Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Von Kahl is serving a life sentence, plus consecutive terms of 10 and five years’ imprisonment, for murdering two deputy U.S. Marshals and related crimes. The Bureau of Prisons originally calculated his release date as February 2013. In 1994, the Bureau recalculated his release date as February 2023. Von Kahl contested the calculation of his release date 28 U.S.C. 2241. Von Kahl, whose crime predates the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act, is subject to the 1976 Reorganization Act, 18 U.S.C. 4201–28, and was eligible for parole as soon as he was sentenced. The Parole Commission denied him release. He contends that he is now entitled to mandatory release under section 4206(d), which caps how long anyone must serve unless the inmate has seriously or frequently violated institutional rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any crime.The Seventh Circuit upheld the 2023 release date. The statute says that a life term is treated the same as a 45-year term, so anyone sentenced to life is presumptively released after 30 years but, unless paroled earlier, a prisoner must serve two-thirds or 30 years of “each consecutive term or terms.” Von Kahl is serving three consecutive terms: life, ten years, and five years. Thirty years for the life term, plus two-thirds of each term of years, adds to 40 years, running through February 2023. View "Von Kahl v. Segal" on Justia Law

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Police were called when a highly-inebriated Gupta became belligerent while trying to enter a hotel at which he was not a guest. Surveillance video shows Gupta stumbling around and knocking over a brochure rack. A police officer, attempting to move Gupta outside, tugged on his handcuffed arm causing him to fall on his head and chest and fracture a vertebra in his neck. The officer then picked Gupta up by the arms and dragged him to the sidewalk. The officer asserts that he used a reasonable amount of force because Gupta was resisting arrest. Gupta asserts that he was not resisting the arrest, and was intoxicated, unsteady on his feet, and handcuffed with his hands behind his back. The video does not show Gupta stiffening or jerking himself away from the officer.The Seventh Circuit reversed an order granting the defendant summary judgment on Gupta’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 excessive force claim. There are material disputes of fact that make resolution of this case on summary judgment inappropriate. View "Gupta v. Melloh" on Justia Law

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Chambers appealed the denial of two petitions for habeas corpus, asserting that he was denied due process in prison disciplinary hearings. Chambers lost good-time credit for one incident of refusing a prison guard’s instructions to provide a urine sample, disobeying a staff member’s order, and acting with insolence towards the staff member and another incident of interfering with a security device (he had activated a cell alarm by forcibly kicking his cell door). The hearing officers discounted Chambers’s claim that the guard never asked for a sample, noting video evidence that the guard was carrying a sample bottle and found Chambers guilty based on his undisputed statement to the guard that he was not in distress or having a medical emergency when he kicked his cell door.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The disciplinary determinations were supported by sufficient evidence. Chambers had no due-process right to call witnesses whose testimony would be repetitive and irrelevant. The record lacked any evidence of bias and the initial reviews of Chambers’s cases by a one-member Unit Disciplinary Committee complied with BOP rules. Federal courts must affirm prison disciplinary decisions if they are supported by “some evidence,” and the incident reports cleared that low bar. “Chambers, a frequent litigant, is warned that he risks monetary sanctions if he continues to repeat in future cases these arguments that we have found to be frivolous.” View "Chambers v. Ciolli" on Justia Law

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Anderson rode with Cooper and Jackson to a Chicago sandwich shop. The trio entered the shop. Inside were customers Hazziez and Hart and several cooks, behind a glass wall. While waiting for food, Jackson sold two dime bags of crack cocaine to an unknown person outside the shop. Hart confronted Anderson’s group, stating it wasn’t their turf and they shouldn’t be selling drugs there. The argument moved outside. Anderson shot Hart three times. Hazziez, having witnessed the shooting, jumped in his car and took off. As Hazziez drove away, he heard three more shots.Anderson was convicted of first-degree murder of Hart, attempted first-degree murder of Hazziez, and aggravated discharge of a firearm in the direction of a vehicle occupied by Hazziez. His first-degree murder conviction was affirmed. Because of an erroneous jury instruction, the attempted murder conviction was reversed. The court entered judgment on the aggravated discharge of a firearm count. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. Anderson then sought federal habeas relief, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for his aggravated-discharge conviction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Illinois Appellate Court reasonably applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent in upholding Anderson’s conviction by pointing to trial testimony supporting an inference that Anderson was shooting at Hazziez. View "Anderson v. Brookhart" on Justia Law

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Reinebold, then 56 years old, applied to be the head baseball coach of Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). After IUSB declined to hire Reinebold, he sued IUSB, Athletic Director Bruce, and Assistant Athletic Director Norris under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed all of Reinebold’s claims with his concession except for his section 1983 claims against Bruce and Norris in their individual capacities. The district court then entered summary judgment in favor of Bruce and Norris, finding that Reinebold did not identify a suitable comparator and did not show that he was intentionally treated differently because of his age.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The hiring committee distinguished Reinebold and his proposed comparator Buysse (age 31) based on their respective performances during their interviews. The evidence shows that Reinebold performed poorly during his phone interview. Buysse performed well. An employer is not required to score a job interview using objective criteria. View "Reinebold v. Bruce" on Justia Law

