U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


7th Cir. Overturns Conviction of Brendan Dassey From 'Making a Murderer'

Is it bigger news that another murder conviction was overturned, or that the alleged killer was featured in a television series?

In either case, there will be a second season to "Making a Murderer," the Netflix documentary that told the story of Steven Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for being wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder.

That's because now there is a new story to tell. Brendan Dassey, who was convicted with Avery in a later murder, has been exonerated by a federal appeals court.

Supreme Court to Review Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case

In a case that could affect elections nationwide, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a gerrymandering decision from Wisconsin.

All legislatures draw voting districts to favor the incumbent party, but the court will decide how far they can go in drawing maps along party lines. In Gill v. Whitford, a federal court panel said Republican lawmakers had unlawfully drawn state assembly maps to keep Democrats from securing legislative seats.

While agreeing to review that decision, the Supreme Court also stayed the lower court's order to re-draw the maps while the appeal is pending.

Transgender Teen May Use Boys' Bathroom, Court Rules

A federal appeals court affirmed an injunction allowing a 17-year-old transgender student to use the boys' bathroom at school.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said Ashton Whitaker, who was born female, will likely prevail on his claim of sexual stereotyping against his school district. Whitaker said the district denied him access to the bathroom in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

The Kenosha Unified School District said it was not sexual stereotyping to require a biological female to use the girls' bathroom, but the appeals court disagreed in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District.

"By definition, a transgender individual does not conform to the sex-based stereotypes of the sex that he or she was assigned at birth," Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote for the court, adding: "A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non-conformance, which in turn violates Title IX."

Court Vacates Police Officers' Suit Over Order to Cover Tattoos

A federal appeals court vacated a lawsuit by police officers who sued because their department ordered them to cover their tattoos.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the controversy was moot because the plaintiffs prevailed in a related arbitration, and the city rescinded its tattoo order. In Medici v. City of Chicago, the appeals court said there was nothing left to decide -- even though the city had prevailed in the trial court.

"So what should be done with the district judge's grant of judgment in favor of the City?," Judge Richard Posner asked rhetorically.

" The answer is "vacatur [that is, erasing a judgment so that its legal effect is as if it had never been written, vacatur being Latin for "it is made void"] is in order when mootness occurs through ... the 'unilateral action of the party who prevailed in the lower court.'"

No Disability for Psychological Electromagnetic Distress

A federal appeals court summarily dispatched a lawsuit for psychological distress caused by electromagnetic voltage.

In a three-page opinion -- including one page for the caption -- the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a dismissal against a Travelodge employee in Hirmiz v. New Harrison Hotel Corp. George D. Hirmiz had sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming he suffered from exposure to electromagnetic voltage at the hotel.

Civil Rights Law Includes LGBT Job Bias

In a historic decision, a federal appeals court ruled that civil rights laws protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

It is the first time in the United States that a court has extended the 1964 Civil Rights Act to workers who identify with the LGBT community. Other courts traditionally have said that sexual orientation was not protected because it was not defined in the Civil Rights Act.

"For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the en banc majority. "We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."

Home Depot Faces Trial in Worker's Murder

A federal appeals court said that Home Depot must face trial for a supervisor's off-duty murder of a company employee.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said employers are responsible for workers who tortiously abuse their supervisory authority -- even when it occurs away from work. The appellate panel said it is the same as when a worker drives a company car.

"Both entrustment with a chattel and entrustment with supervisory authority set employees apart from the general public," Judge David Hamilton wrote in Anicich v. Home Depot. "In both situations, employers have the ability and incentive to consider and monitor the employees whom they are trusting and how that trust is used."

Throwing Rocks at Armed Israeli Soldiers Deemed a Terrorist Act

A Palestinian man lost his petition to immigrate to the United States because he threw rocks at Israel soldiers when he was 13 years old, a federal appeals court said.

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the man's childhood act was "admittedly minor, when compared with the worst terrorists acts," but also said its hands were effectively tied. The appellate panel said that it had limited authority to review the consular's discretionary decision in Hazama v. Tillerson.

"This was a discretionary call, and it would not have been outside the consular officer's discretion to consider this as an act of juvenile rebellion rather than an act of terrorism," Judge Diane Wood wrote for the court.

Judge Posner isn't just one of the judiciary's most influential jurists, he's also a noted cat fancier. His puss, an eight-year-old Maine Coon named Pixie, is one of the most famous legal pets around. Both "beautiful and very intelligent," according to Posner, Pixie is also the first cat "actually to like me."

Posner's love of cats, and perhaps his frustration with their pickiness, made its way into a recent decision in an eye-drop class action suit. Posner vacated class certification and ended the suit, but not until he'd gone on a lengthy tangent about pedigree cats, their fancy kibble and their taste for fine water fountains, a digression that took up about 20 percent of the brief opinion.

A U.S. district court in Chicago recently denied a warrant that would have allowed the government to compel any individual at the searched location to unlock his iPhone, iPad, or other Apple electronic device that was protected Touch ID. The warrant application raises serious Fourth and Fifth Amendment concerns, the court explained, and fails to establish sufficient probable cause for the request that "is neither limited to a particular person nor a particular device."

Last summer, the U.S. government obtained a similar warrant to compel anyone in a building in California to unlock their phones with their fingerprints, but the recent ruling out of Illinois shows how such requests can meet resistance.