Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
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Former employees of an Indiana city sued the mayor and the city under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the mayor had fired them because of their political affiliations, in violation of their First Amendment rights. The mayor responded that political affiliation was a permissible qualification for their jobs. The district judge granted summary judgment in favor of the mayor with respect to nine of the 11 plaintiffs, on the ground that his argument concerning political qualification for their jobs was sufficiently arguable to entitle him to qualified immunity, but declined to certify interlocutory appeal with respect to the other two plaintiffs. The Seventh Circuit stayed proceedings pending interlocutory appeal of the issue of qualified immunity, reasoning that whether a job is one for which political affiliation is a permissible criterion presents a question of law. Qualified immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation. The privilege is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial. View "Allman v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Petkus owns a property that she operated as an animal sanctuary until 2009, when an investigation by the ASPCA resulted in a search of her property, termination of her employment as Richland County dogcatcher, her arrest and prosecution for animal neglect, and a sentence to three years of probation. As authorized by Wis. Stat. 173.10, the ASPCA investigator procured a warrant to search Petkus’s property. The warrant directed law enforcement officers to enlist in the search veterinarians or any “other persons or agencies authorized by the Richland County District Attorney.” The veterinary and 40-50 animal-rights volunteers who accompanied deputy sheriffs conducted the search. They had not been deputized. The deputy sheriffs’ role was not to participate in the search but simply to “keep the peace.” Petkus sued, alleging negligence in failing to train or supervise the amateur searchers and that the search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Petkus won an award of damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting needless damage to Petkus’s property and that the “incompetence of the amateur searchers is apparent from the reports of the deputy sheriffs.” View "Petkus v. Richland Cnty" on Justia Law

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McDowell alleges that, after work, he met friends at a bar. They stayed until the bar’s 4:00 a.m. closing time. They exited the front door and were confronted by other individuals, including an off-duty police officer. The groups came to blows. McDowell claims that he attempted to break up the fight, retreated to his car, saw his adversaries attempt to vandalize it, and told his companions to call the police. Rodriguez was dispatched to the scene and found McDowell running around parked cars, trying to evade at least three men who were chasing him. Rodriguez approached McDowell with his Taser drawn and ordered everyone to get on the ground. The chase stopped and everyone lay down, except Morandi, one of McDowell’s antagonists. While McDowell lay prone 10 feet in front of Rodriguez, looking up at him with his hands behind his head, Morandi walked towards McDowell from about 15-20 feet away. Rodriguez did not issue a second warning nor did he point his Taser. Morandi kept coming and kicked McDowell in the face. The impact broke his jaw, which required surgery. McDowell alleges that Rodriguez still failed to handcuff Morandi and did not request an ambulance. McDowell sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging substantive due process violations and Illinois common law willful and wanton conduct. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rodriguez’s conduct, even according to McDowell’s depiction, was not sufficiently egregious to qualify as a constitutional tort or to vitiate his state-law immunity. View "McDowell v. Vill. of Lansing" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Coleman pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute 121.989 grams of crack cocaine, which subjected him to a statutory imprisonment range of five to 40 years. With past convictions for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and for sexual assault of a child, the court determined that he was a career offender, increased the sentencing range to 188-235 months, and imposed a sentence of 225 months. Subsequently, the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision, Begay v. United States, held that the residual clause of the crime-of-violence definition encompasses the types of crimes that categorically involve purposeful, violent and aggressive conduct. The Seventh Circuit then held, pursuant to Begay, that conviction for sexual assault under the relevant Wisconsin statute, which prohibits “sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who has not attained the age of 16 years,” is not a “crime of violence” under the career offender designation because it is a strict liability offense. The district court recalculated, excluding that career offender designation and finding that a reduction in the base offense level was appropriate because the Guidelines range for the drug offense had been lowered. The court sentenced Coleman to 120 months. The Seventh Circuit vacated, with instructions to reinstate the conviction and sentence. Error in applying the career offender provision in determining the advisory Guidelines range is not cognizable in a section 2255 motion. View "Coleman v. United States" on Justia Law

