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

August 2010 News

Wolfe v. Schaefer, 10-1016, involved an attorney's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against the State Attorney and others, arising from his failed 2008 bid for State's Attorney of Cumberland County, Illinois, claiming that defendants violated the Fourth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by publicly disclosing that plaintiff was under investigation by Illinois state agencies for possible violations of legal ethics, tax law, and unemployment-insurance law.  In affirming the district court's dismissal of the suit, the court held that the fact that a candidate for public office is under investigation for legal and ethical violations is a matter of substantial public interest.

 

US v. Howard, 09-3840, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant for access device fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft, for forging her grandmother's signature to obtain a student loan and to apply for credit card accounts.

 

Xodus v. Wackenhut Corp., 09-3082, involved a plaintiff's suit against a security firm, claiming that it violated Title VII when it did not hire him as a security guard because plaintiff would not cut his dreadlocks.  In affirming the district court's judgment that defendant did not engage in religious discrimination when it refused to hire plaintiff on account of his dreadlocked hairstyle, the court held that the district court's decision to credit the interviewing manager's testimony that plaintiff never informed him that religious belief required him to wear dreadlocks is both plausible from the evidence and sufficiently explained in the opinion.  Also, plaintiff waived his claim that the district court erred by preventing him from testifying about his EEOC intake questionnaire.  Lastly, the court held that plaintiff's claims that the district court erred when it granted summary judgment to defendant on the issue of whether he mitigated his damages and whether he was entitled to punitive damages are moot.

 

Stephenson v. Wilson, 09-2924

Stephenson v. Wilson, 09-2924, concerned a challenge to the district court's grant of defendant's request for habeas relief in ruling that defendant had been denied effective assistance of counsel during both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial, because his counsel had failed to object to the state's making him wear a stun belt in the courtroom, in a capital murder prosecution of defendant.

 

US v. Quintero, 09-2715, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant and his getaway driver and girlfriend for bank robbery, and their sentences.  In affirming both the conviction and the sentence, the court held that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to appeal.  The court also held that the co-defendant's participation in the escape phase of the bank robbery was sufficient to convict her of being an accomplice in accordance with jury instructions.  Lastly, the co-defendant's sentencing enhancement for the discharge of a firearm was appropriate as the district court was reasonable in concluding that defendant's firing of the gun could be attributed to co-defendant as an aider and abettor.

 

US v. Martin, 07-2272, concerned a challenge to convictions of defendants for violating various provisions of 21 U.S.C. sections 841, 843 and 846, for their respective roles in a narcotics conspiracy. 

 

Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 07-2288

Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 07-2288, concerned a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer, in plaintiff's suit against her employer, Chicago Transit Authority, claiming sex discrimination and hostile work environment.  In reversing in part, the court held that district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of a hostile work environment, as it related to the co-worker's actions and the employer's liability, was improper.  However, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's discrimination claim as she has not produced evidence of an adverse employment action.  Lastly, the court held that the plaintiff has forfeited her retaliation claim, as a plaintiff may not user her brief opposing summary judgment to introduce claims not stated in her complaint.

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US v. Lee, 09-2698, concerned a challenge to the district court's conviction of defendant for drug related crimes.  In affirmin the conviction, the court held that, assuming arguendo that the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress his incriminating statements amounted to a violation of his constitutional rights, such an error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  Further, the district court did not violate defendant's constitutional rights.

 

US v. Smith, 09-1443, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, money laundering, concealment of information from the Social Security Administration, and making false statements, and sentence of ninety-two months' imprisonment.  In vacating the conviction, the court remanded the matter as, given the district court's failure to meet the requirements of Rule 11(b)(1)(N) and the fundamental nature of the underlying right at issue, the plea agreement's appellate waiver does not preclude defendant from challenging on direct appeal the district court's alleged denial of his right to counsel of his choice.  Further, the defendant is entitled to have his guilty plea vacated as district court erroneously denied defendant his constitutional right to his choice of defense counsel, and under Gonzalez-Lopez, defendant is not required to prove that he was prejudiced by the violation.

 

US v. LaFaive, 09-2344, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant on two counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft for assuming the identity of her deceased sister and opening checking accounts in her name and using counterfeited checks.  In affirming the conviction, the court held that the district court did not plainly err in entering the jury's conviction of defendant for violating 18 U.S.C. section 1028A(a)(1) as the statute criminalizes the misuse of another person's identity, whether that other person is living or deceased.  The court also affirmed the sentence as the district court did not plainly err in calculating or imposing defendant's sentence.

