Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
The case revolves around Brenda Warnell, who applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act in 2019. Warnell claimed she was unable to work due to debilitating migraines and chronic pain in her back, shoulders, and neck. Her medical record was mixed, with some physicians assessing her as having severely limited functional capacity, while others found her capable of limited physical exertion.The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Warnell's claim, finding that the medical evidence did not substantiate the severity of her alleged functional limitations. The ALJ concluded that Warnell's pain symptoms did not prevent her from performing light work with moderate noise and limited physical requirements. The ALJ's decision was affirmed by the district court.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Warnell challenged the ALJ's decision, arguing that the ALJ needed to provide more detailed accounts of the medical evidence. The court rejected this argument, stating that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and met the light standard set by the Supreme Court. The court found that the ALJ had provided a sufficient explanation for her decision, highlighting specific evidence that contradicted Warnell's claims and addressing conflicting evidence. The court affirmed the ALJ's decision, rejecting Warnell's claim that the ALJ needed to provide more detailed accounts of the medical evidence. View "Warnell v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

by
The case arose from a drug trafficking operation led by Keith White in an Indiana prison. White, along with others, was indicted for conspiracy to distribute heroin after three inmates died of drug overdoses. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced under enhanced penalties due to his criminal history, which included two felony convictions for cocaine dealing. This was his second appeal challenging his sentence.White argued that his status as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines was improperly determined based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Kisor v. Wilkie. He contended that the guideline’s definition of a “controlled substance offense” unambiguously excluded inchoate offenses, such as conspiracy, and thus the application note expanding this definition deserved no deference.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed. It noted that the Supreme Court’s decision in Kisor did not unsettle Stinson v. United States, which provided that commentary in the Guidelines interpreting or explaining a guideline is authoritative unless it violates the Constitution, a federal statute, or is inconsistent with the guideline. Thus, the court deferred to the Sentencing Commission’s interpretation of the career-offender guideline.Additionally, the court rejected White's argument that the “major questions doctrine” invalidated the application note. The court concluded that the application note was not a “transformative expansion” of the Sentencing Commission’s authority, and, therefore, the doctrine did not apply. The court affirmed the judgment. View "USA v. White" on Justia Law

by
In this appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiff, Kelly Chavez, had been denied supplemental security income due to her various mental and physical impairments. The administrative law judge (ALJ) at a hearing found that Chavez could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the economy. This decision was affirmed by the district court, leading to this appeal. Chavez contended that the vocational expert's testimony, which the ALJ relied on, did not provide substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision.The vocational expert, Sarah Holmes, testified that a person with Chavez's age, background, and ability could perform several light exertion jobs, such as cleaner, office helper, and storage rental clerk. She used a software program, Job Browser Pro, to estimate the number of jobs, which uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.Chavez's main argument was that Holmes did not explain Job Browser Pro's underlying formula, thereby rendering her testimony unreliable. However, the court held that Holmes's testimony provided substantial evidence for the ALJ's finding. The court highlighted that Holmes used a generally accepted source of job numbers, provided a straightforward overview of how the source worked, offered to provide additional information about the source's underlying formula, and identified jobs commonly found in the national economy. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Chavez v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois that a tin can filled with energetic powder, sealed with adhesive, and outfitted with a fuse qualifies as a "destructive device" under the National Firearms Act.The case involved Jeffrey E. Creek, who was found in possession of such a device, firearms, magazines, ammunition, and a silencer that had been shipped from China. Creek was subsequently charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon. At his sentencing hearing, the district court applied a two-level "destructive device" enhancement in calculating his Guidelines range.Creek appealed the decision, arguing that his device was a firework and not a destructive device. However, the appellate court found that the district court correctly classified the device as a bomb under the National Firearms Act due to it having a metal casing, an adhesive seal, explosive powder, and a fuse. It was irrelevant that Creek intended to use the device as a firework, as the device was fully assembled and fit the definition of a destructive device.Creek also challenged the district court's consideration of his criminal history and substance abuse disorder in his sentencing. However, the appellate court dismissed these arguments, stating that the district court correctly exercised its discretion in considering Creek's full criminal history and the risk to public safety. As a result, the district court's judgment was affirmed. View "USA v. Creek" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Suzy Martin, the owner and president of Smart Elevators Co., a certified minority- and woman-owned elevator service and repair company. The company, which historically did most of its business with the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, saw its customer base change after a whistleblower complaint alleged that Martin and her company engaged in a bribery and kickback scheme with a University of Illinois Chicago employee. This led to an investigation by the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor (OEIG), which concluded that Martin, Smart Elevators, and the University employee had engaged in a kickback scheme that violated Illinois ethics law and University policy and recommended that the University sever ties with Martin and her company.As a result of the report, the State and City ceased doing business with Martin and Smart Elevators, causing the company to lose millions in preexisting and potential contracts. Martin sued several State and City entities and officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, bringing “stigma-plus” procedural due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed her amended complaint with prejudice.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that Martin's occupation was operating an elevator service and repair business, not just providing those services specifically to the State or City. The court also found that despite the loss of State and City contracts, Martin had not been denied her liberty to pursue her occupation as she remained the owner and operator of Smart Elevators, which continued to operate and even managed to secure a contract with the Department of Justice in 2021. As such, the court found no violation of Martin's occupational liberty rights. View "Martin v. Haling" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiff, Todd Hess, applied for supplemental security income, disability insurance benefits, and disabled adult child benefits, all of which are administered by the Social Security Administration. While his claims for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits were approved, his claim for disabled adult child benefits was denied. To qualify for disabled adult child benefits, Hess had to prove that he had a disability that continued uninterrupted from before his 22nd birthday until the filing of his application for benefits. He claimed that his depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other impairments made him disabled during that entire period. However, after two hearings, an Administrative Law Judge disagreed, concluding that Hess was disabled as of June 9, 2009, but not before then. The ALJ's decision was based on gaps in Hess's treatment history, notes from his physicians, and occasional work he performed as an independent contractor. The Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction, and the district court found that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Hess v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

