Kings. The government moved to revoke Barrera’s pretrial release. The defense argued that Barrera would not receive adequate treatment for his skin and lung cancer and a recent stroke and relayed Barrera’s intent to plead guilty. The court advised Barrera of the potential guideline range, explained that the range was only advisory, accepted his guilty plea, and, given assurances that the corrections facility could care for Barrera’s medical conditions, revoked his release. The court subsequently imposed a 110-month prison term, based on a 110-120 months guideline range.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court adequately explained the sentence in light of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, noting Barrera’s post-arrest conduct; that trafficking guns to gang members often leads to the deaths and injuries of innocents; and Barrera’s history and characteristics, including his medical needs. The judge’s comments were relevant in assessing the nature and circumstances of Barerra’s offense and the need to protect the public and deter unlawful conduct. View "United States v. Barrera" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Stamps sold methamphetamine to police informants. Police executed a search warrant at his apartment. In one bedroom, police found two bags of methamphetamine, each containing over 25 grams. In the other bedroom, police found a loaded handgun under Stamps’s mattress with his wallet and $1,079 in cash. Stamps confessed to having sold drugs for five years. Stamps later admitted owning a handgun, but for self-defense after receiving threats based on his wrongful implication in a murder investigation. Someone had fired shots into his apartment. Stamps pled guilty to one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute 50 grams or more (21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1)). The PSR recommended a two-level increase under U.S.S.G 2D1.1(b)(1) based on the firearm and did not recommend Stamps receive safety-valve relief (18 U.S.C. 3553(f)). The court agreed, stating that “it is not clearly improbable that ... handgun … was connected with the defendant’s relevant drug trafficking conduct,” calculated a 70-87-month guideline range with a 60-month mandatory minimum, and sentenced Stamps to 60 month's imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit vacated. Rather than evaluating whether Stamps had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the gun was unrelated to his drug offense, the court found only that Stamps could not prove that it was “clearly improbable” that the gun was connected to his drug offense, imposing a higher burden than required for Stamps to prove safety valve eligibility. The error was not harmless. View "United States v. Stamps" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The defendants played active roles in a cross-country drug organization: Castro-Aguirre served as the head of operations; Ramirez-Prado handled logistics, including providing cars and hotels for distributors and couriers; Rojas-Reyes coordinated sales in Indianapolis; and Carrillo-Tremillo conducted sales in the northeast. A jury found each of 12 defendants guilty of conspiracy to distribute the controlled substances (methamphetamine and cocaine), 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) & 846, and conspiracy to launder money., 18 U.S.C. 1956(h)) Castro-Aguirre and Rojas-Reyes were also convicted on several additional charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed their convictions and sentences, including one life sentence, with the exception of vacating Carrillo-Tremillo’s conviction for conspiracy to launder money. The court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress cell-site location information; the government, following the procedures set forth in the Stored Communications Act, gathered it in good faith. The court also upheld the denial of a motion in limine to suppress evidence of their gang membership and evidence that the Sinaloa Cartel was behind the kidnapping and murder of the defendants’ supplier. Although the evidence of the kidnapping and murder was highly prejudicial and its connection to the charged conduct was tenuous, any error was harmless in light of the other evidence. View "United States v. Rojas-Reyes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Two days after Wisconsin certified the results of its 2020 election, the President invoked the Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Governor, Secretary of State, and several local officials. The district court concluded that the President’s challenges lacked merit, as he objected only to the administration of the election, yet the Electors Clause only addresses the authority of the State’s Legislature to prescribe the manner of appointing its presidential electors. The court concluded that the President’s claims would fail even under a broader, alternative reading of the Electors Clause that extended to a state’s conduct of the presidential election.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin lawfully appointed its electors in the manner directed by its Legislature. The President’s claim also fails because of the unreasonable delay that accompanied the challenges the President now wishes to advance against Wisconsin’s election procedures. The Supreme Court has indicated that federal courts should avoid announcing or requiring changes in election law and procedures close in time to voting. The President had a full opportunity before the election to pursue challenges to Wisconsin law underlying his present claims; he cannot now—after the election results have been certified as final— seek to bring those challenges. View "Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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Meza, deep in debt, fell for fraudulent international trading programs promising incredible profits. He then tricked people he knew into investing in these programs. The scam involved ridiculous promises. The district judge called the dupes “the most improbable victims” she had ever seen. Meza was acquitted on one count of wire fraud and acquitted on another The judge sentenced him to 19 months in prison and ordered him to pay $881,500 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The trial court adequately explained its reasons for aggregating losses and excluded all losses around the time of the wire supporting the acquitted count: $295,000. The sentencing hearing covered the misrepresentations and losses in detail. Meza’s restitution did not include unconvicted and acquitted conduct. View "United States v. Meza" on Justia Law

