Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Police officers stopped the plaintiffs numerous times for violating an ordinance while they were panhandling on the streets of Chicago. During these stops, the officers typically asked the plaintiffs to produce identification and then used the provided ID cards to search for outstanding warrants for their arrest or investigative alerts. The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that these checks unnecessarily prolong street stops and that the delays constitute unreasonable detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They argued that Chicago maintained an unconstitutional policy or practice of performing these checks (Monell claim), citing a Chicago Police Department Special Order regulating name-checks that purportedly omitted essential constitutional limits, arguing that the Department failed to train on these same constitutional limits, and claiming that the former Superintendent promulgated an unconstitutional policy by promoting name-checks in conjunction with every street stop. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Monell claims. Officers may execute a name check on an individual incidental to a proper stop under Terry v. Ohio, as long as the resulting delay is reasonable. The plaintiffs e failed to establish that they suffered an underlying constitutional violation such that Chicago can be held liable. View "Hall v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Bennett was assigned to Cook County Jail Division 10, which houses detainees who need canes, crutches, or walkers. He filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12131–34, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.794, alleging that Division 10 lacks grab bars and other necessary fixtures. Bennett claims that he fell and was injured. He unsuccessfully sought to represent a class. The court reasoned that the appropriate accommodation of any detainee’s situation depends on personal characteristics, so common questions do not predominate under FRCP 23(b)(3). Bennett proposed an alternative class to avoid person-specific questions, contending that Division 10, which was constructed in 1992, violates 28 C.F.R. 42.522(b)'s requirement that as of “1988 … construction[] or alteration of buildings” must comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. The Standards require accessible toilets to have grab bars nearby and accessible showers to have mounted seats. The district court rejected this proposal, reasoning that to determine whether the Structural Standards control, thereby mooting the reasonable accommodation inquiry, would require a ruling on the merits, which would “run[] afoul of the rule against one-way intervention.” The Seventh Circuit vacated. The "view that a class cannot be certified unless the plaintiff has already prevailed on the central legal issue is a formula for one-way intervention rather than a means to avoid it." Bennett proposes a class that will win if the Standards apply and were violated, to detainees’ detriment and otherwise will lose. View "Bennett v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Lord, an inmate at Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution, exposed himself to a female guard. After the guard told him that she would write him up and walked away, Lord began yelling that he had a razor blade and intended to kill himself. A short while later, a male guard went to Lord’s cell, ordered him out, and saw he had minor scratches treatable with a gauze bandage. Lord sued four guards for money damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that they acted with deliberate indifference to a material risk to his life by not responding faster to his suicide threat. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. “Prison suicide is very real and very serious, but any fair reading of this record, even in the light most favorable to Lord, shows that he leveled an insincere threat of suicide to get attention and demonstrated no recoverable injury.” View "Lord v. Beahm" on Justia Law

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ShotSpotter's surveillance system uses microphones to record gunshots. An individual determines whether the sound is a shot. When that individual confirms a gunshot, ShotSpotter contacts local police. At 4:40:02 a.m., ShotSpotter reported gunshots coming from North Ellis Street. Peoria Officer Ellefritz, driving toward the address, heard the dispatcher report a second ShotSpotter alert of more shots fired. Ellefritz, the first responding officer, saw headlights leaving North Ellis, coming his way. He activated his emergency lights and shouted “stop.” Within seconds, the car stopped next to Ellefritz’s cruiser; its occupants pointed backward, yelling: “They are down there!” Ellefritz observed 15–20 people at the street’s dead end, approximately 300 feet from him. Ellefritz kept his firearm drawn. The driver and the passenger, Rickmon, kept their hands up until backup arrived. Rickmon then stated that someone had shot him in the leg. With the driver’s consent, Ellefritz searched the automobile and found a handgun under Rickmon's seat. Rickmon was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. Ellefritz testified that there was nothing particularly unusual about this car, except leaving the area of the gunfire. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress. The totality of the circumstances provided the officer with reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop. View "United States v. Rickmon" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, current and former Cook County sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers, were disciplined for violating various departmental policies and rules. Seven of the eight plaintiffs were fired; the remaining officer was suspended. They sought to represent a class of officers who were disciplined in 2013-2016. The complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged deprivations of due process based on a defect in the composition of the Merit Board: at the time of the challenged disciplinary decisions, certain Board members held their appointments in violation of Illinois law. They also alleged that Sheriff Dart and his General Counsel assumed control of the Board through political means and pressured its members to make decisions contrary to Illinois law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. A violation of state law is not a federal due-process violation, so the defect in the Board’s membership is not a basis for a federal constitutional claim. The allegations of biased decision-making suggest only that the plaintiffs may have suffered a random and unauthorized deprivation of their property interest in public employment. An injury of that type is not a violation of due process if the state offers adequate postdeprivation remedies. Illinois provides constitutionally adequate postdeprivation remedies for aggrieved public employees. View "Vargas v. Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board" on Justia Law