by
Four Iranian nationals, who had previously completed mandatory military service in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were denied visas to enter the United States. Their family members, three U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident, filed a suit against the President and several federal officials responsible for visa applications. They alleged that the defendants unlawfully deprived visa applicants the opportunity to establish eligibility for terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG) exemptions, violating their rights under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The district court dismissed the case under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, which bars judicial review of consular decisions. The Plaintiffs appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the doctrine of consular nonreviewability applied, and that the plaintiffs failed to show any evidence of bad faith that could overcome this doctrine. The court also held that the applicants were not entitled to any more explanation for their visa denials than the citation to the section of the law on which the denial was based. View "Pak v. Biden" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the defendant, Patrick Thompson, was convicted of making false statements about his loans to financial institutions. Thompson took out three loans from a bank totaling $219,000. After the bank failed, its receiver, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and a loan servicer, Planet Home, attempted to recoup the money owed by Thompson. However, Thompson disputed the loan balance, insisting that he had only borrowed $110,000. He was subsequently charged with and convicted of making false statements to influence the FDIC and a mortgage lending business, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1014.On appeal, Thompson argued that his statements were not “false” under § 1014 because they were literally true, and that the jury lacked sufficient evidence to convict him. He also claimed that the government constructively amended the indictment and that the district court lacked the authority to order him to pay restitution to the FDIC.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected Thompson's arguments and affirmed the lower court's judgment. The court held that under its precedent, § 1014 criminalizes misleading representations, and Thompson's statements were misleading. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support Thompson's conviction and that the indictment was not constructively amended. Finally, the court held that the district court properly awarded restitution to the FDIC, as the FDIC had suffered a financial loss as a direct and proximate result of Thompson's false statements. View "USA v. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
Erik Bertaud, who suffered serious injuries when a tree branch fell on his head, applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration. His application was denied, and he appealed. The Appeals Council remanded the case twice, but after the third denial, Bertaud's request for review was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Bertaud then sought judicial review, arguing that the ALJ had failed to develop the record of his disability, pointing to over 800 pages of new medical evidence. The district court denied Bertaud's motion for summary judgment and affirmed the Commissioner's decision, and Bertaud appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.The court held that although an ALJ has a duty to develop a full and fair record, this duty is limited when the claimant is represented by an attorney. The claimant's duty to submit evidence is ongoing and covers any additional related evidence they become aware of. The court noted that Bertaud was represented and his attorney had confirmed that the evidence was complete and supplemented the record when necessary. Therefore, the court concluded that the ALJ did not fail to develop Bertaud's medical record. The court affirmed the district court's decision denying Bertaud's motion for summary judgment and affirming the decision of the Commissioner. View "Bertaud v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all federal claims made by the plaintiff. The plaintiff, Lamont Moore, was an inmate who filed a suit against a prison guard and the prison where he was subsequently sent to, alleging failure to protect him from another inmate's attack, violation of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and a conspiracy among the investigating officers to falsify the official report of the incident.The court found that Moore was unable to demonstrate that the prison guard was aware of and disregarded an excessive risk to his safety, a requirement for a successful claim of failure to protect. Moore's testimony indicated that his complaints to the guard about the other inmate were about annoyance and horseplay, not a fear for his safety.Regarding his ADA claim, the court found that Moore failed to demonstrate that any disability-based discrimination was intentional. Moore complained about the distance to the healthcare unit but never alerted anyone at any prison that he required an accommodation in order to access services. He was able to access every service in prison, albeit more slowly due to his loss of vision in one eye. There was no evidence that any defendant knew that he could not access any services or made a deliberate choice to deny him access to services.After resolving all of the federal claims, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. View "Moore v. Western Illinois Correctional Center" on Justia Law