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Prairie sued Coyle in Illinois state court concerning the replacement of valves purchased by Prairie. Coyle's insurer, Federated, sought a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Coyle in that suit. After Coyle answered Federated’s complaint, Federated moved for judgment on the pleadings. Coyle opposed the motion and later moved for leave to file supplemental briefs to show that the state-court action potentially fell within Federated’s coverage obligations. The district court denied Coyle’s motions to file supplemental briefs and granted Federated judgment on the pleadings. The court ruled that Prairie’s complaint did not allege “property damage” or an “occurrence” because Prairie only sought damages for the repair and replacement of defective products—purely economic losses. Prairie’s counsel had clarified at a discovery hearing that “Prairie was not making a claim for loss of use but rather for the costs of replacing the allegedly defective valves and the associate piping” and the defectiveness of the valves was foreseeable.The Seventh Circuit reversed. In granting Federated’s motion, the court relied on some of the new facts that Coyle had unsuccessfully moved to introduce through supplemental briefs while ignoring other facts. The court’s handling of the case ran afoul of local rules and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and deprived Coyle of its right to present material factual evidence bearing on the central issue in the case. View "Federated Mutual Insurance Co. v. Coyle Mechanical Supply Inc." on Justia Law

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Hill filed suit in state court, asking a judge to compel Young, his prison’s warden, to mail two complaints that Hill wanted to file in federal court. The defendants removed Hill’s suit to federal court. The district judge dismissed the complaint, observing that its records showed that the two complaints at issue had been filed.At Hill’s request, the Seventh Circuit vacated language from the judgment: “This dismissal shall count as one of [Hill’s] allotted ‘strikes’ under" 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). This statute provides: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal ... under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained ... brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed" as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.Section 1915(g) requires prepayment of the docket fees only if the plaintiff has thrice “brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States” decided on one of the listed grounds. Hill did not “bring” this suit in a court of the United States. Defendants brought it to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1441(a). This suit does not count as a “strike.” While the comment is dicta and is not binding in future litigation, it aggrieves Hill by drawing a future judge’s attention to this suit. View "Hill v. Madison County" on Justia Law

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The Okeres, U.S. citizens, are trying to get their eight-year-old son from Nigeria to the United States. They applied for a “certificate of identity,” which validates the identity of a person living abroad who purports to be a U.S. citizen but has not presented enough evidence of citizenship to obtain a passport, 8 U.S.C. 1503(b). They sued, asserting that, after their son finally received a travel document from the State Department, he has been prevented from boarding a flight to the U.S. because the Consulate General refused to verify the certificate’s authenticity with the airlines with which they had booked flights for their son.The district court dismissed the Okeres’ complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Okeres identified no legal authority compelling the Consulate General to verify the authenticity of the certificate to the airlines. None of the federal statutes the Okeres invoked confers jurisdiction. Nor do any of the provisions identified in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual create individual rights or impose enforceable duties on a Consulate General when issuing a certificate of identity. The court stated that its decision was “most unsatisfying, for it is impossible to read the parties’ briefs without concluding that something else is going on here.” View "Okere v. United States" on Justia Law