US v. Campbell, 09-3527, concerned a challenge to the district court's imposition of a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence to run concurrently with defendant's state sentence for an unrelated offense, without crediting defendant with the nine months already served for the state sentence, in a prosecution of defendant for being a felon in possession of a firearm.  In vacating and remanding for resentencing, the court held that, under section 5G1.3, district court had the discretion to adjust defendant's sentence to account for the time he had served on his state conviction.

 

US v. Brown, 09-3776

US v. Brown, 09-3776, concerned a challenge to the district court's imposition of a sentence of 150 months' imprisonment, in a prosecution of defendant for possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute it.  In reversing the sentence and remanding for resentencing, the court held that, in light of US v. Corner as, although defendant received a sentence that was one month less than the low end of the advisory range for powder cocaine career offenders, it is not known how the district court would have sentenced defendant had it known it could disagree with the crack/powder disparity inherent in the career offender guideline.

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Price v. Pierce, 08-1401, concerned a challenge to the district court's dismissal of defendant's petition for habeas relief from his conviction for aggravated sexual assault for beating and raping an inmate.  In affirming the dismissal, the court held that a review of the plain language of section 116-3 and the Illinois state court decisions discussing that provision leads to the conclusion that a motion under section 116-3 is not a collateral review of the underlying judgment and therefore does not toll the statute of limitations for bringing a federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. section 2255.

  • McAllister v. Price, 10-1213

    McAllister v. Price, 10-1213, concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of summary judgment to an officer claiming qualified immunity, in plaintiff's suit, claiming that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force to remove plaintiff from his car following a car crash.

     

    US v. Sanchez, 08-2679, concerned a challenge to the district court's convictions of defendant for conspiracy and attempted kidnapping of witnesses in a trial against a drug kingpin, and conspiracy to retaliate against these witnesses.

     

    Young v. Verizon's Bell Atlantic Cash Balance Plan, 09-3872, involved a plaintiff's class action suit under ERISA section 502(a) and U.S.C. section 1132(a) against Verizon and its Cash Balance Plan, claiming that defendant made two errors in calculating her opening cash balance, and hence her ultimate pension benefit under the plan.  In affirming the district court's grant of defendant's equitable reformation of its plan to correct a scrivener's error, the court held that, although ERISA's rules for written plans are strictly enforced, they are not so strict as to prevent equitable reformation of a plan that is shown, by clear and convincing evidence, to contain a scrivener's error that is inconsistent with participants' expected benefits.

    US v. Robinson, 09-3955, concerned a challenge to the district court's refusal to suppress cocaine that officers pulled from defendant's person, in a prosecution of defendant for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. section 841(a)(1).  In affirming, the court held that the district court was entitled to conclude that the officer had handed off responsibility for defendant to his partner, and to reject the hypothesis that the officer had concluded his frisk and was satisfied that defendant had no weapon.  Also, whether an officer has a reasonable suspicion to support a Terry frisk is a "fact-specific" inquiry that looks at the "totality of the circumstances" in light of "common sense and practicality," and the proper way to view this encounter with the police is as a single event, not two or three different stages.

    Shlahtichman v. 1-800 Contacts, Inc., 09-4073, concerned a challenge to the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which  relief could be granted, in plaintiff's class action suit against 1-800 Contacts, claiming that defendant violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA) as amended by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) by including the expiration date of a purchaser's credit card in the order confirmations it sent by email.  In affirming, the court held that both the language and context of the truncated requirement make plain that Congress was regulating only those receipts physically printed by the vendor at the point of the sale or transaction, and to apply the statute to receipts that are emailed to the consumer would broaden the statute's reach beyond the words that Congress actually used.  Further, even if the court construed the statute too narrowly, dismissal of plaintiff's complaint was nevertheless appropriate because 1-800 Contacts did not willfully violate the statute.

    Rock Energy Coop. v. Village of Rockton, 10-1106, involved a non-profit, consumer-owned utility company's suit against a village seeking a declaratory judgment, claiming that the village does not have proper authority to purchase or condemn assets used by natural gas and electric utilities in the area.  In affirming the district court's dismissal of the suit, the court held that the chance of future eminent domain proceedings in this case is too remote to support the claim that plaintiff is trying to litigate.  The court also affirmed the state court's conclusion that, in litigation between the same parties, that the MOU agreement is unenforceable is entitled to preclusive effect under Illinois law, and to the extent that the MOU has a role to play in this case, it includes a clear choice-of-forum clause directing all litigation to the state court.

