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

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The Greenwald Family Limited Partnership, a landowner in the Village of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, had a longstanding positive relationship with the Village, collaborating on several development projects. However, this relationship soured after a failed land deal in 2014 and several other conflicts. The Partnership sued the Village, alleging that it had been irrationally singled out for unfavorable treatment, violating its Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Partnership pointed to several adverse municipal decisions, focusing primarily on the failed land deal and a new road that was rerouted from the Partnership’s property.The case was initially filed in state court but was later removed to federal court. The district court concluded that the Village had a rational basis for its actions regarding the failed land deal, the new road, and other decisions affecting the Partnership’s properties. The court entered summary judgment in favor of the Village and relinquished jurisdiction over the state-law claims.The case was then brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The court affirmed the district court's decision, stating that the Partnership had failed to show that the Village’s actions lacked any conceivable rational basis. The court found that the Village’s decisions were rationally related to its legitimate interests in promoting its land-use objectives and protecting public funds. The court concluded that the Partnership was a disappointed landowner, but not a victim of unconstitutional discrimination. View "Greenwald Family Limited Partnership v. Village of Mukwonago" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Allan Kustok was convicted of murdering his wife, Anita “Jeannie” Kustok. Kustok claimed that his wife had accidentally shot herself or committed suicide. However, the state argued that Kustok had shot his wife and presented evidence of his extramarital affairs, his purchase of the gun used in the shooting, and inconsistencies in his account of the incident. After his conviction, Kustok sought a new trial, arguing that new evidence cast doubt on the testimony of an expert witness for the prosecution. His motion was denied, and his subsequent appeals were unsuccessful.Kustok then filed a state postconviction petition, arguing that his trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to discover exculpatory evidence before the trial. The state courts found that Kustok had waived this claim by not raising it on direct appeal. Kustok then filed a federal habeas corpus petition, presenting the same claim. The district court held that the state-court waiver meant Kustok had procedurally defaulted the claim for federal-court purposes.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed that Kustok had procedurally defaulted his claim. The court also concluded that Kustok did not qualify for any exception to the procedural-default rules, and therefore affirmed the dismissal of his petition. The court found that even if Kustok's lawyer had introduced evidence about a certain soot stain at trial, it was not substantially likely that the jury would have returned a different verdict. View "Kustok v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Quintin Scott, a former pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail, who filed a class action lawsuit against Cook County and its sheriff. Scott alleged that the county provided him and other pretrial detainees with inadequate dental care, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court refused to certify the class, and Scott settled his individual claim but reserved his right to appeal the class ruling and to seek an incentive award for his role as the named plaintiff.The County argued that Scott lacked standing to pursue the class aspects of the case, contending that he no longer had a live interest in the litigation and that courts were forbidden from granting incentive awards. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed, finding that Scott had standing and that incentive awards were permissible. The court also concluded that the district court had abused its discretion in denying class certification, as it had misapplied a previous decision and used too strict a standard.The Court of Appeals vacated the district court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings, noting that the district court was free to revise the class definition as needed to address any overbreadth issues. The court also noted that the district court had not addressed whether the proposed class met the requirements of numerosity and adequacy of representation, which must be satisfied before the class can be certified. View "Scott v. Dart" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the City of Chicago contracted with Walsh Construction Company to manage the construction of a canopy and curtain wall system at O’Hare International Airport. Walsh subcontracted with LB Steel, LLC to fabricate and install steel columns to support the wall and canopy. Several years into the project, the City discovered cracks in the welds of the steel columns and sued Walsh for breaching its contract. Walsh, in turn, sued LB Steel under its subcontract. Walsh also asked LB Steel’s insurers to defend it in the City’s lawsuit, but they never did. Walsh eventually secured a judgment against LB Steel, which led it to declare bankruptcy. Walsh then sued LB Steel’s insurers to recover the costs of defending against the City’s suit and indemnification for any resulting losses.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff insurers on both issues. The court reasoned that, because the physical damage at issue was limited to LB Steel’s own products, it did not constitute “property damage” as that term appears in the policies, thereby precluding coverage. As for the duty to defend, the court determined that the Insurers had none, because the City’s underlying claims did not implicate potential coverage under LB Steel’s policies.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the defects in the welds and columns do not constitute “property damage” under LB Steel’s commercial general liability (CGL) policies. The court also found that the insurers had no duty to defend Walsh in the City’s underlying suit. The court further affirmed the district court's denial of Walsh’s request for sanctions under § 155. View "St. Paul Guardian Insurance Company v. Walsh Construction Company" on Justia Law

