Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Jarnutowski sought Social Security disability benefits, claiming she could not work due to a foot condition, neck and leg pain, obesity, and mental health issues. Jarnutowski underwent multiple surgeries, X-rays, and CT scans on her foot between 2011-2015. An ALJ awarded Jarnutowski found that she was disabled during September 2013-January 2016, with only the ability to perform light work with some limitations; her foot condition, neck issues, and obesity were severe impairments; and, she was disabled by direct application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines due to her age. The ALJ concluded that Jarnutowski’s disability ended when she regained the ability to perform medium work after her foot surgery and was again able to perform her past work as a store manager. The ALJ did not explicitly address Jarnutowski’s functional capabilities related to medium work, including Jarnutowski’s ability to lift objects weighing up to 50 pounds and frequently lift or carry objects weighing up to 25 pounds, emphasizing Jarnutowski’s ability to walk.The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Social Security disability determinations, the lifting and carrying weight requirements associated with medium work are more than double those of light work. The ALJ found that Jarnutowski’s “residual functional capacity” was limited to light work with some restrictions before her final foot surgery, but increased to medium work after the surgery without explaining how, after surgery, Jarnutowski could lift or carry objects more than twice the weight that she lifted or carried before surgery. View "Jarnutowski v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Gripum manufactures and distributes flavored liquids for use in e-cigarette devices. Gripum submitted a “premarket tobacco product application” to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2021. The agency denied the application, reasoning that Gripum had failed to demonstrate public-health benefits as required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, 21 U.S.C. 387j. The 2016 “Deeming Rule,” promulgated under the Act requires denial of an application to market a new tobacco product if the manufacturer fails to show that the product would be “appropriate for the protection of public health,” considering the risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and non-users, the “increased or decreased likelihood that existing users of tobacco products will stop using such products and those who do not use tobacco products will start using such products.The Seventh Circuit upheld the denial. The FDA required Gripum to show that its flavored e-cigarette products were relatively better at reducing rates of tobacco use than products already on the market. It properly applied the comparative standard mandated by the statute. Gripum failed to provide evidence specific to its products; its studies of other products did not even compare tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products to flavored products resembling Gripum’s products. View "Gripum, LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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Indianapolis Police Officers went to Mikie’s Pub in Indianapolis. Both officers were off duty and in plain clothes. Bohanon argued with the bartender about his bill. The officers intervened and brutally beat Bohanon in the parking lot. Bohanon sued Indianapolis under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that the officers used excessive force and that his injuries were caused by the city’s policies, which prohibit off-duty officers with any alcohol in their blood from performing law-enforcement functions subject to a narrow exception. An officer may do so only in an “extreme emergency situation[]” where police “action is required to prevent injury to the off duty [officer] or another, or to prevent the commission of a felony or other serious offense.” Bohanon argued that the city was deliberately indifferent to the obvious risk of constitutional violations. A jury awarded Bohanon $1.24 million. The judge granted Indianapolis judgment as a matter of law.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. For the city to be liable, a municipal policy or custom must have caused Bohanon’s constitutional injury. The narrow exception in the city’s substance-abuse policy did not present a policy “gap” that made it glaringly obvious that off-duty officers would use excessive force. Because no extreme emergency situation existed at the time of the incident, those policies expressly prohibited the officers’ conduct and were not the “moving force” cause of Bohanon’s injury. View "Bohanon v. City of Indianapolis" on Justia Law

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Nine Illinois energy consumers sued their electricity provider, ComEd, and its parent, Exelon, on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) alleging injury from increased electricity rates. These rates increased, they allege, because ComEd bribed former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to shepherd three bills through the state’s legislature: the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act of 2011 (EIMA); 2013 amendments to that legislation; and the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016. Although Illinois law still required public utilities to file rates with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), EIMA implemented statutorily prescribed, performance-based rate increases that limited ICC discretion in reviewing rates and authorized at least $2.6 billion in ComEd spending on smart meters and smart grid infrastructure, costs that were required to be passed on to customers. In 2016, FEJA provided $2.35 billion in funding for nuclear power plants operated, paid for through a new fee for utility customers, and allowed ComEd to charge ratepayers for all energy efficiency programs and for some expenses relating to employee incentive compensation, pensions, and other post-employment benefits.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Paying a state’s required filed utility rate is not a cognizable injury for a RICO damages claim. View "Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co." on Justia Law