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King was in custody awaiting a probable cause determination in 2007. After being rapidly tapered off psychotropic medication by jail medical staff, complaining of seizure-like symptoms, and being placed in an isolated cell for seven hours, King was found dead. His estate sued La Crosse County and individual employees. After a remand, six weeks before the trial date, King’s counsel asserted in a letter to the defendants that the correct standard for jury instructions was one of objective reasonableness, not the deliberate indifference standard that had been used by both parties in the pleadings, the summary judgment briefing, the subsequent appeal, and post-remand pretrial preparations. The assertion was correct, but defendants moved that King be precluded from arguing the applicability of the objective reasonableness standard because of her tardiness in asserting the argument. The district court ordered that the case be tried as scheduled under the deliberate indifference standard. The Seventh Circuit reversed, acknowledging that King’s long, unexplained delay in asserting the correct standard was puzzling and problematic, but stating that the district court failed to provide a sufficient explanation of how the defendants would suffer prejudice as a result of the delay. The court subsequently clarified that the reversal applied only to the individual defendants, not the county. View "King v. Kramer" on Justia Law

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Socha was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in 2002. He simultaneously pursued direct appeal and state post-conviction relief. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed; the state supreme court denied review in 2007. Socha did not pursue certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, but filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, he had one year from the date his conviction became final to file his federal habeas corpus petition, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1)(A). For a state prisoner who does not seek collateral relief, the year runs from the date when the judgment becomes final by expiration of the time for seeking direct review, including the period during which the prisoner is pursuing certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. AEDPA suspends the running of that one year for state prisoners who seek state collateral relief, but only for the period when the state courts are considering the case, not including time during which certiorari may be sought. Socha’s petition was untimely. After a remand, the district court denied equitable tolling, finding that Socha had not been diligent in pursuing his rights and that the state had not placed intentional barriers in the way of his petition. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting the unusual obstacles that confronted Socha, his repeated attempts to obtain his record and comply with the deadline, and the court’s initial grant of an extension. View "Socha v. Haine" on Justia Law

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Walton was a passenger in a rented Suburban driven by Smoot, when they were pulled over by an Illinois state trooper. According to the trooper, the two were nervous and gave an implausible description of their travel plans. The trooper decided to extend the stop for 20 minutes so that a police canine could smell around the car. The dog allegedly alerted. Troopers searched the vehicle and found seven kilograms of cocaine. At the time, Walton was on parole in Kentucky, with a condition that he could not leave that state without permission. He was subject to searches by his parole officer. Walton was indicted for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He moved to suppress the narcotics, arguing that he was subject to search only by his parole officer, not by a law-enforcement officer who was ignorant of his parole status, and offering evidence that his license was valid.. The district court denied the motion, finding that Walton lacked a subjective expectation of privacy because he knew he was in violation of his parole and had rented the vehicle without a valid license, in violation of the rental agreement. Walton entered a conditional plea. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Walton’s alleged illegal acts did not deprive him the opportunity to vindicate his privacy interests against a government search and seizure of his rental vehicle. View "United States v. Walton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a police officer, filed suit against the City and the police deputy superintendent who had ordered him to be processed criminally for allegedly driving his personal vehicle while drinking alcohol. A breathalyzer test detected no alcohol in plaintiff's bloodstream but he was cited for driving a motor vehicle with an open container. The charge was dropped after testing of the contents of the container indicated that it did not contain alcohol. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants on plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and state-law claims. The court concluded that, given the eyewitness accounts and the presence of a bottle labeled as containing an alcoholic beverage in plaintiff's car, a reasonable person would have believed that plaintiff had committed a DUI offense; there was probable cause to administer the breathalyzer test with a warrant given the exigent circumstances; the deputy superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity; and plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim failed. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court properly entered summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Seiser v. City of Chicago, et al." on Justia Law

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After Janet Hahn died of diabetic ketoacidosis when she was a pretrial detainee at a correctional center, her husband and the administrator of her estate filed suit alleging that various government officials and private contractors failed to provide her adequate medical treatment. The district court dismissed some of plaintiffs' claims and granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the remaining claims. The court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claim but erred in dismissing it with prejudice where plaintiffs produced insufficient evidence to permit their claims against Sheriff Walsh and the jail's medical contractor to survive summary judgment. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it dismissed the wrongful death claim with prejudice. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Hahn, et al. v. Walsh, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her employer, alleging claims of retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. Plaintiff also alleged that her employer and several managers retaliated against her in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 28 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. The court rejected the idea that the passage of a particular amount of time between protected activity and retaliation can bar the claim as a matter of law. In this case, plaintiff has offered evidence of other retaliatory behavior between her 2003 sexual harassment complaint and the 2006 reorganizations and demotion that bridged the gap between the two events, leaving the issues of causation for a jury. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for trial. View "Malin v. Hospira, Inc., et al." on Justia Law