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

January 2014 News

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Sandifer, et al. v. United States Steel Corp., a case originating in the Seventh Circuit. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's decision.

As the Court's most outspoken Originalist, it comes as no surprise that Justice Scalia authored the opinion of the Court which turned on statutory construction, which all Justices joined, with Justice Sotomayor's exception to one footnote.

Benzene Class Action Against Shell Oil Blocked by 7th Cir.

Shell Oil enjoyed a significant victory in the Seventh Circuit on Friday, with the Court finding no dangerous link between benzene in the groundwater and the class action claims against Shell.

Around 150 residents of the small Illinois town of Roxana had sued Shell in 2012 for "polluting its groundwater and soil with benzene levels as much as 26,000 times greater than allowed by state law," reports Courthouse News Service. But now they'll have to refocus their claims at the district court level even though their groundwater is most certainly toxic.

How did the Seventh Circuit come to back the polluters?

In what will likely be& the next case regarding the Establishment Clause to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court (no matter which way the appellate ruling goes), we have two citizens contesting a city's approval of a church's permit to display crosses in a public area. Why the church needs to display crosses in a busy downtown area of the city is unclear, but you can't say they're not persistent.

The case has already been heard by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, and is now on its way to the Seventh Circuit. We're guessing no matter which way this case is decided, one (or two) thing(s) will probably follow: a petition for rehearing en banc and/or a petition for writ of certiorari. Some things are just inevitable.

The Armed Career Criminal Act requires that a person who was convicted of three violent felonies, or serious drug offenses, and then commits an offense violating federal firearms law, is deemed an armed career criminal and requires a sentence of at least 15-years imprisonment. While it may seem straight forward, many issues arise that bring into question whether a defendant should qualify as an armed career criminal.

Three Qualifying Convictions, or Two?

Roosevelt Spencer had three underlying convictions when he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm. Finding that his three prior convictions qualified as violent felonies or serious drug offenses, the district court decided that he was an armed career criminal and sentenced him to the minimum term. While Spencer did not contest the categorization of two of his underlying felony, he denied that the third conviction qualified as a serious drug offense.

Chicago, though not the largest city in the U.S., leads the country in gun violence, according to Reuters. And, while Illinois and Chicago have taken big steps to limit gun rights, many of the laws on the state and city level have been struck down on Second Amendment grounds.

The series of setbacks began in 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled that Heller applied to state and local laws, and overturned Chicago laws that prohibited individuals from owning guns. Later, the Seventh Circuit ruled that a Chicago law banning firing ranges and an Illinois law banning gun owners from carrying a weapon in public were unconstitutional, and the Illinois Supreme Court followed suit.

This week, the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois may have handed down the last blow, though how the City of Chicago will proceed remains to be seen.

No, this case is not straight out of a Cheech and Chong movie -- it's real. And yes, we are lucky that Judge Posner wrote the opinion because we all know that no one gives a good benchslap like Judge Posner.

In Medlock v. Trustees of Indiana University, the Seventh Circuit had to explore the relationship between a student and his university, whether the university's agents were state actors, and the privacy interests that inure in this unique setting.