Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Farmer was convicted of armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113(a) and (d), and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). Farmer drove the getaway car and was not in the bank during the robbery. Her convictions were premised on an accomplice theory under 18 U.S.C. 2. In 2014 the Supreme Court held (Rosemond) that a section 924(c) conviction under an accomplice theory requires proof that the accomplice had “foreknowledge that his confederate [would] commit the offense with a firearm.” The jury at Farmer’s 2012 trial was not instructed on a foreknowledge requirement. In a motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255, after Rosemond was decided, Farmer argued that her trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the section 924(c) instruction. The district judge denied relief because Farmer failed to establish that she was prejudiced by that failure to object. On appeal, she attempted to raise the Rosemond issue directly rather than through trial counsel’s ineffectiveness. The Seventh Circuit held that Farmer procedurally defaulted that claim and must establish cause and actual prejudice to excuse the default. She did not do so. The government presented plenty of evidence that Farmer had advance knowledge that a gun would be used, so the Rosemond error was not grave enough to cause actual prejudice. View "Farmer v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, African-Americans, worked for Union Pacific as “Signal Helpers,” an entry‐level job. After a probationary period, both became eligible for promotion. Union Pacific did not respond to their requests to take a required test, then eliminated the Signal Helper position in their zones. Both were terminated. They filed charges with the EEOC. After receiving notification from the EEOC, Union Pacific provided some information but failed to respond to a request for company-wide information, despite issuance of a subpoena. The EEOC issued right‐to‐sue letters, 42 U.S.C. 2000e‐5(f)(1). Plaintiffs sued. The district court granted Union Pacific summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While that action was pending, the EEOC issued Union Pacific a second request for information, served a second subpoena, and brought an enforcement action. The district court denied Union Pacific’s motion to dismiss, rejecting its arguments that the EEOC lost its investigatory authority either after the issuance of a right to sue notice or when Union Pacific obtained a judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting a split in the Circuits. Given the EEOC’s broad role in preventing employment discrimination, including its independent authority to investigate charges of discrimination, especially at a company‐wide level, neither the issuance of a right‐to‐sue letter nor the entry of judgment in a lawsuit brought by individuals bars the EEOC from continuing its own investigation. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Owens became the maintenance supervisor at Phillips Academy. Months later, he came under supervision by Miller. According to Owens, he told Miller that he had an age-discrimination suit pending against the Board of Education. She replied: “Do you think you’re going to keep your job?” Owens maintains that he reminded Miller about the suit weeks later. She replied: “I think you lost your mind ... you think you’re going to keep your job.” The next month Miller gave Owens an “unsatisfactory” rating, the worst he had received since 1975. Owens contends that Miller told him: “I told you you weren’t going to get away with that.” Months later. the Board of Education, with a shrinking budget and declining enrollment, laid off 25 maintenance workers. Owens took early retirement, which he characterized as constructive discharge, alleging that Miller discriminated based on his age (61) and his first suit. The district court granted the Board summary judgment, finding that Miller had legitimate reasons to downrate Owens, who had several performance deficits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part: the record would not permit a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that Owens’s age influenced his “unsatisfactory” rating. Owens’s retaliation theory, however, cannot be resolved on summary judgment. A reasonable juror could conclude that Miller threatened to get rid of Owens on account of his lawsuit and used the rating to do that. View "Owens v. Board of Education of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Plaintiffs, former arbitrators for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, brought a due process action challenging the implementation of a workers’ compensation reform statute that terminated their six‐year appointments under prior law. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a clearly established right that was violated. While that suit was pending, the Illinois governor declined to reappoint Plaintiffs, which ended their employment. Two years later, Plaintiffs filed suit against the governor and his advisors, alleging retaliation for filing the prior suit and that the retaliation violated the First Amendment. The district court dismissed plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims, holding that the Due Process Suit was not protected speech. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining decide whether the Due Process Suit was speech on a matter of public concern as is required for a government employee to show retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs’ claims fail because Plaintiffs were policymakers who could be not reappointed for engaging in “speech on a matter of public concern in a manner that is critical of superiors or their stated policies.” View "Hagan v. Quinn" on Justia Law

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Walker, classified as a sexually violent person, has lived in the Rushville Treatment & Detention Center since 2007 when he finished serving a sentence in an Illinois prison. Walker's treatment team assigned him a “decision-making model,” which is an exercise or treatment tool in which the detainee examines his thought processes associated with a particular decision; Walker believed the assignment was retaliation for his exercise of his First Amendment rights. He brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. At trial, Walker represented himself, but he received help from standby counsel recruited by the court. Walker took an active role in managing his case; he testified, questioned witnesses, introduced exhibits into evidence, and objected to defense counsel’s questions at several points. The jury found for the defendants on all counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting a claim that the district court’s jury instructions on the First Amendment retaliation claim were erroneous. Walker failed to object to the instructions, and he cannot clear the high bar for showing a plain error. Walker also waived an argument that the court erred in admitting privileged and prejudicial treatment records into evidence. View "Walker v. Groot" on Justia Law

