Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Jack and Angela Howser decided that Angela’s estranged daughter, Jade, was failing to provide a suitable home for Jade’s four-year-old daughter, E.W. After unsuccessfully attempting to blackmail Jade, they enlisted the local police, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor, and a private investigator to help them. The group agreed that they would arrest Jade while Jade’s husband (Josh) was out of the house so that the Howsers could take the child. After midnight on Sunday night, a caravan of the sheriff, a deputy, the Howsers, and the private investigator set out for Jade’s home to arrest her for writing Angela a $200 check that had bounced. Once Jade was in handcuffs, an officer gave Jack the all-clear to come inside. The sheriff did not allow Jade to designate a custodian for E.W. or obtain her consent to giving E.W. to the Howsers. Jade sued the Howsers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for conspiring with state officials to violate her due process right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of her child. A jury returned a verdict in her favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict and upholding the magistrate judge’s pretrial decision to exclude unfavorable information about Jade and Josh. The court upheld an award of $970,000 in damages. View "Green v. Howser" on Justia Law

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Burger worked in the Macon County Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office, starting in 2010. Scott was the elected State’s Attorney and his deputy was Assistant SA Kroncke. Burger alleges that Kroncke had authority to hire and fire employees, including Burger. After Burger had been working at the Office for about five years, she married. Her husband had been convicted of a felony drug offense in Wyoming in 2009. The same year she married, Burger told Scott that she believed Kroncke had violated state and federal laws and employee-handbook provisions, by disclosing confidential information and by discriminating against and harassing employees. Scott told Kroncke. Kroncke started treating Burger poorly: excluding Burger from meetings and other communications, bypassing Burger in the chain of command, and calling Burger demeaning names. Burger complained to human-resource personnel. Months later Burger was told that her employment was being terminated because of her association with her husband, who had been convicted of a crime. Burger sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, The district court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Under “Monell,” local governments may be liable for violating individuals’ rights guaranteed by federal law but are responsible only for “their own illegal acts.” Local governments are not responsible for others’ acts falling outside an official local-government policy. In this case, the alleged illegal conduct was directed by an officer of the state, not Macon County. View "Burger v. County of Macon" on Justia Law

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Mooney, an Illinois public-school teacher, is not a member of IEA, the union that serves as the exclusive representative of her employee unit in collective bargaining with the school district. The District deducted from her paycheck and sent to the union a fair-share fee that contributed to the costs incurred by the union. The Illinois Public Relations Act and 1977 Supreme Court precedent, Abood, authorized the arrangement. In its 2018 Janus decision, the Supreme Court overruled Abood, holding that compulsory fair share fee arrangements violate the First Amendment rights of persons who would prefer not to associate with the union. State employers in Illinois ceased deducting fair-share fees from the paychecks of nonmembers of public-sector unions. Mooney filed a putative class action (42 U.S.C. 1983) for the fees that had previously been deducted from her pay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Mooney’s claims, joining the consensus across the country. Unions that collected fair-share fees prior to Janus, in accordance with state law and Abood, are entitled to assert a good-faith defense to section 1983 liability. The court rejected Mooney’s argument that she was not seeking damages and that an equitable demand for restitution cannot be defeated on good-faith grounds. The gravamen of Mooney’s complaint is that her First Amendment rights were violated by the fair-share requirement; her claim lies in law rather than equity. View "Mooney v. Illinois Education Association" on Justia Law

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Janus was employed by an Illinois agency. A collective bargaining agreement designated AFSCME as the exclusive representative of Janus’s employee unit. Janus exercised his right not to join the union. He objected to withholding $44.58 from his paycheck each month to compensate AFSCME. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act established an exclusive representation scheme and authorized collective bargaining agreements that included a fair‐share fee provision to compensate the union for costs incurred in collective bargaining and representing employees, including non-members. Lower courts rejected Janus’s argument that the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood decision, which upheld “fair share” schemes was wrongly decided. The Supreme Court overruled Abood in 2018, holding that requiring nonmembers to pay fair‐share fees and “subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern” violated the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit subsequently rejected Janus’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim for damages equivalent to the fair share fees he had paid. The case presented a First Amendment issue, not one under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. The Court’s analysis focused on whether requiring a union to continue to represent those who do not pay a fair‐share fee would be sufficiently inequitable to establish a compelling interest, not whether requiring nonmembers to contribute to the unions would be inequitable. Nor did the Court hold that Janus has an unqualified constitutional right to accept the benefits of union representation without paying. Its focus was on freedom of expression. The Court also did not specify whether its decision should apply retroactively. The statute on which defendants relied was considered constitutional for 41 years. View "Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees" on Justia Law

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Knight, a Wisconsin prisoner, sought treatment for a knee injury. Dr. Grossman, who worked at a hospital that provided medical services to state prisoners, diagnosed Knight with a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament and performed reconstruction surgery. A few years later, Knight reinjured his knee and returned for treatment. Dr. Grossman examined Knight, ordered x-rays, and, without consulting an MRI, diagnosed him with a torn ACL revision. Dr. Grossman offered Knight the option of undergoing a revision procedure to repair the tear. During surgery, he determined that Knight did not have a tear but had degenerative joint disease or arthritis. Not knowing when Knight would be available for surgery again, Grossman performed an alternate procedure, which he had not discussed with Knight. Knight did not learn of the change in course until his follow-up visit. In Knight’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dr. Grossman. The court stated that prisoners retain a liberty interest in refusing forced medical treatment while incarcerated, with an implied right to the information necessary to make an informed decision about treatment. Knight did not establish a violation of that right because no reasonable jury could find that Dr. Grossman acted with deliberate indifference to Knight’s knee condition or to his right to refuse treatment. View "Knight v. Grossman" on Justia Law

