Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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The 2019 Illinois Cannabis Regulation Act legalized the recreational use of cannabis and established a licensing system for cannabis dispensaries. Applications for the first licenses closed in 2020; by mid-2021 the Department had allocated 185 licenses using a lottery procedure. The issuance of licenses was stayed during state-court litigation. For a second group of licenses in 2022, the Department established a point system that heavily favored longtime Illinois residents. The plaintiffs want to invest in Illinois cannabis dispensaries but neither lived in Illinois.In March 2022, they filed suit raising a dormant Commerce Clause challenge to the residency provisions and sought a preliminary injunction halting the completion of the allocated 2021 licenses and enjoining the ongoing process for 2022 licenses. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The denial of a preliminary injunction allowed the Department to issue the 2021 licenses; it did so, largely mooting the appeal. To the extent that unwinding the licenses remains possible, the judge weighed the equities and held that the plaintiffs waited too long to challenge the residency provisions; an injunction would severely harm reliance interests and disrupt the orderly completion of the first-round licensing process. At the time of the ruling, the Department had not finalized the criteria for the second group but a challenge was unripe because the Department might materially modify the criteria. The Department subsequently finalized the 2022 rules and deleted provisions favoring Illinois residents. View "Finch v. Treto" on Justia Law

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Brown’s credit-monitoring business used a “negative option feature” on its websites, offering visitors a free credit report but automatically enrolling them in a $29.94 monthly subscription when they applied for that report. Information about the monthly membership was buried . Brown’s contractors created website traffic by posting Craigslist advertisements for fake rental properties and directing applicants to the websites for a “free” credit score. The FTC sued under Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) section 13(b), which authorizes restraining orders and permanent injunctions to enjoin conduct that violates its prohibition of unfair or deceptive trade practices. On its face, section 13(b) authorizes only injunctive relief but the Commission long interpreted it to permit restitution awards—an interpretation adopted by the Seventh Circuit and others.The district court entered a permanent injunction and ordered Brown to pay more than $5 million in restitution. The Seventh Circuit overruled its precedent and held that section 13(b) does not authorize restitution awards.The Supreme Court granted certiorari and held that section 13(b) does not authorize equitable monetary relief. On remand, the Commission argued that the Court’s decision had significantly changed the law and successfully requested the reimposition of the restitution award under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act and FTCA section 19. The Seventh Circuit modified the new judgment. Its direction that any funds remaining after providing consumer redress shall be “deposited to the U.S. Treasury as disgorgement” exceeds the remedial scope of section 19, which is limited to redressing consumer injuries. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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In a suit filed in 2014 under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601–19, Cook County claimed that the banks made credit too readily available to some borrowers, who defaulted, and then foreclosed on the loans in a way that injured the County. The County alleged the banks targeted potential minority borrowers for unchecked or improper credit approval decisions, which allowed them to receive loans they could not afford; discretionary application of surcharge of additional points, fees, and other credit and servicing costs above otherwise objective risk-based financing rates; higher cost loan products; and undisclosed inflation of appraisal values to support inflated loan amounts. When many of the borrowers could not repay, the County asserts, it had to deal with vacant properties and lost tax revenue and transfer fees.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Entertaining suits to recover damages for any foreseeable result of an FHA violation would risk “massive and complex damages litigation.” Proximate cause under the FHA requires “some direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged.” Cook County seeks a remedy for effects far beyond “the first step.” The directly injured parties are the borrowers, who lost both housing and money. The banks are secondary losers. The County is at best a tertiary loser; its injury derives from the injuries to the borrowers and banks. View "County of Cook v. Bank of America Corp." on Justia Law

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The Agriculture Act of 1961 authorized the USDA to provide loans to rural water associations; 7 U.S.C. 1926(b) prohibits municipalities and others from selling water in an area that a USDA-indebted rural water association has “provided or made available” its service. To be entitled to section 1926(b) protection, the rural water association must have the physical capability to provide service to the disputed area and a legal right to do so under state law.Washington County Water Company (WCWC), a rural water association, sells water to several southern Illinois counties adjacent to Coulterville. In 2019, due to the deteriorating state of its water treatment facility, Coulterville considered buying water from either WCWC or the City of Sparta. Coulterville decided to buy water from Sparta because it was not convinced that WCWC could provide enough water to satisfy its residents’ demand.WCWC filed suit, alleging that section 1926(b) prohibited Sparta from selling water to Coulterville because WCWC had made its service available to Coulterville. The district court granted Sparta summary judgment, holding that WCWC was not entitled to section 1926(b) protection because it did not have a legal right to provide water to Coulterville under Illinois law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. WCWC’s contractual capacity is less than its maximum average daily demand plus the required 20 percent reserve as required by state law. WCWC’s failed to secure admissible evidence of its ability to expand its water supply capabilities. View "Washington County Water Co., Inc. v. City of Sparta" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, Sherwood and Doyle lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic and applied for unemployment benefits. They never received those benefits, however, and still have not received notice of the denial of their claims or an opportunity for a hearing. Sherwood and Doyle filed a putative class action lawsuit against the Director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), asserting equal protection and procedural due process claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Under the “Young doctrine,” which provides an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity, private parties may sue individual state officials for prospective relief to enjoin ongoing violations of federal law. Even if these plaintiffs had standing to bring the equal protection claims, sovereign immunity bars them; the Young exception does not apply when federal law has been violated only at one time or over a period of time in the past. The plaintiffs alleged a sufficient injury to pursue their procedural due process claims and can invoke the Young exception to sovereign immunity but mandamus provides an adequate state-law remedy in this case. View "Sherwood v. Marchiori" on Justia Law

