Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Khan is a Mohajir: his parents were immigrants into Pakistan when it was partitioned from the British Indian Empire in 1947. Some Mohajirs formed a political party—the Mohajir Qaumi Movement—in response to perceived repression by nonimmigrant locals. Khan joined in 1992 when he was 14 or 15 years old. He distributed flyers, attended meetings, and recruited people to the cause. The group became increasingly violent, however, and many Mohajirs, including Khan, left to join a new, supposedly more peaceful group, MQM-Haqiqi. But this party too resorted to violence, so Khan eventually left. Khan became a target and was repeatedly attacked, kidnapped, and tortured by members of the first party. He fled to the U.S. on a visitor visa, and when it expired, sought asylum and other forms of relief from removal. While his case was pending, he married a U.S. citizen, making him eligible for permanent residency through his marriage. An immigration judge accepted the government’s position, rejecting Khan under the “terrorism bar,” 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(I); the BIA affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied review, declining to interpret the “knowledge exception” to the terrorism bar because Khan did not raise it before the BIA. View "Khan v. Holder" on Justia Law

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Scrogham, then age 53, applied for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, submitting medical conditions including degenerative discs, spinal stenosis, sleep apnea, hypertension, arthritis, atrial fibrillation and restless leg syndrome. An ALJ denied the application and the Appeals Council denied his request for review. The district court affirmed, holding that the ALJ did not err in giving less weight to the opinion of a treating physician than to the opinions of nontreating physicians, that the ALJ permissibly found Scrogham not to be credible and that the ALJ’s decision otherwise was supported by substantial evidence. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The ALJ impermissibly ignored a line of evidence demonstrating the progressive nature of Scrogham’s degenerative disc disease and arthritis and inappropriately undervalued the opinions of Scrogham’s treating physicians, whose longitudinal view of Scrogham’s ailments should have factored prominently into the ALJ’s assessment of his disability status. Even considering only “the snapshots of evidence that the ALJ considered,” that limited evidence does not build the required logical bridge to her conclusions. The ALJ apparently misunderstood or at least considered only partially some of the evidence about Scrogham’s daily activities, rehabilitation efforts and physicians’ evaluations. View "Scrogham v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Two nurses, formerly employed by Momence, alleged that, during their employment at Momence, they uncovered evidence that Momence knowingly submitted "thousands of false claims to the Medicare and Medicaid programs” in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA) and Illinois Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act. They filed a qui tam action on behalf of the government and alleged that Momence retaliated against them for reporting its fraud. A jury awarded the government more than $3 million in compensatory damages and imposed about $19 million in fines for the qui tam claims. Pursuant to the FCA, the compensatory damages were trebled to more than $9 million. The district court set aside the fines as violating the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The jury also awarded the nurses $150,000 and $262,320, respectively, on their retaliation claims. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Both claims failed as a matter of law. Rejecting claims of “worthless services” and false certification, the court stated that, at best, a reasonable jury might be able to say that some of Momence’s claims were false, but that is not enough to satisfy the burden of proof. The employment of one nurse was not terminated, the other’s employment was terminated for an unrelated matter. View "Absher v. Momence Meadows Nursing Ctr., Inc." on Justia Law