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Lewis, a Wisconsin prisoner, filed suit, alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit vacated summary judgment, finding that a reasonable jury could find that a nurse and a correctional officer acted with deliberate indifference by delaying medical attention for Lewis’s painful back condition. The court suggested that, on remand, the district court should consider whether to reinstate Lewis’s state-law medical malpractice claim against the nurse. On remand, Lewis went to trial, represented by recruited counsel. The jury found for the defendants. Lewis immediately moved, pro se, to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. The district court, construing Lewis’s motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), denied his motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is a rational basis for the jury’s decision and that the district court committed no error warranting further proceedings. The court rejected arguments that Lewis received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial was unfair. View "Lewis v. McLean" on Justia Law

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Daza worked for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) as a geologist for 23 years. In 2011, Daza expressed concerns that another employee was denied promotion because of his political affiliation. In 2013, Daza complained about a commissioner’s misuse of political office. About a month later Daza received his first reprimand, for refusing to answer calls after hours. In 2014, he again complained about the treatment of another employee. A supervisor complained about Daza’s “professionalism.” Daza had multiple disagreements with supervisors and was ultimately terminated “because his behavior consistently defied INDOT culture and expectations.” Daza filed suit, alleging that his firing was unlawful. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, rejecting claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 that alleged violation of Daza’s First Amendment rights by discriminating and retaliating against him for his political activities and affiliation. Daza presented a long string of facts occurring over four years but presented no evidence that his alleged political activities or affiliation motivated his firing. The evidence actually shows that management had taken issue with Daza’s conduct for years, and the decision to fire him was made after his offensive comments during a training session. View "Daza v. Indiana" on Justia Law

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Kimbrough dated the mother of daughters, ages five and seven, who eventually revealed Kimbrough had molested them for two years. Kimbrough was convicted and sentenced to 80 years’ imprisonment. The judge considered Kimbrough’s lack of criminal history and Kimbrough’s abuse of a position of trust. Kimbrough's counsel argued the court abused its discretion in imposing that sentence but never challenged his sentence under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B), which allows the court to revise a sentence that "is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.” A split panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals sua sponte reduced his sentence under Rule 7(B). The Indiana Supreme Court vacated, holding Rule 7(B) should not have been invoked sua sponte. Kimbrough then sought post-conviction relief, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to challenge the sentence under Rule 7(B). The trial court and Indiana Court of Appeals denied relief, stating: “Kimbrough has not established that there is a reasonable probability that, if appellate counsel had made a Rule 7(B) challenge, the result ... would have been different.” Granting Kimbrough’s petition for federal habeas relief, the district court found that because panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals reached opposite conclusions, Kimbrough necessarily had a reasonable probability of success and had satisfied Strickland’s prejudice prong. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that a federal court considering a 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) habeas petition cannot disagree with a state court’s resolution of a state law issue. View "Kimbrough v. Neal" on Justia Law

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Hanson was indicted in 2009 for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in excess of 500 grams. The prosecution established Hanson’s three prior drug offenses and Kentucky felony third-degree residential burglary conviction. Hanson pleaded guilty with a plea agreement; the government listed only one prior felony drug conviction under 21 U.S.C. 851, instead of three potentially qualifying convictions, and relied in part on Hanson’s burglary conviction for a recommended Guidelines sentencing range. The Probation Officer calculated Hanson’s Guidelines range as 262-327 months, U.S.S.G. 4B1.1(c)(3). The court sentenced Hanson to 262 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of his collateral challenge to his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Noting that the challenge was untimely, the court rejected an argument that the district court erred when it included his third-degree burglary as a crime of violence, enhancing Hanson’s status to a career offender, and resulting in a “miscarriage of justice.” The government conceded that the Kentucky third-degree burglary statute does not inherently involve “purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct” of a “crime of violence” as part of the career offender designation but the court did not rely solely, or even principally, on the Guidelines; it referenced multiple considerations in imposing Hanson’s sentence, including the Guidelines, the lengthy presentencing report, the argument of the parties, and factors set forth in section 3553(a). View "Hanson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Stewart sustained serious injuries upon crashing his car while driving under the influence. Although Stewart does not remember his time at the hospital he signed a form consenting to treatment. An emergency room doctor treated Stewart and in doing so ordered a blood draw, which confirmed that he had been drinking. The police requested and received the blood test results from the hospital’s medical staff. Stewart later sued both officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating the Fourth Amendment by obtaining his test results without a warrant and the hospital’s medical staff for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act by disclosing the results. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Indiana law requires medical staff who test a person’s blood “for diagnostic purposes” to “disclose the results of the test to a law enforcement officer who requests the … results as a part of a criminal investigation” regardless of whether the person has “consented to or otherwise authorized their release.” HIPAA does not confer individual enforcement rights—express or implied. The police officers did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. View "Stewart v. Parkview Hospital" on Justia Law