Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Officers found Smallwood unresponsive in his prison cell. When he awoke, Smallwood assured a nurse that he had not taken any drugs, and reminded her that he is diabetic. Smallwood consented to a urinalysis and the results were negative. Dr. Talbot nonetheless ordered blood tests. Smallwood asked for a form to refuse the blood draw. Prison guards stated that he could not refuse, twisted his hands and wrists, placed him in a headlock, and held a taser to his chest while placing him in restraints. They held him down while a lab technician drew his blood. The blood test results revealed no illegal drugs. Smallwood alleges that the officers took him to an observation cell where they subjected him to physical and sexual abuse, then placed him in segregation. Smallwood filed a grievance but did not properly follow IDOC grievance procedures, which require that a prisoner first attempt to informally resolve the problem: a grievant need not seek informal resolution for allegations of sexual abuse. Smallwood filed a timely formal grievance, alleging sexual abuse. Smallwood’s grievance was rejected for failing to show that he had tried to informally resolve his complaint. Smallwood expressed an inability to understand the grievance process. A year later, Smallwood's attempt at informal resolution was rejected as untimely.Smallwood sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding unresolved, material factual questions regarding Smallwood’s ability to make use of the grievance procedure. View "Smallwood v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In 2013, University Park hired Bradley as chief of police; in 2014 it renewed his contract for two years. In 2015, after new elections changed the balance of political power, Bradley was fired without notice or an opportunity for a hearing. Bradley filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 2016, the district court held that Bradley failed to state a viable procedural due process claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The village had conceded that Bradley had a property interest in his job; firing Bradley without notice or an opportunity to be heard would have deprived him of that property without due process of law. The court rejected the district court’s view that the due process violation by the mayor and village board was “random and unauthorized.”On remand, the district court permitted the defendants to reverse course and argue that Bradley did not have a property interest in his job. The court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to Bradley’s federal claim against the village. The defendants should be held to their unconditional concession. The court remanded for a determination of relief on the due process claim against the village and to allow the district court, if necessary, to address Mayor Covington’s qualified immunity defense. View "Bradley v. Village of University Park" on Justia Law

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While investigating a heroin distribution network involving Triplett and Collins, investigators obtained court-authorized wiretaps on 12 phones, 18 U.S.C. 2510. In copying files containing the recordings onto optical discs and sealing those discs, the government made mistakes, failing to seal the Phone 5 recordings and those from nine days on Phone 9. The government searched Collins's stash house, and recovered heroin, cutting agents, packaging, and 10 firearms.After the government disclosed its Phone 9 mistake, Collins moved to suppress those recordings and all subsequent recordings which relied on the improperly sealed disks to obtain additional authorizations. The government committed not to use at trial any Phone 9 recordings from the nine-day unsealed period. The district court denied the motion, finding that no later wiretap applications relied on unsealed recordings.The government later discovered and disclosed the Phone 5 error. Collins filed another motion to suppress. The government agreed not to use any Phone 5 recordings at trial but opposed the suppression of recordings from other phones. The district court denied the motion, finding that the government had not yet failed to immediately seal Phone 5 when it applied for another wiretap, that the government’s explanation concerning mechanical error was satisfactory, and that the applications for additional wiretaps did not rely on the recordings. Collins pleaded guilty to conspiracy, firearm, and money laundering offenses.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The government’s voluntary suppression of the unsealed recordings indicated that they were not central to the case, which supported the government’s explanation. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Auto sears can be installed into semi-automatic guns to make them fully automatic. The National Firearms Act defines a machine gun as any gun that can shoot more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger,” 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). ATF decided in 1981 to define auto sears as machine guns, even if not installed or owned in conjunction with a compatible rifle. Ruling 81-4 brought auto sears under the Act’s regulatory scheme, which demands that all machine guns be registered. In 1986 the Gun Control Act was amended to make it unlawful for “any person to transfer or possess a machine gun,” 18 U.S.C. 922(o), effectively freezing the number of legal machine guns. Roe purchased his auto sear in 1979 and never registered it.In 2020 Roe sought to force the ATF either to exempt his auto sear from the registration requirements or to permit him to register it. Roe argued that under Ruling 81-4 auto sears that were already manufactured or possessed were exempted permanently from the Firearms Act's requirements. The ATF argued that the Ruling only refers to a retroactive exemption for taxes related to pre-1981 auto sears, that any now-unregistered auto sear is contraband, and that the 1986 machine gun ban means that there is no way to register an auto sear. The district court dismissed Roe’s complaint, reasoning that it lacked authority to issue the requested injunction, and noting that the constitutionality of the statutes had already been upheld. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the claim concerning the Ruling was untimely. Roe’s misinterpretation of Ruling 81-4 and his failure to recall that he owned the auto sear do not support relief. View "Roe v. Dettelbach" on Justia Law