    Martinez-Buendia v. Holder, 09-3792, concerned a Colombian citizen's petition for review of a denial of her application for asylum and related relief.  In granting the petition, the court held that the record in this case demonstrates that petitioner was persecuted in the past, and therefore has a legitimate fear of future persecution on account of her political beliefs.  In addition, because the record compels the conclusion that petitioner was persecuted in the past on account of her political opinion, and therefore has a legitimate fear of future persecution on account of her political beliefs, the question of whether she also qualifies for asylum due to persecution on account of her membership in a social group need not be reached.

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    Owner-Operator Indep. Drivers Ass'n v. Mayflower Transit, LLC, 08-1673, involved a suit by owner-operators of leased trucks against a carrier pursuant to 49 U.S.C. section 14704(a)(2), claiming that a chargeback violates 49 C.F.R. section 376.12(i), which provides that the lessor is not required to purchase or rent any products, equipment, or services from the authorized carrier as a condition of entering into the lease arrangement.  The court remanded district court's dismissal of some of the claims after concluding that the statute of limitations is two years as neither section 14704(a)(2) nor any other statute sets a period of limitations for suits on its authority.  However, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that a chargeback differs from a compulsory purchase of insurance on the merits.

  • Victor v. Holder, 09-1982, concerned a Pakistani individual's petition for review of a denial of his motion to reopen and reconsider the denial of his family's application for asylum and related relief.  In denying the petition, the court held that, although section 1252(a)(2)(B)(ii) does not limit appellate courts' review of motions to reopen and reconsider to constitutional claims or questions of law, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Kucana v. Holder, 130 S.Ct. 827 (2010), the BIA did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's motions to reconsider and reopen.

  • US v. Williams, 09-3174, concerned a challenge to a defendant's conviction for illegal possession of a firearm and various drug distribution offenses.  In affirming, the court held that, because defendant cannot satisfy his burden under either prong of the Strickland standard, the district court's abuse of discretion in dismissing defendant's concerns regarding his attorney's performance, was harmless.  Also, because defendant was convicted of a violent felony, his claim that section 922(g)(1) unconstitutionally infringes on his right to possess a firearm is without merit.  Lastly, the court rejected defendant's argument that the district court erred in applying the 18 U.S.C section 3553(a) factors because the court failed to consider his non-frivolous sentencing.

    In Re: U.S., 10-2766, involved proceedings involving a grant of the government's renewed petition for a writ of mandamus, directing the district court to admit into evidence in a drug related prosecution, evidence involving the recovery of latent fingerprints.  In denyin defendant's petition for rehearing, the court held that, based on the judge's demonstration of excess of emotion in excluding the evidence, the exacting standard for the grant of a writ of mandamus has been satisfied in this case.

    Casanova v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 09-1020, concerned a challenge to a jury verdict for plaintiff of more than $1 million, $112,000 for lost wages, $250,000 for emotional injury, and $724,000 for punitive damages, and district court's denial of defendant's post-judgment motions, in a former baggage handler's suit against American Airlines, claiming he was terminated in retaliation for claiming workers' compensation benefits.  In reversing, the court held that defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 as plaintiff's dissembling and insubordination was sufficient cause for his discharge.

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    US v. Larsen, 08-3088, concerned a challenge to a defendant's convictions for kidnapping and interstate domestic violence and sentence to life in prison, for brutally beating his ex-wife, stuffing her in a garbage can, and leaving her in a storage facility.  In affirming, the court held that the Interstate Domestic Violence Act lies well within the scope of Congress's power to regulate the channels or instrumentalities of, or persons in, interstate commerce.  Court also held that defendant's convictions are not multiplicitous as the crimes of kidnapping and interstate domestic violence contain different elements and each requires proof of a fact that the other does not.  Also, district court's admission of physical evidence obtained during the warrantless search of defendant's home was ultimately harmless, and defendant's life sentence was not unreasonable.

  • US v. Li, 09-2229, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant for harboring an alien for commercial advantage or private financial gain.  In affirming the conviction, the court held that a reasonable jury could have concluded that defendant's inattentiveness reflected his knowledge or reckless disregard of the two aliens' illegal status.  The court also held that the evidence supports an inference that defendant sought to conceal the aliens' presence, and an inference that defendant derived financial advantage from the aliens' illegal status.  The court held that defendant's challenge to the jury instruction regarding the mens rea required to convict for harboring an alien is waived, and given the potential punishment the district court could have assessed, the forfeiture of defendant's home is not so grossly disproportionate to the gravity of his convictions as to be excessive.