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Holleman, a “jailhouse lawyer,” has been awarded thousands of dollars in prior lawsuits. In 2015, Pendleton Correctional Facility (Superintendent Zatecky) transferred Holleman to Wabash. Zatecky stated that Holleman had written letters complaining of the conditions at Pendleton and, given the age of the facility, the only viable solution was to transfer Holleman to a more modern facility. Zatecky claims to have believed that the transfer was in Holleman’s best interest. Holleman was housed in the general population at both maximum-security prisons, with similar restrictions. Holleman claims he witnessed more violence at Wabash and that Wabash inmates are afraid to report violence; that Holleman was the victim of violence from his new cellmate (he did not report this incident); that he only had access to the Wabash law library for four hours per week, as opposed to seven hours per week at Pendleton; and that at Pendleton he had an individual cell. Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit held that the transfer did not violate Holleman’s clearly established right to be free from retaliation for protected First Amendment activity, such that his suit can overcome qualified immunity. Holleman complained about inadequate conditions at Pendleton; the Defendants responded by transferring him. Even taking the facts in the light most favorable to Holleman, they do not support a finding that the transfer was motivated by the fact that he engaged in protected activity rather than the substance of his complaints. View "Holleman v. Zatecky" on Justia Law

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Thomas was convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of his uncle and is serving a 40-year sentence at Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility. He has a history of mental illness which began before his incarceration; his symptoms include suicidal ideations, paranoia, and hallucinations. Thomas has also been diagnosed with epilepsy, antisocial personality disorder, and anxiety, for which he has received various medications while incarcerated. Thomas sued state correctional officials, alleging deficient health care, inadequate conditions of confinement, and that officers treated him with excessive force. The district court found Thomas’s pro se complaint deficient and gave him opportunities to remedy its problems but ultimately dismissed his case for failure to prosecute. The court also denied three requests by Thomas for appointed counsel. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal. The district court abused its discretion by denying Thomas’s requests to appoint counsel. Thomas made reasonable attempts to obtain counsel and the court did not assess whether Thomas appeared competent to litigate the case given its difficulty. This outcome prejudiced Thomas. The court remanded for the appointment of an attorney. The district court also provided insufficient grounds on which to dismiss Thomas’s case for failure to prosecute. View "Thomas v. Wardell" on Justia Law

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Donald and Lauretta Bauer purchased land from Donald’s parents and executed promissory notes and a mortgage. When Donald’s parents died, their interest in the notes transferred to Donald's siblings, who sought foreclosure. A state court entered a foreclosure judgment and a deficiency judgment. No judicial sale occurred. The Bauers tried to redeem the property by satisfying the judgment. The foreclosure plaintiffs issued citations to discover assets and sought additional interest. The state court found that the Bauers owed an additional $33,782.96 in interest. The Bauers paid; the plaintiffs filed a satisfaction of judgment. The Bauers then sued, alleging tampering with evidence and abuse of process by seeking to extort money through the issuance of citations to discover assets. The state appellate court upheld the dismissal of the case. The Bauers filed a federal suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the defendants, including the state-court judge, conspired to introduce a forged document into evidence during the foreclosure trial and that the judge and the clerk allowed the plaintiffs to issue baseless citations to discover assets. The district court dismissed the case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which precludes federal district-court jurisdiction “over cases brought by state-court losers challenging state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the Bauers’ argument that they did not seek to set aside the state court’s order or judgment but only mean to challenge the “collection practices” of the defendants and their collusion. Any finding in favor of the Bauers would require the federal court to contradict the state court’s orders. View "Bauer v. Koester" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the petitioners pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for brandishing a firearm during a “crime of violence”—theft from a federally licensed firearms dealer, 18 U.S.C. 922(u). In 2016, both moved under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate their section 924(c) convictions, citing the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Davis” holding that a violation of section 922(u) no longer counts as a crime of violence. The district court denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Express collateral-attack waivers in both plea agreements are valid and bar their challenges to their convictions and sentences. The petitioners did not satisfy any recognized bases for avoiding a valid collateral-attack waiver. The court rejected their arguments that they were asserting a non-waivable “jurisdictional” challenge to the constitutionality of the statute of conviction; that allowing their convictions to stand would result in a “miscarriage of justice”; and that their section 924(c) convictions rest on a “constitutionally impermissible factor.” View "Ross v. United States" on Justia Law

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Mascow, a teacher who had tenure under Illinois law, was laid off in 2017. Because her latest rating was “unsatisfactory,” she was first in line for layoff when the school lost one position and lacked any recall rights if the school district began hiring again—as it did. She sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Due Process Clause entitled her to a hearing before the layoff and that the “unsatisfactory” rating violated the First Amendment. Mascow became co-president of the Union in 2010. Her First Amendment claim rests on her actions in 2014 and 2015 in notifying administrators that planned activities would violate the collective bargaining agreement. The school canceled one event and revised the other. The district court rejected both claims, reasoning that a reasonable jury could not find that the 2014 and 2015 meetings caused a reduction in Mascow’s ratings, noting that Mascow’s co-president, who attended the 2015 meeting, retained an “excellent” rating. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the First Amendment but vacated with respect to the due process claim. Neither the district judge nor the parties’ briefs addressed how teachers can obtain review of their ratings and whether those opportunities satisfy the constitutional need for “some kind of hearing.” View "Mascow v. Board of Education of Franklin Park School District No. 84" on Justia Law