Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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A person arrested in Chicago can take some property into jail but must surrender other property, including cell phones. The detainee has 30 days to reclaim the property in person (if released) or by a designated friend or relative. Property remaining in the city’s hands after 30 days is sold or thrown away. In 2021, the Seventh Circuit (Conyers), rejected several constitutional challenges to that policy. Kelley-Lomax remained in custody for more than 30 days and did not have anyone retrieve his property. The city disposed of a cell phone and a wallet, including a debit card and library card, that the police had seized.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. The disposition of the seized property is governed by the Due Process Clause. Chicago provides detainees with notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property. Rejecting a substantive due process argument, the court reasoned that property is a fundamental right but property can be abandoned. Chicago draws the abandonment line at 30 days. Physical items seized from arrested persons make claims on limited space, and for many detainees, the costs of arranging a sale to free up space would exceed the value of the items in inventory. View "Kelley-Lomax v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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White injured his knee while incarcerated and playing basketball at an Illinois prison in June 2015. From the date of his injury through November 2017, White complained about knee pain to various prison nurses and doctors, including Nurse Practitioner Woods and Doctor David, who met White’s complaints with “conservative” treatment. White did not receive an MRI for his knee until December 2017. The MRI revealed that White had a serious knee injury that required surgery.White filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Woods, David, and the prison’s healthcare provider, Wexford, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court dismissed White’s claims. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. The district court improperly granted Woods and David summary judgment on White’s deliberate indifference claims; the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to White shows a factual dispute. A jury could find that Woods’s decisions not to perform a complete examination on White and not to refer White to David, for an MRI or anything else, for nearly seven weeks were deliberately indifferent. A jury could conclude that he unreasonably delayed necessary treatment for White’s knee injury by continuing a conservative care regimen. View "White v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin inmates undergo regular strip searches. One guard performs the search; another observes. West is a Muslim. Strip searches by guards of the opposite sex violate the tenets of his faith. He was required to submit to a strip search by a guard who is a transgender man—a woman who identifies as a man. West objected but was refused an accommodation. West unsuccessfully requested an exemption from future cross-sex strip searches. The warden stated that he would be disciplined if he objects again. West sought an injunction under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, and alleged Fourth Amendment violations. The district court dismissed the constitutional claim; circuit precedent held that a prisoner has no Fourth Amendment interest against visual inspections of his body. Rejecting the RLUIPA claim, the judge concluded that West had not shown a substantial burden on his religious exercise and that cross-sex strip searches are permissible as the prison’s only means to avoid unlawfully discriminating against transgender employees.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Intervening precedent revives the Fourth Amendment claim. West is entitled to judgment on the RLUIPA claim. His objection to cross-sex strip searches is religious in nature and sincere. The prison has substantially burdened his religious exercise by requiring him to either submit, in violation of his faith, or face discipline. The burden is unjustified under RLUIPA’s strict-scrutiny standard: providing an exemption will not violate the rights of transgender prison employees under Title VII or the Equal Protection Clause. View "West v. Radtke" on Justia Law

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Mwangangi provided roadside assistance around Indianapolis. He set out to jumpstart a car in his used Crown Victoria and activated clear strobe lights on the outside of his car. A driver that Mwangangi passed on the highway twice called 911 to report him as a police impersonator. Shortly after Mwangangi helped the stranded motorist, he found himself at a gas station surrounded by seven police officers. Mwangangi was ordered from his car, handcuffed, patted down twice, and arrested for police impersonation—charges that were not dropped until two years later, when everyone realized he had been telling the truth about his roadside assistance job.The district court entered summary judgment for Mwangangi on many of his Fourth Amendment-based claims, denying some of the police officers the protection of qualified immunity. The court found for the city and officers on other claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Officer Nielsen had a “particularized and objective basis” to justify an investigatory Terry stop in the gas station and had the authority to ask Mwangangi to step out of his car to answer questions. Because of the context of the potential crime and surrounding circumstances, Officer Root’s decision to pat Mwangangi down did not amount to a constitutional violation. Officer Noland waived any challenge to the determination that his second pat down violated Mwangangi’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court stated that claims against officers for “bystander liability” required further factual development. View "Mwangangi v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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Officer Crowder observed an SUV outside a closed business. Pace exited that vehicle. sta5int that he was lost and needed directions to Johns's house. Crowder knew of Johns's past methamphetamine use and had received complaints from Johns’s neighbors about traffic at her home. Crowder activated his emergency lights, and parked directly behind Pace’s SUV; nothing obstructed Pace’s ability to drive away. Shining his flashlight inside the SUV, Crowder did not see weapons or contraband but did see multiple musical instrument cases. Pace walked around his SUV and attempted to get one of the instruments. Pace’s behavior struck Crowder as odd and overly friendly, yet nervous. Dispatch confirmed that Pace’s license was clear and that he had no outstanding warrants but he had a history of drug possession including methamphetamine, narcotic instruments, and drug paraphernalia. Pace denied that he had weapons but declined to consent to a vehicle search. Crowder explained that Pace was not under arrest, but that he was going to place him in restraints during a canine sniff. After the dog indicated the presence of drugs in the SUV. Crowder searched the SUV and found methamphetamine and cannabis. Pace unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that ruling, a 60-month sentence, and a finding that Pace was not eligible for relief from the five-year statutory minimum sentence under the “safety valve” provision of 18 U.S.C. 3553(f). The search was based on reasonable suspicion. View "United States v. Pace" on Justia Law