    Larson v. Astrue, 09-4037, concerned a challenge to the district court's affirmance of an ALJ's conclusion that petitioner's impairments, although severe, are not disabling, in petitioner's application for Supplemental Security Income, claiming that she is disabled by anxiety, depression, and ankle pain.  In reversing, the court held that the ALJ erred by failing to give controlling weight to petitioner's treating physician's opinion about the limitations on petitioner's social functioning and her experience with episodes of decompensation, and as such, petitioner's condition meets the standards of the Listing, and the ALJ should have found petitioner disabled at Step 3.  Court also held that ALJ's reasons for his adverse credibility ruling find no support, and thus, the credibility determination cannot stand.

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    Spoerle v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc., 09-2691, concerned an employees' action against Kraft Foods, challenging a tradeoff agreement struck in collective bargaining agreement between union and management that the time spent donning and doffing safety gear is not compensable.  In affirming district court's rejection of defendant's argument that section 203(o) preempts Wisconsin's law and entry of judgment in plaintiffs' favor as a matter of Wisconsin law rather than federal law, the court held that the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are entitled to be paid for all time required by Wisconsin law.

    Purvis v. Oest, 09-1098, concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment in a former high school teacher's suit against a school district's superintendent and others claiming deprivation of due process and false arrest, arising from a prosecution for allegedly having a sexual relationship with with a 15-year-old student, of which she was acquitted.  In reversing the judgment, the court held that, although a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the school's investigation was biased and deprived plaintiff of due process, the superintendent, dean and the principal are entitled to qualified immunity, and that the police chief had probable cause to arrest plaintiff.

    Moss v. Martin, 09-1567, concerned plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against several state officials, claiming that he was fired as the Chief of the Highway Sign Shop of the Illinois Department of Transportation in order to make room for an employee chosen by the administration of then-Governor Rod Blagojevich.  In affirming district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court held that, although the decision to fire plaintiff probably fell afoul of the Rutan principal (rule banning politically-based firings)l, defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.

    Marshall Joint Sch. Dist. No. 2 v. C.D., 09-1319, concerned a challenge to the district court's affirmance of the ALJ's conclusion that a school district erred in finding that plaintiff, a fifth grader diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, was no longer eligible for special education.  In reversing, the court remanded the matter as the ALJ's finding that plaintiff's educational performance was adversely affected by Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) was undermined by a misapplication of the governing standard and was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.  Also, the ALJ impermissibly discounted the testimony of a witness, and there is no substantial evidence in the record to support the finding that plaintiff needed special education because of his health condition.

    In Re: Meyers, 09-3478, concerned a challenge to the district court's affirmance of a bankruptcy court's use of a mechanical system known as the "pro rata by days" method to calculate the proportion of debtor's tax refunds that belonged to the pre-petition asset pool, in Chapter 7 proceedings.  In affirming, the court held that, although the pro rata by days method may not be appropriate for all cases, the court properly applied the method as the trustee has met her burden in this case.

    Fusion Capital Find II, LLC. v. Ham, 09-3723,  concerned a challenge to the district court's judgment awarding defendant about $1.2 million in legal fees after ruling in favor of defendant and holding an insolvent corporation's board of directors personally liable, in the insolvent corporation's suit against defendant-corporation for tortious interference with its merger agreement.  In reversing, the court held that, under Nev. Rev. Stat. section 78.747, there isn't any fraud as plaintiff's thin capitalization was both the reason why the deal had been proposed and the dominant feature in the deal's structure.  Furthermore, when plaintiff signed a contract promising to reimburse defendant's legal expenses if litigation ensued, defendant knew beyond doubt that plaintiff would be unable to keep that promise unless the merger closed.  Thus, the court is not aware of any statute or decision holding that investors in a thinly capitalized corporation are personally liable for its debts to a contracting partner when that partner, with knowledge of the corporation's insolvency, signs without getting a guaranty from the investors.

    Alliance 3PL Corp. v. New Prime, Inc., 09-3489, concerned a plaintiff's breach of contract suit against a shipping carrier, for allegedly violating a back-solicitation clause by carrying bulk goods for one of plaintiff's former customers after plaintiff's contract with the customer ended.  In reversing the district court's judgment in favor of the plaintiff and denial of defendant's motions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 and 59, the court held that the district court should have granted defendant's motion under Rule 50 for judgment as a matter of law as the fact remains that defendant's knowledge of the customer's business was acquired independent of plaintiff.  Further, under plaintiff's reading of "traffic," plaintiff loses because the back-solicitation clause covers only traffic that defendant "first knew" about as a result of doing business with plaintiff.

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