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The 1996 E-Rate program (Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, Telecommunications Act 110 Stat. 56), is intended to keep telecommunications services affordable for schools and libraries in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. The program subsidizes services and requires providers to charge these customers rates less than or equal to the lowest rates they charge to similarly situated customers. Heath brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, alleging that Wisconsin Bell charged schools and libraries more than was allowed under the program, causing the federal government to pay more than it should have. The district court granted Wisconsin Bell summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. While Heath’s briefing and evidence focused more on which party bore the burden of proving violations than on identifying specific violations in his voluminous exhibits and lengthy expert report, Heath identified enough specific evidence of discriminatory pricing to allow a reasonable jury to find that Wisconsin Bell, acting with the required scienter, charged specific schools and libraries more than it charged similarly situated customers. It is reasonable to infer that government funds were involved and that if the government knew of actual overcharges, it would not approve claims. View "Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Middle Mississippi is the 195-mile-long stretch from St. Louis, Missouri, where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi, to Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi and doubles its flow. The 1910 Rivers and Harbors Act authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to construct permanent river training structures in the Middle Mississippi and perform supplemental dredging to maintain a channel sufficient for commercial traffic. The Corps has for decades built and maintained structures—dikes, jetties, and chevrons—along the Middle Mississippi to ensure that the channel is at least nine feet deep and 300 feet wide for commercial navigation. In 1976, under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Corps prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessing the project's ecological impacts. In 2013, the Corps decided to supplement its 1976 EIS, based on newly designated threatened and endangered species, and new information on the effects of river training structures and dredging. In the final supplemental EIS and record of decision, the Corps chose the “Continue Construction Alternative.” Because the exact locations and types of future river training structures are unknown, the supplemental statement studied environmental impacts at a programmatic level and will perform site-specific environmental assessments before actually building additional river training structures.In a challenge brought by environmental groups, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, rejecting arguments that the supplemental EIS did not comply with the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, 121 Stat. 1041, or the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321. View "National Wildlife Federation v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Arroyo served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 2006-2019, while also managing a lobbying firm. In 2018-2019, Arroyo’s firm received $32,500 in checks from Weiss’s sweepstakes-gaming company in exchange for his official support for the sweepstakes industry in the General Assembly. Despite never previously expressing a view on sweepstakes gaming, Arroyo began pushing for sweepstakes-friendly legislation and encouraging other legislators and executive-branch officials to support the same. Arroyo concealed his financial arrangement with Weiss.When the government uncovered the bribery scheme, Arroyo pleaded guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(2). The court sentenced him to 57 months’ imprisonment and ordered that he forfeit $32,500 in bribe money. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Arroyo’s contention that the judge erred by finding his 57-month sentence necessary to deter public corruption. District judges need not marshal empirical data on deterrent effects before considering whether a sentence adequately deters criminal conduct. The judge presumed that public officials are rational actors who pay attention when one of their own is sentenced. That presumption that sentences influence behavior at the margins was reasonable. The court also rejected arguments that the judge erred by deeming several of his allocution statements aggravating and ordering him to forfeit too much money. View "United States v. Arroyo" on Justia Law

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An Illinois state agency oversees Metra, a railroad with passenger service over lines radiating from Chicago. For three lines, Metra owns the rolling stock, while Union Pacific supplies the track, the workforce, and ticket sales. Ticket revenue goes to Metra, which pays UP for its services. UP notified Metra that it would discontinue its services. Metra replied that UP cannot drop the service unless relieved of its obligations by the Surface Transportation Board. Metra argued that UP is locked into its relationship with Metra because the 1995 ICC Termination Act repealed 49 U.S.C. 10908, 10909, the only statutes giving the Board authority over the discontinuation of passenger service. UP argued that the repeal deregulated passenger rail service so that railroads can end passenger service when business considerations dictate. Federal law requires the Board’s permission to abandon all service over a line of track but UP will continue freight service; the lines will not be abandoned.The district court declined to defer to the Board’s primary jurisdiction because the dispute does not require any findings of fact by an agency. The Board agreed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in favor of UP. The controlling contract has long expired. Any reduction in service, therefore, depends on “compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory provisions.” To the extent that UP is a common carrier—rather than an independent contractor of Metra—it has unfettered authority to discontinue any service without the Board’s approval if it keeps the rails in place and continues running some trains. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Regional Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Fehlman was the Neillsville Police Department’s interim police chief in 2019. In 2020, Mankowski was hired as the permanent chief. Fehlman returned to being a rank-and-file officer. Over the next several months, Fehlman raised concerns about the management of the department, which Mankowski rebuffed. Fehlman and other officers requested a meeting with the Police & Fire Commission (PFC), where Fehlman raised concerns that Mankowski instilled fear in officers; Mankowski lacked professionalism and, while on duty, told a bar owner that he should consider having the owner’s wife dance topless; Mankowski ordered officers to turn off their body cameras in violation of department policy; Mankowski verbally abused suspects; Mankowski changed radio talk procedures in ways that threatened officer safety; Mankowski prioritized speed limit enforcement over responding to an allegation of child abuse at a school.Mankowski subsequently harassed Fehlman, taking away his work credit card and threatening charges of insubordination. Fehlman resigned from the NPD. Mankowski allegedly interfered with Fehlman’s job search by making false, negative comments (Fehlman was hired nonetheless). Fehlman also discovered that his NPD personnel file had been altered and that Mankowski gave information to the unemployment compensation office that led to a delay in benefits.Fehlman sued Mankowski under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of his First Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint. Fehlman’s statements to the PFC were made in his capacity as a public employee, not a private citizen. View "Fehlman v. Mankowski" on Justia Law