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Chambers pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2)(A), (a)(5)(B). His attorney argued for a downward variance based on Chambers’s diminished capacity, U.S.S.G. 5K2.13. He was sentenced to 168 months, the low end of the range. Chambers voluntarily dismissed his direct appeal and challenged his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming ineffective assistance because counsel promised him a five-year sentence and failed to present mitigating evidence. Trial counsel testified that he never told Chambers he would receive a five-year sentence and that he decided against having Chambers’s therapist testify because it might look like Chambers was not accepting responsibility. The judge denied Chambers’s motion, noting that the PSR thoroughly described and counsel made arguments concerning Chambers’s background and mental-health issues. Chambers’s counsel on appeal abandoned him. The Seventh Circuit declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Chambers sought relief under Rule 60(b), arguing that he had been deprived of his opportunity to be heard when he was blocked from filing a pro se memorandum in support of his request for a certificate of appealability. The district judge concluded that she lacked authority to direct the appeals court to allow Chambers to submit a memorandum; Rule 60(b) only allowed her to remedy district court errors. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the remedy for appellate counsel’s error is a motion to recall the mandate, which the court had already rejected. View "Chambers v. United States" on Justia Law

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Mobley was shot in the leg; the shooter fled. The only physical evidence found by Gary, Indiana police was one spent shotgun shell. Earlier that day, Richardson had argued with his girlfriend while standing in Mobley’s yard. Mobley ordered them to leave. Only Holden was willing to give a formal statement to Detective Azcona, stating that “Chris” was the shooter. Azcona later testified that other, unidentified, sources stated that "Chris" had shot Mobley. Three weeks later, officer Hornyak received an anonymous phone call identifying Richardson as the shooter. After Richardson’s arrest, Azcona first spoke with Mobley. He brought prepared questions, which contained numerous references to “Chris.” Azcona showed Mobley a photo array and asked him not if he could identify the shooter, but whether he could identify “Chris Richardson.” Mobley chose his picture. Holden did not testify. Mobley admitted that he was drunk at the time he was shot, but stated that Richardson shot him. No other witness identified the shooter. The shotgun shell was not tested for fingerprints. Azcona testified about Holden’s identification of the shooter. The jury convicted Richardson. The Seventh Circuit reversed a denial of habeas relief. Indiana’s courts unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s Confrontation Clause cases. The use of Holden’s testimony and that of the unnamed informants to prove that Richardson was the shooter violated Richardson’s Confrontation Clause rights View "Richardson v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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In 2013 the Sheriff of Whitley County, Indiana hired the county’s first black police officer, McKinney. Nine months later, McKinney was fired. He sued for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2. The district court granted summary judgment for the Sheriff. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, his extensive evidence adds up to a strong case of race discrimination. The Sheriff “has offered an ever-growing list of rationales for firing McKinney that fall apart in the face of his evidence.” The Sheriff’s termination letter provided three reasons for his discharge. Four days later, the Board of Commissioners sent McKinney another letter that added two more reasons. After McKinney brought suit, the defense added three more reasons. McKinney presented evidence that he was treated differently than his similarly situated colleagues who are not black. He also presented substantial evidence that the many rationales offered for firing him were baseless and pretextual. The district court erred by disregarding most of McKinney’s evidence, improperly discounting his testimony as “self-serving,” and misreading the circuit’s precedent on the “common actor” inference that is sometimes argued in discrimination cases. View "McKinney v. Sheriff's Office of Whitley County" on Justia Law

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Stephenson was convicted, in Indiana, of the 1996 murders of three people and of theft of ammunition from the trailer in which one victim was staying. Shell casings at the murder scene matched those taken from the trailer. The jury recommended the death penalty, which the judge imposed. Stephenson’s state appeal and petition for postconviction relief were unsuccessful. A federal judge ruled that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel because his counsel had failed to object to Stephenson having to wear a stun belt in the courtroom. The Seventh Circuit remanded. The district judge then ruled that Stephenson had not been prejudiced by his lawyer’s failure to object to his having to wear a stun belt visible to jurors in the penalty phase because the jury had already decided that Stephenson was dangerous. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to guilt. Taken together, the evidence old and new, “rife with inconsistencies,” fails to establish Stephenson’s innocence. Stephenson was not prejudiced at the guilt phase by the jury foreman’s acquaintance with the sister of a victim, or two jurors’ discussion of Stephenson’s participation in a bar fight before the murders. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to the guilt phase, noting that the Indiana Supreme Court has barred the future use of stun belts in courtrooms, which can compromise a defendant’s participation at trial because it relies on continuous fear. It is possible that Stephenson’s having to wear the stun belt—for no reason, given that he had no history of acting up in a courtroom—contaminated the penalty phase. View "Stephenson v. Neal" on Justia Law

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When Anderson pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, the district court had only a general knowledge of Anderson’s mental‐health problems. The court knew that Anderson had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and that he was on psychotropic medication but did not know what other illnesses Anderson had, what medication he had been prescribed, and how the drugs affected his functioning. The court also was unaware that Anderson had only spotty access to his medication while in jail awaiting trial. His appointed counsel, who had observed Anderson behaving unusually at points since his detention began, never requested a competence evaluation or hearing. Anderson’s plea agreement prevented him from directly appealing his conviction and sentence. He sought collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court rejected his petition. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that an evidentiary hearing is necessary to consider whether he was competent at the time of his guilty plea because of his illnesses and the effects of the medications he was taking and whether his attorney provided constitutionally defective assistance for failing to challenge his competence. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law