Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Three-month-old J.J. was left in the care of his father, Felton, for the first time. Others visited during the day. That night, J.J. was rushed to the hospital. Doctors discovered that J.J. had a skull fracture, bleeding in his brain, and retinal hemorrhages. J.J. died. Felton was taken to jail on a probation hold. Felton told police that J.J. had hit his head in the bathtub. Another inmate, House, testified that Felton said he had swung J.J. into a bathroom door. Two treating physicians testified that J.J.’s death was, in part, due to shaking. The medical examiner concluded that blunt force trauma was the cause of death. Felton was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide. Felton unsuccessfully sought post‐conviction relief in Wisconsin state courts based on ineffective assistance of counsel, citing his attorney’s failure to object to the prosecutor’s closing argument statement that House could not receive a sentence modification for his testimony, and the attorney’s failure to secure medical expert testimony. At the post‐conviction hearing, three medical experts testified J.J. had not been shaken and J.J.’s injuries were consistent with a fall of two to four feet. The district court and Seventh Circuit denied Felton’s petition for habeas relief. The state court was not unreasonable in concluding that Felton was not prejudiced; there was no substantial likelihood of a different result had counsel objected to the closing argument statement. The habeas medical testimony would not have supported the claim that J.J.’s death was caused by his bathtub fall. View "Felton v. Bartow" on Justia Law

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While serving a prison sentence at the Lawrence Correctional Center in Illinois, Gabb experienced severe back pain whenever he stood too long (15-20 minutes). After treatments he received did not relieve his pain, Gabb sued two members of Lawrence’s medical staff, Dr. Coe and Nurse Kimmel, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his back pain in violation of his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments. Gabb also sued Wexford, the private company that provided medical services at Lawrence. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Gabb has not presented any evidence showing the defendants caused him any harm. The lack of evidence of what the “better” treatments were and whether they would have been effective would leave a jury entirely to its own imagination about what could have been done. View "Gabb v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wanko, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Cameroon, began studying dentistry at IU in 2014 and failed two courses. IU allowed Wanko to remediate RP and retake STI. To pass the RP remediation, a student had to score at least 80% on the exam. Wanko scored 71%. IU notified Wanko she would have to repeat the whole first‐year curriculum. She was the only student in her class held back. Wanko failed to complete her repeat of STI. IU dismissed her. Wanko’s GPA was 1.965. Wanko sued (Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000d), claiming that similarly situated, non‐black students were promoted when she was not. In discovery, IU produced spreadsheets showing the GPA, grades, race, and gender of each student in Wanko’s class, identifying each by number. IU cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act’s safeguards concerning the release of student information, 20 U.S.C. 1232g. IU’s spreadsheets showed only two students had failed both RP and STI in the 2014–2015 school year: Wanko and another black female, who successfully remediated RP, had a GPA above 2.0, and was allowed to proceed to the second‐year curriculum. Wanko moved to compel the production of actual student records, claiming the spreadsheets were unreliable. The district court overruled Wanko’s objection to the magistrate’s denial of the motion and granted IU summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The spreadsheets showed no student, let alone one outside of a protected class, was similarly situated to Wanko. View "Wanko v. Board of Trustees of Indiana University" on Justia Law

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Freeman, an African-American, began as an "at will" probationary treatment plant operator, collecting and transporting water samples across the mile-long plant. Although operators typically transport these samples in District-owned vehicles, the job description does not require a driver’s license. Three months after Freeman was hired, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, His license was suspended for six months. Freeman began seeing a substance-abuse counselor. As required by his contract, he told the District about the license suspension and his counseling. He bought a bike and a cooler to transport samples and asked whether he could use a go-cart, which does not require a driver’s license on private property. The District refused to approve a state-approved occupational driving permit that would permit him to drive a company vehicle while working. The District fired Freeman, asserting “unsatisfactory performance.” Freeman alleges that the real reason for his firing was his race and because the District regarded him as an alcoholic. Each of four court-recruited attorneys moved to withdraw. The court dismissed his claims of race and disability discrimination and of retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1983; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2; and under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12112. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Freeman adequately pleaded his discrimination claims. The court affirmed with respect to Freeman’s Monell contention that the District fired him pursuant to an unlawful policy. View "Freeman v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago" on Justia Law

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Firefighter Mollet became a battalion chief in 2009. His relationships with chief Cohn and assistant chief Weber were strained. One night, firefighter Hernandez forgot to stow his gear. Other firefighters displayed the items and posted a paper sign with a Mexican flag and the words “Border Patrol.” Hernandez did not file a complaint but another firefighter reported it. Mollet emailed Cohn and Weber, who agreed “that this crosses the line of firehouse hazing” and asked Mollet to investigate. Four individuals were eventually disciplined. In the following months, Cohn and Weber were critical of Mollet’s performance on multiple occasions and stated that he might be demoted or reassigned. Mollet received an offer of employment from another department. Cohn and Weber indicated that he would be demoted if he did not take that position. Mollet told Weber he was going to accept the offer, which was contingent upon his passing a physical and psychological exam. Cohn sent a letter accepting Mollet’s resignation; Mollet responded he would not resign until the contingencies were met. Cohn responded that Mollet’s employment had terminated. Mollet was placed on paid leave until he submitted his resignation and began his new employment. Mollet filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, alleging he was retaliated against for opposing workplace discrimination. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment rejecting the claim; no reasonable trier of fact could find that reporting the Hernandez incident was the but-for cause of Mollet’s constructive discharge. View "Mollet v. City of Greenfield" on Justia Law