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The case involves a medical student at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, referred to as John Doe, who was accused of physical abuse by a fellow student, Jane Roe. The University’s Office of Student Conduct found Doe culpable and suspended him for one year. Doe applied to the University’s MBA program and described his suspension as an exoneration. This led to an investigation by the University’s Prior Misconduct Review Committee, which concluded that Doe had withheld pertinent information and gave false or incomplete information to the business school. Dean Hess of the medical school, without inviting further response from Doe, expelled him from the medical school. Doe accused the University of violating both the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The court found that the record did not support an inference of sex discrimination. The court also found that the University’s delay in launching an investigation into Doe’s complaint that Roe hit him on occasion did not contribute to the ultimate decision, and it was justified by the fact that Doe elected not to pursue this charge against Roe.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that Doe’s constitutional argument was stronger. The court held that Doe had a legitimate claim of entitlement to remain a student unless he transgressed a norm, which is a property interest in constitutional lingo and requires some kind of hearing. The court vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the district court. If Doe elects to continue with the suit, his true name must be disclosed to the public, and the district court must decide what remedy is appropriate for Dean Hess’s failure to allow Doe an opportunity to present his position before expelling him. If Doe elects not to reveal his name, the complaint must be dismissed. View "Doe v. Trustees of Indiana University" on Justia Law

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Keith Henyard was charged with eight drug-related felonies in Wisconsin. During his preliminary hearing, Court Commissioner Frank Parise presided. Later, Henyard hired Parise as his attorney. Parise secured a plea deal for Henyard, who pleaded guilty to four of the eight charges. The remaining four charges were dismissed but considered during sentencing. Henyard did not raise any objections about Parise's potential conflict of interest during these proceedings. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison followed by 5 years of extended supervision for one count, and 6 years of probation for the other three counts.Henyard later petitioned the Kenosha County Circuit Court for postconviction relief, arguing that Parise's previous role in his preliminary hearing constituted a conflict of interest, rendering his representation ineffective. The circuit court denied his petition, finding that Henyard had not demonstrated an actual or serious potential conflict of interest. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals also rejected Henyard's petition, stating that he had failed to show that Parise's alleged conflict of interest had adversely affected his performance. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Henyard's petition for review.Henyard then sought a writ of habeas corpus from the federal district court, which also denied his petition. The court found that Henyard needed to show a conflict that affected counsel's performance, as per the precedent set by the United States Supreme Court. The court concluded that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision complied with this precedent and reasonably applied the law to deny Henyard relief.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Henyard argued that Parise's conflict of interest rendered his representation ineffective. The court affirmed the lower courts' decisions, stating that Henyard had not demonstrated that Parise actively represented conflicting interests or that the alleged conflict adversely affected his performance. The court concluded that the state court's denial of Henyard's petition was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. View "Henyard v. Eplett" on Justia Law