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After a steady buildup of performance problems, Sweet lost her job as a customer service representative in the Bargersville, Indiana clerk-treasurer’s office. Months before she was fired, Sweet criticized Longstreet, the elected clerk-treasurer, for reconnecting the utility service of a delinquent customer who was Longstreet’s wealthy business partner. Arguing that she was fired for vocalizing her opposition to the reconnection, she sued Longstreet and the town alleging retaliation in violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Sweet cited “suspicious timing” in the form of a five-month gap between her criticism and the termination of her employment; an ambiguous affidavit from a fellow employee; and the fact that her former employer offered several reasons for her termination rather than a single, consistent explanation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in her suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Even if Sweet’s criticism of Longstreet was constitutionally protected, she lacks sufficient evidence to support an inference that it was a motivating factor in the termination of her employment. The evidence, considered as a whole, indicates that Sweet was fired for multiple reasons, including “her long documented history of deficient performance, failure to improve on requested areas, incidences of bullying and repeated mistakes.” View "Sweet v. Town of Bargersville" on Justia Law

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Moreland, convicted of first-degree reckless homicide by delivery of a controlled substance, unsuccessfully appealed. On August 11, 2013, his direct review ended when the opportunity to file a certiorari petition in the U.S. Supreme Court expired. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, he had one year from that date to file a federal habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1). Moreland sought collateral postconviction relief in state court on July 30, 2014. On March 7, 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Moreland’s petition for review. All 586 days of the state postconviction process were tolled.Moreland filed a federal habeas petition on March 28, 2016, nine days after the one-year statute of limitations elapsed; 374 untolled days had elapsed since the end of Moreland’s direct review. Moreland’s petition raised claims related to due process, ineffective assistance of counsel, the right to confrontation, and the right to a fair and impartial jury. Moreland alleged that the time for filing his petition should be equitably tolled because he suffered from schizophrenia, and on several occasions, was unable to research his case due to lack of access to the prison library.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition. Moreland has not demonstrated extraordinary circumstances or reasonable diligence to warrant equitable tolling. The court rejected claims that the district court should have tolled the time connected with motions for postconviction discovery and for reconsideration. View "Moreland v. Eplett" on Justia Law

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Dean, incarcerated since 2012, developed kidney cancer. Seven months after he first presented symptoms, Dean had kidney-removal surgery. The cancer had already spread to his liver, Dean remains terminally ill. Dean sued his doctors and their employer, Wexford, a private corporation that contracts to provide healthcare to Illinois inmates, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dean cited delays in his diagnosis and treatment, caused by his doctors’ failure to arrange timely off-site care, and on a policy that requires Wexford’s corporate office to pre-approve off-site care.A jury awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, which was reduced to $7 million. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Dean has endured great suffering, but he did not produce enough evidence to hold any of the defendants liable for violating the Eighth Amendment. Dean’s claim against Wexford hinged on two expert reports from another case that critique the medical care, and process for medical care, that Illinois provides, through Wexford, to its prisoners. Those reports are hearsay, but the district court allowed Dean to use them for a non-hearsay purpose: to prove that Wexford had prior notice of the negative assessments of its review policy. One report postdated all events relevant to Dean and could not have given Wexford prior notice. The other report alone was insufficient to hold Wexford liable under the exacting “Monell” requirements in this single-incident case. View "Dean v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kurzynowski pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography. He admitted to officers that he spent years in internet chatrooms discussing sexual behavior involving minors and that his sexual interest focused on 10-13-year-old boys. His more recent online conversations explored fantasies of cooking and eating children. In 2015, the district court sentenced Kurzynowski to 96 months’ imprisonment. In 2020, Kurzynowski moved for compassionate release under the First Step Act of 2018, 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), citing his hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion. The fact that Kurzynowski is vaccinated precludes a finding that the COVID-19 pandemic presents extraordinary and compelling reasons for his release. The district court properly recognized that the need to protect the public, “especially the most vulnerable members, children,” was particularly significant with Kurzynowski because his crimes “were motivated by his depraved sexual appetite toward young children, a pathology for which he has not received medical, psychological, or spiritual treatment.” The district court adequately considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and did not err or abuse its discretion. View "United States v. Kurzynowski" on Justia Law

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Wilber was convicted of a 2004 murder and was sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction in Wisconsin state court, Wilber sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2554, arguing that he was deprived of his right to due process when he was visibly shackled before the jury during closing arguments. The district court issued a writ of habeas corpus, concluding that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision sustaining the shackling order amounted to an unreasonable application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision, “Deck v. Missouri.”The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Neither the trial judge nor the state appellate court ever articulated a reason why Wilber had to be visibly restrained in the jury’s presence, so the shackling decision ran afoul of Deck. Wilber was visibly restrained at a key phase of the trial, when the prosecution highlighted evidence that, in the moments leading up to the murder, Wilber’s behavior was “wild,” “crazy,” “possessed,” and “out of control,” so Wilber was prejudiced by the shackling error. The restraints would have suggested to the jury that the court itself perceived Wilber to be incapable of self-control and to pose such a danger that he must be manacled in order to protect others in the courtroom, including the jurors. View "Wilber v. Hepp" on Justia Law