Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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In a complaint described as “disjointed and murky at best,” Catinella alleged that he worked for Cook County, 1994-2013, and in 2009, was promoted to a supervisory position. In 2013, Catinella was questioned regarding a bidding process and refused to sign documents relating to the probe. During this interview, investigators asked Catinella if he was carrying a weapon. Catinella admitted that he had a knife, which he gave to his lawyer. Months later, Catinella’s coworkers filed a grievance complaining that Catinella was getting extra work privileges. Catinella was placed on emergency leave with pay pending an investigation. Days later he was placed on emergency suspension for unspecified “major causes.” An investigator produced witnesses to an alleged threat by Catinella to “shoot up the workplace.” The witnesses gave inconsistent accounts. Catinella was charged with disorderly conduct and released on bond. A report concluded that Catinella possessed a weapon while at work. At a pre-disciplinary meeting, Catinella was not allowed to confront witnesses. Cook County fired Catinella for possessing a weapon and making a threat of violence. The disorderly conduct charge was dropped. Catinella sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging violations of procedural and substantive due process and alleging race-based retaliation under 42 U.S.C 1981 and 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. The complaint does not show how this “whirlwind of alleged unfairness” violates any federal constitutional or statutory provision. View "Catinella v. Cook County" on Justia Law

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Haze was ticketed for disorderly conduct after he clashed with Milwaukee Police Officer Kubicek outside the Bradley Center on the night of a Bucks game. Kubicek suspected that Haze was involved in scalping and was intoxicated. Haze successfully contested the ticket, then sued Kubicek for damages alleging that the officer unlawfully stopped him, falsely arrested him, used excessive force, and targeted him based on his race. After a two-day trial, a jury found that the stop was unlawful (because it was not supported by adequate suspicion) but was not the proximate cause of any compensable injury and exonerated Kubicek on the other counts. The judge awarded $1 in nominal damages for the unlawful stop. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Haze’s argument that he was entitled to summary judgment on his claim for false arrest was procedurally foreclosed. Rejecting an argument that the jury’s verdict was inconsistent, the court stated that the lawfulness of the stop and the lawfulness of the officer’s use of force were distinct inquiries subject to different legal tests; an unlawful stop does not make an officer’s later use of force per se unreasonable. The jury’s verdict was vindication enough on the unlawful-stop claim. View "Haze v. Kubicek" on Justia Law

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In 1995, fire consumed Bunch’s home, killing her three-year-old son. Kinard, an ATF forensic chemist analyzed samples from the house; his draft report stated that no accelerants were present where the Indiana Fire Marshal’s investigators thought the fire had begun (the boy’s bedroom and the living room). Although samples from other spots tested positive for heavy petroleum distillates, Kinard concluded that these results were “consistent with the presence of kerosene, for which there was an innocent explanation.” Bunch alleges that the investigators communicated their disappointment to Kinard, who agreed to fabricate findings. The official report confirmed the presence of accelerants in the locales identified by the investigators and said that the heavy petroleum distillates were highly suspicious. The investigators submitted only the official version to state prosecutors. The existence of the draft report was not revealed. Convicted of felony murder based on that report, Bunch was sentenced to 60 years’ imprisonment. In a 2006 petition for post-conviction relief, Kinard’s draft report was revealed. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Bunch’s conviction, based on the “Brady” violation and significant advances in fire science. Bunch sued under the Federal Torts Claims Act, claiming malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court concluded that the intentional-tort exception to the FTCA's general waiver of immunity applied, that the exception to that exception for law-enforcement officers did not apply, and granted the United States summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the record was not developed fully enough to support that conclusion; further proceedings must occur before the immunity issue can finally be resolved. View "Bunch v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Milchteins have 15 children. The two eldest refused to return home in 2011-2012 and were placed in foster care by Wisconsin state court orders. In federal court, the Milchteins argued that state officials violated the federal Constitution by either discriminating against or failing to accommodate their views of family management in the Chabad understanding of Orthodox Judaism. Those children now are adults. State proceedings with respect to them are closed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Milchteins’ suit as moot, rejecting arguments the district court could have entered a declaratory judgment because the Milchteins still have 12 minor children, who might precipitate the same sort of controversy. The Milchteins did not seek alteration of the state court judgment, so the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not block this suit but it is blocked by the requirement of justiciability. The Milchteins want a federal judge to say where a state judge erred but not act on that error: “a naked request for an advisory opinion.” If Wisconsin again starts judicial proceedings concerning the Milchteins’ children, the "Younger" doctrine would require the federal tribunal to abstain. Younger abstention may be inappropriate if the very existence of state proceedings violated the First Amendment but the Milchteins do not contend that it is never permissible for a state to inquire into the welfare of a religious leader’s children. View "Milchtein v. Chisholm" on Justia Law

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Little was shot to death at a gas station in 1991. Martinez and Luna claimed to have seen a man around the station at the time. Weeks later, Snow was arrested for robbing a different gas station. According to officers, Snow repeatedly asked about the Little investigation. Luna viewed a lineup and stated that Snow looked like the man he saw; Martinez made no identification. In 1999, Snow was indicted. Approached by the police, Snow provided false identification and fled. Claycomb, charged as Snow’s getaway driver, was tried first and acquitted. Snow told the judge that his appointed attorneys were unprepared for trial and unsuccessfully sought a continuance. Martinez identified Snow at trial. Luna did not. Twelve other witnesses testified that Snow indicated that he was involved in the crime. Snow and his wife testified that he was at home on the night in question. The jury found Snow guilty of first-degree murder. State courts denied Snow’s direct appeal. The Exoneration Project filed an unsuccessful post-conviction petition citing new evidence that one of Snow’s attorneys had since been disbarred. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding some claims procedurally defaulted. It was reasonable for the state court to conclude that counsel’s failure to introduce certain evidence did not affect the outcome of the case, that the attorney’s personal problems did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel that evidence allegedly withheld in violation of “Brady” was not material. View "Snow v. Pfister" on Justia Law

