Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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The Madison Police Department established a focused deterrence program to increase surveillance of repeat violent offenders. Alston, one of 10 repeat violent offenders originally selected for the program, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that he was selected for the program because of his race, and arguing that his inclusion in the program deprived him of liberty without due process of law and that he was stigmatized and subjected to increased surveillance, penalties, and reporting requirements. Alston presented evidence that blacks accounted for only 4.5 percent of the Madison population but 37.6 percent of arrests and 86 percent of the program; four candidates associated with allegedly black gangs were selected while the one candidate associated with an allegedly white gang was not. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Alston failed to produce evidence that would allow a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that the program had a discriminatory effect or purpose or that Alston’s legal rights were altered by inclusion in the program. Alston’s statistics did not address whether black, repeat violent offenders were treated differently from white, repeat violent offenders and were not evidence of discriminatory effect. View "Alston v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

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Nance shot and killed her husband, Timothy, in the shower. Four days later, Nance reported him missing. Fond du Lac detectives interviewed Timothy’s family, his new girlfriend, friends, and Nance’s sister, Ewell. They learned of the couple’s history of threats and violence. One witness had noticed that the shower curtain, liner, and hooks in the Nance bathroom had been replaced after Timothy disappeared. The detectives reviewed surveillance tapes from a local store, which showed Ewell and Nance buying new shower curtain liners and hooks the night Timothy went missing. Executing a search warrant at the Nance house, detectives seized “biological specimens,” a “projectile” from the bathtub pipes, and other evidence. Ewell refused to answer questions. Both sisters were arrested. A judge, relying on Ledger’s statement and affidavit, determined that probable cause existed to detain Ewell. She spent 12 days in custody before her release. Ewell filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. While her appeal of the dismissal of that case was pending. Ewell was convicted in state court of hiding a corpse, harboring or aiding a felony, and resisting or obstructing an officer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. For purposes of qualified immunity, it would not have been plain to a reasonable officer that arresting and detaining Ewell under the circumstances would have been unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. View "Ewell v. Toney" on Justia Law

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Howell, a veteran and school teacher in his early sixties, has had multiple shoulder surgeries, including complete replacement of his right shoulder. He was able to stretch his right arm, to write on a blackboard, and to lift up to six pounds with his right arm. His left shoulder was in better condition. Highland Police Officer Smith received a call from his dispatcher, alerting him to a road rage incident involving the discharge of a firearm. He later came upon a car matching the description and conducted a “high‐risk traffic stop.” Smith placed Howell, the car’s occupant, in handcuffs and detained him until other officers brought the alleged victim to the scene. The victim identified Howell and his vehicle as involved in the road rage incident. The officers, finding no weapon, decided to release Howell. The stop lasted approximately 30 minutes. Howell claims that the officers’ treatment aggravated his preexisting shoulder condition, which required multiple surgeries. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to deny Smith’s qualified immunity claim. Smith’s decision to place Howell, then implicated in a serious crime involving the discharge of a weapon, in handcuffs and to keep him in handcuffs until satisfied that he was not a threat did not violate the Fourth Amendment. View "Howell v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Weiss, a Wisconsin inmate, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that Department of Corrections employees failed to prevent an assault by his cellmate that resulted in a broken ankle for Weiss and that they left his broken ankle untreated for months. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding that Weiss had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the defendants did not contest Weiss’s factual allegations, that he had been transferred from the prison, and that he had been given psychotropic medicine that produced serious side effects. He had submitted a timely complaint about his treatment to the prison’s complaint examiner and a second administrative complaint; the complaint examiner’s correspondence was addressed to Weiss at Racine, where he no longer was. The district court ignored the fact that he had “d[one] the best he could do under the circumstances,” given his transfer to the mental-health center and, once he was there, being forced to take psychotropic drugs. Prisoners cannot be required to exhaust remedies that are unavailable to them. View "Weiss v. Barribeau" on Justia Law

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Hively, who is openly lesbian, began teaching as a part‐time adjunct professor at Ivy Tech in 2000. In 2013, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that she had been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, having been blocked from full-time employment “without just cause.” After exhausting EEOC procedural requirements, she filed suit, pro se, under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e (Title VII). The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed, holding that Title VII did not apply to claims of sexual orientation discrimination. On rehearing, the court reversed, interpreting the Act’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex as including sexual orientation; “the essence of the claim is that the plaintiff would not be suffering the adverse action had his or her sex” been different. The court noted “the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s decisions, not only in the field of employment discrimination, but also in the area of broader discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” View "Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana" on Justia Law