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The case involves Robert Sylvester Kelly, a music industry professional, who was accused of sexually abusing underage girls in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The victims, referred to as Jane, Pauline, and Nia, were introduced to Kelly through various connections. The abuse, which included explicit phone calls, oral sex, and intercourse, was often recorded by Kelly. The victims' testimonies, along with three videos of Jane and Kelly, were presented as evidence during the trial.Prior to this case, Kelly had been acquitted in a 2008 criminal trial for similar conduct involving different victims. In 2019, federal prosecutors secured an indictment against Kelly, which included thirteen counts of producing and receiving child pornography, inducing minors to engage in sexual activities, and obstructing justice in the state case. The jury convicted Kelly on six counts, including inducing Jane, Pauline, and Nia to engage in sexual activities, and three child pornography production counts corresponding to the three videos in evidence. The jury acquitted Kelly on the other seven counts.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Kelly raised three arguments: a statute of limitations defense, a request for severance of his trial, and a challenge to his sentence. The court rejected all three arguments. It ruled that the current statute of limitations for sex crimes against children, which extends through the life of the victim, applied to Kelly's case. The court also found no error in the district court's decision to conduct a single trial on all charges against Kelly. Finally, the court affirmed Kelly's sentence, which was calculated based on the Guidelines range in place at the time of his offenses, and varied upwards to 240 months considering the nature of his crimes and his history. The court concluded that the sentence was procedurally proper and substantively fair. View "United States v. Kelly" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves three plaintiffs, Xingjian Sun, Xing Zhao, and Ao Wang, who sued their professor, Gary Gang Xu, for various allegations. Sun and Zhao, former students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, accused Xu of sexual and emotional abuse. Wang, a professor at Wesleyan University, posted online that Xu had a history of sexually assaulting students. In response, Xu allegedly posted negative comments about Wang and sent a letter to his employer. Xu counterclaimed, asserting a defamation claim against Sun and claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress against all three plaintiffs.The case was tried in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, where a jury found in favor of Xu on all issues and awarded him damages against Sun and Wang. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the district court erred in denying their motion for judgment as a matter of law regarding Xu’s intentional infliction of emotional distress counterclaims. They also contended that the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial, based on the court’s decision to admit evidence that Sun had a relationship with another professor.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment in favor of Xu on his counterclaim against Wang, finding that no reasonable jury could find Wang's conduct extreme and outrageous under Illinois law. However, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of Xu on his counterclaim against Sun, concluding that a reasonable jury could find that Sun's conduct met the requirements for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of the plaintiffs' motion for a new trial. View "Sun v. Xu" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Dylan Ostrum, who was under investigation for drug dealing and possession of firearms. During a search of his home, Ostrum revealed that he had moved his belongings, including his car, to his father's house. However, the car, which was reported stolen by a rental company, was found nearby with Ostrum's belongings inside, including a gun, methamphetamine, and marijuana, all stashed in two safes. The key issues on appeal were whether Ostrum had standing to challenge the search of the stolen car and whether the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights.The investigation into Ostrum began after law enforcement agents found text messages between him and another individual, Ricky Blythe, showing that they repeatedly sold each other methamphetamine and marijuana. Based on this evidence and information from confidential informants, law enforcement obtained a valid warrant to search Ostrum’s residence. However, the search turned up little, and Ostrum informed the officers that he had moved his belongings to his father's house. The officers later located the car, which was reported stolen, and discovered the safes inside.Ostrum was charged with multiple counts related to drug possession and distribution, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the evidence found inside the car, arguing that it was the fruit of an illegal search. The district court denied the motion, finding that Ostrum lacked standing to challenge the search because the car was stolen, and that the search was valid under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Ostrum was convicted on all counts and received a 240-month sentence.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Ostrum failed to meet his burden on standing and that the existence of probable cause justified the search under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The court concluded that Ostrum had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the stolen car or its contents, and thus no standing to object to its search. View "USA v. Ostrum" on Justia Law

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The case involves plaintiffs Pamela Antosh and Ned Lashley, who challenged the Village of Mount Pleasant's use of its eminent-domain power to acquire their property for road improvements associated with the private Foxconn development. In state court, the plaintiffs contested only the amount of compensation they were owed, not the propriety of the taking. However, when the state court ruled against them on an evidentiary issue two years into litigation, they decided to try their luck in federal court. In their federal complaint, they alleged for the first time that the taking was improper because it served a private purpose, not a public one.The state court proceedings were stayed pending the resolution of the federal suit. The Village filed a motion to dismiss the federal complaint, arguing that the federal court should abstain from exercising its jurisdiction over the proceeding. The district court agreed, dismissing the federal claims without prejudice, citing Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). The plaintiffs appealed this judgment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court was correct to refrain from exercising jurisdiction over the federal claims. The court concluded that the federal and state actions were parallel and that exceptional circumstances justified the district court's decision to abstain. The court noted that the plaintiffs' litigation strategy signaled a lack of respect for the state's ability to resolve the issues properly before its courts. The court also found that the plaintiffs' federal suit was a strategic attempt to bypass an unfavorable state-court ruling two years into that litigation. View "Antosh v. Village of Mount Pleasant" on Justia Law