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Andrea (age 16), Deadra (19), and William (18) Hurt were arrested after their uncle, Golike, was found dead beside the Ohio River. Golike had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and, days before his death, had been released from prison, where he was on suicide watch. Deadra and William “confessed.” Several critical “facts” that William offered were facially impossible, Andrea was never charged. Charges against Deadra were dropped after she spent four months in jail. William was prosecuted but not convicted on any charge. He spent eight months in jail The siblings filed a civil suit against those involved in their arrests and prosecutions based on the interrogations, the decisions to arrest all three, and alleged fabrication of evidence. The district court rejected most of the defendants’ claims of qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to Deadra’s claim of fabricated evidence and a substantive due process claim. The interviews may have been abusive, but were not conscience-shocking. The court otherwise affirmed. Taking the inferences in the Hurts’ favor, a jury could reasonably conclude it was objectively unreasonable for an officer to believe there was probable cause. There was adequate circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy violate the Hurts’ constitutional rights. A trier of fact could find that the officers deliberately coerced confessions by using threats. The rule forbidding such conduct has been established for decades. View "Hurt v. Vantlin" on Justia Law

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Andrea (age 16), Deadra (19), and William (18) Hurt were arrested after their uncle, Golike, was found dead beside the Ohio River. Golike had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and, days before his death, had been released from prison, where he was on suicide watch. Deadra and William “confessed.” Several critical “facts” that William offered were facially impossible, Andrea was never charged. Charges against Deadra were dropped after she spent four months in jail. William was prosecuted but not convicted on any charge. He spent eight months in jail The siblings filed a civil suit against those involved in their arrests and prosecutions based on the interrogations, the decisions to arrest all three, and alleged fabrication of evidence. The district court rejected most of the defendants’ claims of qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to Deadra’s claim of fabricated evidence and a substantive due process claim. The interviews may have been abusive, but were not conscience-shocking. The court otherwise affirmed. Taking the inferences in the Hurts’ favor, a jury could reasonably conclude it was objectively unreasonable for an officer to believe there was probable cause. There was adequate circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy violate the Hurts’ constitutional rights. A trier of fact could find that the officers deliberately coerced confessions by using threats. The rule forbidding such conduct has been established for decades. View "Hurt v. Vantlin" on Justia Law

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After a neighbor saw him brandishing a gun during an argument with his girlfriend and heard gunshots, Mancillas was convicted of two counts of possessing ammunition as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). He was sentenced to a term of 100 months. The Seventh Circuit agreed that the Indiana offense of strangulation is a “crime of violence” for Sentencing Guidelines purposes, so the district court did not err in calculating Mancillas’ base offense level. Applying the categorical approach, the court stated that the Indiana strangulation statute explicitly contemplates a degree of violent force in the final element of the offense. The court remanded for resentencing because the court summarily denied Mancillas’ clear and unequivocal request to represent himself at sentencing and failed to conduct a “Faretta” colloquy. Even at sentencing, where the complexities of trial and the difficult strategic choices are over, a court must respect the wishes of a defendant who unequivocally wishes to exercise his or her right to proceed pro se. This means undertaking a meaningful inquiry into a request for self-representation. View "United States v. Mancillas" on Justia Law

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After a neighbor saw him brandishing a gun during an argument with his girlfriend and heard gunshots, Mancillas was convicted of two counts of possessing ammunition as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). He was sentenced to a term of 100 months. The Seventh Circuit agreed that the Indiana offense of strangulation is a “crime of violence” for Sentencing Guidelines purposes, so the district court did not err in calculating Mancillas’ base offense level. Applying the categorical approach, the court stated that the Indiana strangulation statute explicitly contemplates a degree of violent force in the final element of the offense. The court remanded for resentencing because the court summarily denied Mancillas’ clear and unequivocal request to represent himself at sentencing and failed to conduct a “Faretta” colloquy. Even at sentencing, where the complexities of trial and the difficult strategic choices are over, a court must respect the wishes of a defendant who unequivocally wishes to exercise his or her right to proceed pro se. This means undertaking a meaningful inquiry into a request for self-representation. View "United States v. Mancillas" on Justia Law

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In 1987, African‐Americans filed suit against Chicago Heights, alleging dilution of voting opportunity. The election practices at issue were found to violate the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. 10101. Appellants split from other class plaintiffs and objected to the first consent decree; they have been the main opposition to proposed remedies. In 2010, the district court entered a consent decree, establishing a seven‐ward, single aldermanic form of government; including a ward map that complied with constitutional requirements; and requiring the city to reapportion the wards as the population changed. The subsequent 2010 census showed that the wards’ populations had changed, requiring reapportionment. After public comment, the city approved its redrawn ward map and sought approval of that map. Appellants objected and sought leave to file their own map for implementation by the court. The court held that the Decree gave the city the exclusive right to reapportion the wards. The city’s map still contained seven wards, each with an individual population deviation of less than 10 percent. However, the overall deviation was 12.65%. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the proposed map is constitutional. The city presented sufficient justification and made a good faith effort to reapportion the map with the smallest population deviations practicable, using legitimate and nondiscriminatory objectives, such as maintaining historical and natural boundary lines where possible, and easing voter confusion by redrawing unusual boundaries. View "McCoy v. Chicago Heights Election Commission" on Justia Law