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At a barbecue at Brown's home. K.M. and Brown became inebriated and had a physical altercation. K.M.’s wife, Rebecca, got K.M. to his car, in front of Brown’s house. According to Rebecca, K.M. was standing in the street when Brown approached and swung a knife at K.M.. K.M. swung back with a piece of wood that Brown had thrown at K.M. earlier. Brown claims K.M. came up the driveway toward him holding pieces of wood and raised his hands as if to strike Brown, so Brown picked up a knife from the grill and swung it. He did not realize he had stabbed K.M. until K.M. collapsed in the street. Brown did not call 911 but made statements such as “that will teach him.” In recorded telephone calls from the jail, Brown made statements attributing the stabbing to anger rather than fear. K.M.’was struck three times; the knife’s blade penetrated his skull and passed through the brain. K.M. survived but has cognitive and physical impairments and will require care for the remainder of his life.Brown was convicted of first-degree reckless injury. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Brown’s habeas petition. Even if he was deprived of due process when the trial court refused to instruct the jury on the “castle doctrine” as part of his self-defense theory, any error was harmless. It is unlikely that a properly instructed jury would have accepted Brown’s factual account. View "Brown v. Eplett" on Justia Law

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In 2011 Sanders drove a truck into his sister and her boyfriend. He was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide. Sanders suffered from schizophrenia and was not taking his medication. Sanders was initially found to lack the capacity to proceed or to assist in his defense. Sanders received treatment, was reevaluated, and a second report suggested he was “malingering.” Sanders entered into a plea agreement, stating he had read and understood the criminal complaint and understood the consequences of pleading guilty. Sanders’s cognitive abilities and educational level were considered, as was whether Sanders could have pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.The day after receiving a seven-year sentence, Sanders gave notice of his intent to pursue postconviction relief and was appointed new counsel. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected that attorney’s no-merit report but dismissed the appeal, reasoning that Sanders relied on facts outside the record. On remand, Sanders moved to withdraw his guilty pleas, asserting that he did not understand the offenses to which he pleaded and that his attorney was ineffective. The court denied both motions, making extensive findings that Sanders’s trial counsel was credible and Sanders was generally not credible but was intelligent and understood the proceedings and issues. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Sanders’s claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is procedurally defaulted. It plainly appears from Sanders’s petition and attached exhibits that he is not entitled to relief on his claim that his pleas were not knowing and voluntary. View "Sanders v. Radtke" on Justia Law

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Illinois, Cook County Health and Hospitals System, Chicago, and Naperville each issued an order, policy, or directive requiring certain employees to vaccinate or regularly test for COVID-19. Employees who failed to comply would be subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination. Three district judges denied motions for preliminary injunctions against those vaccine mandates.Consolidating the appeals, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rejecting a claim that the regulations violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to substantive due process by interfering with their rights to bodily autonomy and privacy, the court stated that the plaintiffs failed to provide facts sufficient to show that the challenged mandates abridge a fundamental right and did not provide a textual or historical argument for their constitutional interpretation. The district judge properly applied the rational basis standard. The plaintiffs established the efficacy of natural immunity and pointed out some uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 vaccines but did not establish that the governments lack a “reasonably conceivable state of facts” to support their policies. Without specifying the process that was due, how it was withheld, and evidence for the alleged protected interest, the plaintiffs’ procedural due process claims fail. The court also rejected free exercise claims and claims under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. View "Troogstad v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Police were called to a motel to break up a fight between Graham and his coconspirator, Moore. Their body cameras captured Moore in an agitated state shouting that Graham was holding and prostituting a 19-year-old. Graham was later charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and related crimes stemming from his operation of an interstate commercial sex enterprise. The government played the body-camera recordings at Graham’s trial during an officer’s testimony. Moore had pleaded guilty and was on the government’s witness list. Graham’s attorney moved for a mistrial, arguing that if Moore did not testify, Graham would be denied his Sixth Amendment right to confront her about the recorded statements. The government did not call Moore as a witness. The judge agreed that a Confrontation Clause violation had occurred but declined to grant a mistrial, reasoning that a curative instruction was adequate to remedy any prejudice. The jury found Graham guilty.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There was no Confrontation Clause violation. Moore uttered her statements spontaneously as the officers were responding to a fight in progress and to rapidly evolving circumstances suggesting that sex trafficking might be occurring at the motel. When statements are made to law-enforcement officers under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the police encounter is to respond to an ongoing emergency, the statements are not testimonial and do not implicate the Confrontation Clause. View "United States v. Graham, Jr." on Justia Law

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Inmate Munson developed sensitivity in two teeth because of poorly-fitted partial dentures. In April 2014 he went to the prison’s dental unit. One tooth was extracted. Munson declined a second extraction, so treatment was postponed. Munson’s next regular dental examination had to be rescheduled because of a lockdown. Munson asserts that on July 15, he sent a letter to Dr. Newbold, the prison’s chief dentist, complaining of pain and seeking treatment. Newbold cannot recall receiving the letter, nor did he record any such letter. Because of successive lockdowns, Munson’s regular exam was repeatedly rescheduled. Dr. Henderson saw him on August 5 but Munson left to take a call before treatment began. Munson says he wrote Newbold another letter on September 20. Newbold cannot recall receiving it. In February 2015, Henderson treated the tooth. Munson eventually received new partial dentures after his 2017 transfer.Munson brought Eighth Amendment 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against Dr. Newbold and Wexford, the corporation that provides inmate medical services. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The evidence could not support an inference that Munson’s dental problems were a serious medical need, that Dr. Newbold knew of his requests for treatment, or to attribute any delay in treatment to Dr. Newbold. Wexford could not be held liable for damages without evidence that Munson experienced any constitutional harm. View "Munson v. Newbold" on Justia Law