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From 1993-2017, Chicago treated O’Hare Airport aviation security officers as law-enforcement personnel, able to make arrests while employed and carry concealed firearms after retirement. The officers were unarmed and reported to the Commissioner of Aviation rather than the Chief of Police. In 2017 Chicago concluded that they are not law enforcement personnel. The Illinois Labor Relations Board sustained the decision. Neither the union nor any of its members contested that decision in state court. Three aviation security officers filed a federal suit, contending that the reclassification violated the Due Process Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. There is no “fundamental right” to be a law enforcement officer. Although the Chicago Code says that the officers “shall be sworn in as special policemen,” the process due for any violation of state or local law or of a collective-bargaining agreement is the opportunity to sue in state court. The union bypassed that opportunity in 2018. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 is not a way to supersede that decision. The collective-bargaining agreement does not promise that aviation security officers will remain law enforcement officials and the correct entity to seek review was the union, not individual members. The court upheld a $40,0000 award of costs. View "Yates v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Von Vader pled guilty to distributing methamphetamine in Wisconsin and was sentenced to 270 months’ imprisonment; the court concluded he was a “career offender.” He did not appeal. Von Vader later pled guilty to possessing heroin in prison (in Kansas) and received an additional ten-year sentence. In a 2017 petition (28 U.S.C. 2255) Von Vader argued that intervening Supreme Court precedent indicated that one or more of his previous convictions should not have been counted toward career offender classification. Von Vader’s petition was dismissed as untimely.He then unsuccessfully applied for compassionate release (18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)), contending that the 2000 sentencing error was an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for his release. The Seventh Circuit first held that the fact that Von Vader’s 2000 sentence has expired did not render the application moot because relief would be possible, The court then rejected his claims on the merits. A challenge to a sentence must be resolved by direct appeal or motion under 2255, not by seeking compassionate release. Judicial decisions, even those announcing new law, cannot alone amount to an extraordinary and compelling circumstance, which, under 3582(c)(1), is some new fact about an inmate’s health or family status, or an equivalent post-conviction development, not a purely legal contention for which statutes specify other avenues of relief. Even if the Sentencing Commission’s staff erred in distributing information concerning Van Vader’s right to file a 2255 motion, prisoners do not have a right to legal assistance in initiating collateral relief requests. View "United States v. Von Vader" on Justia Law

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In 1993 the Village of Channahon approved the plat of a residential subdivision lying within the DuPage River Special Flood Hazard Area. The Village subsequently issued permits for the construction of houses in this subdivision, all of which experience flooded basements when the river is at high water. The current owners of these houses contend that the Village violated the Constitution either by granting the permits to build or by failing to construct dykes to keep water away.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit, noting the plaintiffs do not contend that the Village required them to build where they did or dig basements, or took any steps after the houses’ construction that made flooding worse. The Constitution establishes rights to be free of governmental interference but does not compel governmental intervention to assist persons. Even if the Village violated a local ordinance and a federal regulation, 44 C.F.R. §60.3(c)(7), by granting the applications without insisting that the houses be built higher, the Constitution does not entitle private parties to accurate enforcement of local, state, or federal law. The Village did not take anyone’s property, either by physical invasion or by regulation that prevented the land’s use. The river, which did invade their basements, is not a governmental body. Government-induced flooding of limited duration may be compensable but the -plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that the water in their basements is “government-induced.” View "Billie v. Village of Channahon" on Justia Law

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Williams was shot and killed in 2009, and two other men were injured. A Wisconsin jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Wilson was the gunman. After exhausting state remedies, he appealed the district court’s denial of his habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254, claiming that he received constitutionally ineffective assistance from his trial and postconviction counsel.The Seventh Circuit declined to reach the merits of Wilson’s claims, finding both procedurally defaulted. Wisconsin state courts disposed of Wilson’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on adequate and independent state procedural grounds. Wilson failed to present his ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel claim for one complete round of state court review. If a petitioner’s claims are procedurally defaulted, federal habeas review is precluded unless the prisoner demonstrates either “cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law,” or that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” The miscarriage of justice exception ‘applies only in the rare case where the petitioner can prove that he is actually innocent. Wilson does not allege cause and prejudice and did not make a sufficient showing of actual innocence. View "Wilson v. Cromwell" on Justia Law

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After completing an orientation program for newly licensed nurses, Bragg was denied a full-time position at Community Hospital, which is operated by Munster. Community transferred her to Hartsfield, another Munster facility, where her pay was lower. Bragg, who is Black, alleged that, during her orientation, after being race-matched to patients, she complained and was subsequently treated differently. Bragg asserts that another supervisor played sexually explicit rap music at the nurses' station when Bragg was present, making graphic hand gestures. Bragg felt this was targeted at her. When white nurses were present, the supervisor played pop and country music. The supervisor allegedly laughingly called a Black patient’s amputated limb a “skinny, brown stick.” Bragg thought that another supervisor made an inappropriate reference to lynching when an oxygen line got wrapped around a Black patient’s neck, stating“let’s not have a hanging.” Bragg claims that all three supervisors gave her poor evaluations and blamed her for problems that were not her fault. Bragg sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, acknowledging that Bragg’s reports of racial insensitivity are typical of the challenges Black women face in the workplace. Bragg’s evidence would not allow a trier of fact to conclude that Community denied her a full-time position and transferred her for impermissible reasons, rather than for its stated concern about deficiencies in her performance. View "Bragg v. Munster Medical Research Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Behning, an Illinois prisoner, claims that prison guards violated his constitutional rights while responding to his altercation with a prison guard. After the incident Behning was taken to the emergency room, was charged with assaulting an officer, and was put in solitary confinement at another institution. While he was in solitary confinement, Behning allegedly timely mailed a grievance over the altercation, inadequate medical care, and procedural defects in his disciplinary hearing to the Illinois Department of Corrections Administrative Review Board. He sent a copy to his attorney, who also forwarded it to the Board. The Board returned it, asserting that only offenders themselves could submit grievances. Behning mailed another grievance, which the prison rejected as untimely.Behning filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The district court granted summary judgment based on Behning’s failure to exhaust available administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. 42 U.S.C. 1997e. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Behning, through his attorney, submitted most of his grievances to the appropriate administrative office, on time. Nothing in the regulation prohibits an offender from submitting a grievance through an attorney. Regardless of how Behning’s grievance arrived, it apprised the Board of the nature of his complaints. View "Behning v.Johnson" on Justia Law