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Alight provides recordkeeping services for employee healthcare and retirement benefit plans, some of which are governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 The Department of Labor investigated Alight, following a discovery that Alight processed unauthorized distributions of plan benefits due to cybersecurity breaches, and sent Alight an administrative subpoena duces tecum, seeking documents in response to 32 inquiries, including broad demands, such as “[a]ll documents and communications relating to services offered to ERISA plan clients.” Alight produced some documents but objected to several inquiries, citing its duty to keep certain information confidential. The Department petitioned for enforcement of the subpoena. Alight produced additional materials but redacted most of the documents to remove client identifying information, preventing the Department from discerning potential ERISA violations. Alight asked the court to quash or limit the subpoena and permit redactions. Alight’s legal consultant projected full compliance would require “thousands of hours of work.” The Department clarified or narrowed its requests.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting the Department’s petition to enforce the subpoena with some modifications. The court rejected Alight’s arguments that the subpoena is unenforceable because the Department lacks authority to investigate the company because it is not a fiduciary under ERISA, or cybersecurity incidents generally; that the subpoena’s demands are too indefinite and unduly burdensome, and that the district court abused its discretion by denying Alight’s request for a protective order to limit production of certain sensitive information. View "Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of the judgment of the Department of Labor's Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirming an administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination that BNSF Railway Company had a valid same-action affirmative defense to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding that substantial evidence supported the decision.Plaintiff, a train engineer, brought an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that BNSF, his employer, violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act by retaliating against him for raising safety concerns and refusing to engage in unsafe practices. OSHA dismissed the complaint. A Department of Labor ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim based on the statutory same-action affirmative defense. The ARB affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied review, holding that substantial evidence supported the ARB's decision that the same-action defense applied to BNSF's discipline of Plaintiff. View "Brousil v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court concluding that the retroactivity rule from two Seventh Circuit opinions - United States v. Leach, 639 F.3d 769 (7th Cir. 2011), and Vasqez v. Foxx, 895 F.3d 515 (7th Cir. 2018) - controlled and that, therefore, a disputed ordinance applied prospectively, holding that the ordinance was retroactive.The ordinance at issue was passed by the Village of Hartland, Wisconsin and placed a moratorium against any new sex offenders residing there either temporarily or permanently. Plaintiff, a registered sex offender, brought this action against the Village, alleging that the ordinance violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of U.S. Const. art. I, 10. Under the Leach-Vasquez rule, a law is not retroactive and cannot violate the Ex Post Facto Clause if it applies "only to conduct occurring after its enactment." The district court only considered the retroactivity prong of the two-part analysis because, under Leach-Vasquez, the ordinance operated only prospectively. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) this Court overturns the Leach-Vasquez rule governing the retroactivity inquiry of the Ex Post Facto Clause, and instead, the critical question is whether the law attaches new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment; and (2) the subject ordinance applies retroactively. View "Koch v. Village of Hartland" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment and dismissing this complaint brought by Plaintiff after he was fired from his commissary job while incarcerated at Indiana State Prison, holding that the district court erred in finding that Plaintiff failed to comply with the Prison Litigation Reform Act's (PLRA) exhaustion requirement, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a).Plaintiff was hired for a job in the commissary with the understanding that he would miss work on Fridays to attend the prison's weekly Jumu'ah Muslim prayer service. When Officer Julie Anton refused to allow Plaintiff to attend Jumu'ah and he went anyway, Anton fired Plaintiff based on a work evaluation accusing Plaintiff of theft. Plaintiff sued Anton under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the complaint because Plaintiff did not file a formal grievance before bringing suit. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the prison's grievance policy excepted Plaintiff's claim from the prison's administrative process. View "Miles v. Anton" on Justia Law

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In this case arising out of a child welfare investigation, the Seventh Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court entering summary judgment in favor of Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) case workers on the grounds of qualified immunity, holding that the facts were too disputed to allow the Court to reach any legal conclusions with confidence.When DCS learned from a social worker that Plaintiffs may not have been providing their infant daughter prescribed medication to control epileptic seizures DCS case workers took the child to the hospital for a blood draw to clarify whether that was so. The results showed that the infant had started the prescription a few days earlier. Plaintiffs filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the investigation and demand for a blood test violated their constitutional rights as parents under the Fourteenth Amendment and their daughter's rights under the Fourth Amendment. The district court entered summary judgment for the DCS defendants on the grounds of qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit vacated the summary judgment and remanded the case, holding that the facts were so contested as to limit what the Court could do on appeal. View "Jerger v. Blaize" on Justia Law

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The Janesville Wisconsin Police Department created a “no‐preference tow list” to simplify its response to traffic accidents in which a vehicle owner expressed no preference as to which tow company towed their car. Smith is Black and owns Flying A.J.’s Towing Company, which operates in the area. Flying A.J.’s was added to the list. Less than two months later, the Police Department removed the company from its tow list, citing the company’s unresponsiveness and complaints related to one particular tow job.Smith and Flying A.J.’s claim that their removal was due to Smith’s race and in retaliation because, in 2010, Smith had successfully sued the town of Beloit after experiencing racial discrimination by the police department. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1981. Smith had failed to put forth sufficient evidence to allow a jury to determine that Smith’s race or former complaints caused the decision to remove Flying A.J.’s from the tow list. Smith claimed that a tow company owned by a white man had received a lesser penalty but the situations leading to the two complaints are too dissimilar for any reasonable jury to conclude that the factor leading to any perceived disparate treatment was race. View "Smith v. City of Janesville" on Justia Law