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Illinois inmate Williams sued prison officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights by providing inadequate nutrition through a “brunch” program that served only two meals a day. Williams had filed multiple grievances complaining that the prison’s food was making him ill. He mainly objected to the use of soy protein, asserting that it caused him stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, migraine headaches, and excessive gas; he sometimes claimed that he received only 1600 calories per day or fewer than 2800 calories per day, and requested that he be served breakfast. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the record establishes without dispute that the brunch program was adequate as designed by a licensed dietician to provide 2200-2400 calories per day, including a minimum of six ounces of protein per day. Williams lacks evidence that any of the defendants knew that he was allegedly not receiving adequate nutrition. For persons having special dietary needs, the Department allows therapeutic dietary trays as prescribed by physicians. View "Williams v. Shah" on Justia Law

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A person “who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is forbidden to possess a firearm, 18 U.S.C.922(g)(1). Kanter was convicted of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, for bilking the Medicare program, and was sentenced to 366 days in prison. After release, he contended that section 922(g)(1) was invalid, as applied to him because fraud is not a violent crime. Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit upheld section 922(g)(1), The Supreme Court has specifically upheld “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons” and fraud is a thought‐out crime that demonstrates disdain for the rights of others and disrespect for the law. Section 922(g)(1) may be applied to a felon convicted of fraud, whose maximum sentence exceeded a year, even if the actual punishment was less. The court noted that it is not possible to separate persons with felony convictions into two categories: dangerous and harmless and rejected an argument that the section was invalid because Congress has declined to fund a statutory (18 U.S.C. 925(c)) program that would permit the Attorney General to lift the prohibition for persons who demonstrate that they would not present a danger to others. View "Hatfield v. Barr" on Justia Law

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In 2002, the University hired LaRiviere as an Assistant Director of Building Maintenance. In 2011, LaRiviere learned that her supervisor was retiring and asked if the University would waive requirements that the position be publicly posted and filled by someone with an engineering degree. An administrator declined to disregard those requirements and hired Fuligni, a 30‐year Navy veteran who had served as a civil engineer with supervisory authority over hundreds of employees. LaRiviere filed two unsuccessful state court discrimination lawsuits. Fuligni hired Meyer to fill a newly created Associate Director position. LaRiviere reported to Meyer. Over the next several years, LaRiviere had several conflicts with coworkers and supervisors. Notwithstanding these incidents, Lariviere received positive performance reviews. In 2016, the University notified LaRiviere that her employment would end in a year. Fuligni transferred her to a different, newly-constructed building, LaRiviere identified a number of deficiencies. Maintenance immediately addressed those concerns, except for the high humidity. The University replaced LaRiviere, an African-American with a Caucasian man without a college degree. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. LaRiviere has not identified evidence that her ethnicity was the reason for her termination or of a causal connection between a protected activity and her termination. View "LaRiviere v. Board Trustees of Southern Illinois University" on Justia Law

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Under Illinois law, potential candidates for public office must file a nominating petition to gain a place on a political party’s primary ballot. Within a 90-day window, candidates for statewide offices must collect 5,000 signatures from voters in the jurisdiction where the candidate seeks election. Candidates for Cook County offices must collect a number of signatures equal to 0.5% of the qualified voters of the candidate’s party who voted in the most recent general election in Cook County. Applying that formula, Acevedo had to gather 8,236 signatures to appear on the 2018 Democratic primary ballot for Cook County Sheriff. He gathered only 5,654 and was denied a place on the ballot. Acevedo filed suit, alleging violations of his freedom of association and equal protection rights, arguing that the statewide requirement reflects Illinois’s judgment that making candidates collect 5,000 signatures is sufficient to protect the state’s interest in ballot management. Acevedo argued that Illinois could not impose a heightened burden unless doing so furthered a compelling state interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Strict scrutiny is not triggered by the existence of a less burdensome restriction—it is triggered only when the challenged regulation itself imposes a severe burden. Acevedo failed to allege that requiring candidates to gather 8,236 signatures is a constitutionally significant burden. View "Acevedo v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board" on Justia Law

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Shipman pleaded guilty in 2003 to conspiring to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 846. His presentence report used the 2002 Sentencing Guidelines, which then required courts to increase the offense level of a “career offender.” Shipman had three prior Arkansas convictions for residential burglary in 1986 and 1987. The district court sentenced him to 262 months’ imprisonment as a “career offender.” Neither the presentence report nor the court explained whether Shipman’s career-offender designation rested on the enumerated-offenses clause or the residual clause. In 2005, the Supreme Court rendered the Guidelines “effectively advisory.” In 2015, the Court’s Johnson decision struck down the Armed Career Criminal Act’s residual clause as unconstitutionally vague, subsequently holding that the change applied retroactively on collateral review. Within one year of the Johnson decision, Shipman sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The Seventh Circuit remanded the denial of his petition. While the Guidelines’ residual clause is unconstitutionally vague, the record does not conclusively show whether Shipman was sentenced under the residual clause or the enumerated-offenses clause. All viable bases for Shipman to attack a career-offender designation under the enumerated-offenses clause were available at sentencing and within the one-year limitations period of section 2255(f)(1); there has been no change in the law since then. View "Shipman v. United States" on Justia Law