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While riding in a car, Stechauner’s sawed-off shotgun accidentally fired and hit Stechauner in the leg. At the hospital, a nurse reported that he had a bag of bullets. Officers entered Stechauner’s hospital room, where he was awaiting discharge. Eventually Stechauner produced the bullets and stated that the gun was at a friend’s house. The questioning lasted about 90 minutes. Stechauner “seemed lucid, and … was able to answer.” Stechauner was not given Miranda warnings. Stechauner accompanied officers to his friend’s house, where the gun was found under outdoor steps. Detective Kolatski thought that Stechauner may have been involved in recent robberies and other crimes involving such a weapon. Stechauner went with Kolatski to the station. Hours later, Stechauner was given Miranda warnings and was interrogated. Over the course of nine hours, Stechauner admitted to several crimes. The Wisconsin court denied a motion to suppress, finding that Stechauner was not in custody; Miranda’s warning requirement was not triggered. Stechauner pleaded no contest to second-degree reckless homicide and armed robbery. After unsuccessful efforts to obtain state post-conviction relief, Stechauner sought habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial, rejecting arguments that the state court admitted Stechauner’s statements and shotgun in violation of Miranda and that Stechauner had received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel by failure to argue that trial counsel had been ineffective at the suppression hearing. View "Stechauner v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Keefer’s badly beaten body was found by police in Keefer’s Rock Falls backyard on November 27, 2006. A jury convicted Johnson of Keefer’s murder. Johnson admits he beat Keefer the night before, in the same backyard, but insists that he did not kill him. Keefer’s actual murderers, Johnson says, were two men with baseball bats who attacked Keefer later that night, in the same spot. Johnson’s theory apparently came from Manon, who told police that his cellmate at Whiteside County Jail, Masini, told him that Masini had hired two men to kill Keefer with bats and that they did so. Masini denied making the statement when police questioned him. The trial court barred Johnson from introducing Masini’s hearsay statement, reasoning that it was too unreliable to allow into evidence. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. After exhausting other options, Johnson sought federal habeas corpus relief, arguing that exclusion of the hearsay evidence was an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent (Chambers v. Mississippi, 1973). The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of Johnson’s petition; the state court’s decision did not run afoul of Chambers. The court noted the absence of corroborating evidence and obvious untrustworthiness of a murder confession to a stranger‐turned‐cellmate. View "Johnson v. Jaimet" on Justia Law

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Marian Catholic High School subjects its students to random drug tests. Although it is run by the Archdiocese of Chicago, it receives federal funds for this program. Students who test positive for illegal drugs are subject to sanctions, ranging from counseling to expulsion. Plaintiffs are Marian students who received false positive results in the tests. Six are African-American; one is white. Their suit, alleging that the drug-testing program is run in a way that discriminates on the basis of race in violation of the Constitution and federal statutes, was dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The complaint did not allege that hair testing had a racially disproportionate impact, either because of anything identifiable about different hair types, or because of differences in technology used or sample processing. It did not allege that the laboratory knew the race of the person whose hair it was testing. With respect to the 42 U.S.C. 1983 count against the guidance counselor who ran the program, the court found nothing indicating that she was a state actor. The fact that the school receives federal funds did not transform the school or its employees into state actors. The claims under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 failed for lack of allegations of intentional discrimination by the guidance counselor. View "L.P. v. Marian Catholic High School" on Justia Law

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Whitfield's 2002, 2003, and 2007 prison disciplinary proceedings resulted in the revocation of 16 months of good-conduct credit Whitfield had earned. Whitfield diligently, but unsuccessfully, filed administrative grievances regarding all three actions. In 2003-2004, Whitfield filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the 2002 and 2003 proceedings, claiming retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. The district courts dismissed. Whitfield also, unsuccessfully, sought mandamus relief in Illinois state court alleging due process violations. In 2009, Whitfield attempted to challenge all three revocations of good-conduct credit through a state-law habeas corpus petition, which was dismissed without prejudice. An appeal was dismissed because Whitfield was unable to obtain the record. In March 2011, Whitfield filed a federal habeas petition. The state argued that Whitfield’s petition would be rendered moot in July 2011, when he was scheduled for release, and failure to exhaust state remedies. The district court dismissed the action as moot when Whitfield was released. Whitfield filed the present section 1983 action. Upon preliminary review (28 U.S.C. 1915(e)) the district court found that Whitfield stated claims for due process violations and for retaliation but granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that Whitfield’s suit was barred by precedent requiring a plaintiff to pursue timely collateral relief while in custody. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Whitfield did his best to obtain timely relief while in custody; precedent requires no more. View "Whitfield v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Under the Illinois Public Relations Act, 5 ILCS 315, a union representing public employees collects dues from its members, but only “fair share” fees (a proportionate share of the costs of collective bargaining and contract administration) from non-member employees on whose behalf the union also negotiates. A 2015 suit sought to preclude such fees, arguing that the statute violated the First Amendment by compelling employees who disapprove of the union to contribute money. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, noting that one of the plaintiffs has previously challenged the “fair share” provision in state court and that his claim is barred by claim preclusion. The court also noted the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, upholding, against a First Amendment challenge, a Michigan law that allowed a public employer, whose employees (public-school teachers) were represented by a union, to require those of its employees who did not join the union nevertheless to pay fees to it because they benefited from the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the employer. View "Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees" on Justia Law