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An MRI had revealed plaintiff’s herniated disc in 1998. The medical record is blank from then until 2007, when she complained to an emergency room physician that she had been suffering from lower-back pain. She mentioned the herniated disc, and was prescribed Vicodin. Almost a year later she was examined by an anesthesiologist who specializes in pain management, who prescribed Lyrica. The plaintiff subsequently sought disability benefits and testified that her pain, combined with the drowsiness induced by the pain medication, limited her daily activities to eating, caring for her dogs, taking naps, and watching television. The anesthesiologist opined that the plaintiff was “unable to work” because of “lumbar disc protrusion.” Another anesthesiologist reviewed her records, and concluded that she was able to work full time despite the diagnoses of lumber disk herniation, lumbar radiculopathy, and myofascial pain, and a Social Security field officer’s observation that “she had a hard time sitting in the chair during the interview.” He did not identify evidence supporting his conclusion. The district court affirmed the agency’s denial of benefits. The Seventh Circuit remanded, stating that the plaintiff deserves a more careful evaluation than she has received to date. The ALJ’s critical error was failure to obtain a medical report on the results of a 2010 MRI. View "Goins v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Illinois legalized riverboat casino gambling in 1990. Since then, the state’s once‐thriving horseracing industry has declined. In 2006 and 2008, former Governor Blagojevich signed into law two bills that imposed a tax on in‐state casinos of 3% of their revenue and placed the funds into a trust for the benefit of the horseracing industry. Casinos filed suit under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1964, alleging that defendants, members of the horseracing industry, bribed the governor. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment for the racetracks, finding sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that there was a pattern of racketeering activity; that a jury could find the existence of an enterprise‐in‐fact, consisting of Blagojevich, his associates, and others; sufficient evidence that the defendants bribed Blagojevich to secure his signature on the 2008 Act; but that the casinos could not show that the alleged bribes proximately caused their injury. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, there was enough to survive summary judgment on the claim that the governor agreed to sign the Act in exchange for a bribe. View "Empress Casino Joliet Corp. v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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Irwin, a holding company, entered bankruptcy when its two subsidiary banks failed. The FDIC closed both in 2009. Their asset portfolios were dominated by mortgage loans, whose value plunged in 2007-2008. Irwin’s trustee in bankruptcy sued its directors and officers (Managers). The FDIC intervened because whatever Irwin collects will be unavailable to satisfy FDIC claims. Under 12 U.S.C. 821(d)(2)(A)(i), when taking over a bank, the FDIC acquires “all rights, titles, powers, and privileges of the insured depository institution, and of any stockholder, member, accountholder, depositor, officer, or director of such institution with respect to the institution and the assets of the institution.” The claims assert that the Managers violated fiduciary duties to Irwin by not implementing additional financial controls; allowing the banks to specialize in kinds of mortgages that were especially hard-hit; allowing Irwin to pay dividends (or repurchase stock) so that it was short of capital; “capitulating” to the FDIC and so that Irwin contributed millions of dollars in new capital to the banks. The district judge concluded that all claims belong to the FDIC and dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, but vacated with respect to claims that concern only what the Managers did at Irwin: supporting the financial distributions, informing Irwin about the banks’ loan portfolios, and causing Irwin to invest more money in the banks after they had failed. View "Levin v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Moon was a 26-year-old mother who had worked as a cashier, bank teller, and certified nursing assistant. She suffered from documented back and joint problems, mild sleep apnea, depression, and migraine headaches. Most of these problems are related to exceptional obesity: at a height of 5’5”, she weighs more than 400 pounds. In support of her application for disability benefits, Moon submitted extensive medical records. Her migraine headaches were diagnosed as early as 2005 and she saw doctors about her headaches many times. She was taking Imitrex and Motrin at the time of her May 2010 hearing. In his written decision denying benefits, the ALJ went through the standard five-step analysis and found that Moon was no longer engaged in substantial gainful activity and that her combination of impairments qualified as “severe,” but that she was still capable of doing sedentary work if she would be permitted to sit or stand at will. The ALJ relied on the opinions of two doctors who had reviewed medical records but had not examined Moon. The ALJ referred to “alleged headaches” dismissively. The Appeals Council and the district court upheld the denial. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The ALJ improperly discounted evidence of chronic migraine headaches. Because Moon is receiving disability benefits based on a later application, the only issue on remand will be whether she was disabled between August 2008 and the later date from which benefits have been paid. View "Moon v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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Black Beauty contested a citation issued by an inspector of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, but the ALJ upheld the citation. Black Beauty now petitions for review of the ALJ's order again upholding the citation on remand. The court found substantial evidence to credit the ALJ's conclusion that Black Beauty violated 30 C.F.R. 77.1605(k) by failing to maintain a berm on two tenths of a mile of a bench; there was no reason to disturb the ALJ's conclusion that Black Beauty's violation was significant and substantial; and substantial evidence supported the ALJ's conclusion that Black Beauty's failure to follow the regulation constituted more than ordinary negligence and was thus "unwarrantable." Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Black Beauty Coal Co. v. Secretary of Labor, et al." on Justia Law

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Boley sought Social Security disability benefits. The agency denied her request initially and on reconsideration. A person dissatisfied with such a decision has 60 days to request a hearing. Boley took about nine months because SSA had notified Boley but not her lawyer (as required by 20 C.F.R.404.1715(a)). Boley was ill at the time, preparing for a double mastectomy, and did not know, until it was too late, that her lawyer was unaware of the decision. An ALJ dismissed an untimely hearing request, finding that Boley lacked “good cause” because she had received notice and could have filed a request herself. A district judge dismissed her petition for judicial review, based on 42 U.S.C. 05(g), which authorizes review of the agency’s final decisions made “after a hearing.” The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded, with instructions to decide whether substantial evidence, and appropriate procedures, underlie the decision that Boley lacks “good cause” for her delay in seeking intra-agency review. In doing so, the court overruled its own precedent and noted a divide among the circuits. View "Boley v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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In 2012 the Drug Enforcement Administration seized over $110,000 worth of smokable “incense products” from the Smoke Shop, a Delavan, Wisconsin retailer. At the time of seizure, the DEA believed that the incense products, which contained synthetic cannabinoids, were controlled substance analogues and illegal under federal drug laws. Smoke Shop sought return of its inventory in federal district court. Later, the substances in the incense products were scheduled by the Attorney General, rendering them contraband and eliminating Smoke Shop’s hopes of recovering the goods, so it brought a conversion action for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The district court dismissed, finding that the government enjoyed sovereign immunity under the detained-goods exception to the FTCA, and, alternatively that Smoke Shop failed to exhaust its administrative remedies because it did not submit a claim for damages to either the DEA or the Department of Justice before filing suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on both grounds. View "Smoke Shop, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law