Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Sevec filed for disability social security benefits, alleging an onset of disability in 2014. At the time of her hearing, Sevec was 60 years old and suffered from knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. Sevec stated that she worked as a registered nurse until 2014, doing narcotics counts, answering call lights and bed alarms, assisting patients to the bathroom; administering IV medications, doing breathing treatments; and taking care of feeding tubes. After leaving that job, she provided care for a neighbor. A vocational expert (VE) stated Sevec’s work as an RN was “level 7, medium in its physical demand, medium as performed. And then we also have home health nurse … also, level 6. Medium in its physical demand; light as performed.” The ALJ asked whether “any of the past work [would] be available?” The VE replied, “Possibly the home health being as performed at a light level, not per the [Dictionary of Occupational Titles], though, but as performed.”The ALJ concluded that Sevec was not disabled. The Appeals Council and the district court agreed. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The VE’s testimony is not well grounded in the record, and is not sufficient, standing alone, to support the ALJ’s determination. The record does not contain evidence from which the ALJ could determine, with any degree of confidence, that Sevec is capable of performing her past work; the ALJ specified that her “past work” did not include "home health nurse." View "Sevec v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Suspecting that Troconis-Escovar was involved in the illegal drug business, the DEA searched his vehicle. Agents found $146,000 in cash, which they believed represented drug proceeds. DEA notified Troconis-Escovar that it intended to effect an administrative forfeiture of the funds (to declare them to be government property). Illegal drug proceeds are eligible for civil forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(6), subject to the procedural safeguards of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 983. Troconis-Escovar’s attorney tried to contest the forfeiture, but filed the wrong form—a “petition for remission” rather than a “claim.” Only a claim may be used to challenge a proposed forfeiture. After the mistake was discovered, DEA gave Troconis-Escovar an extra 30 days to supplement his petition for remission. Troconis-Escovar did not do so and lost the money. He filed a Motion for the Return of Property under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g).The district court dismissed his lawsuit, finding that it lacked jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The dismissal was correct, but not because jurisdiction was lacking. Troconis-Escovar does not explain why he should be able to obtain relief outside section 983 when Congress expressly conditioned relief from civil forfeiture on circumstances that do not apply to him. He did not explain his argument about the untimeliness or sufficiency of the DEA’s notice. View "Troconis-Escovar v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1993 the Village of Channahon approved the plat of a residential subdivision lying within the DuPage River Special Flood Hazard Area. The Village subsequently issued permits for the construction of houses in this subdivision, all of which experience flooded basements when the river is at high water. The current owners of these houses contend that the Village violated the Constitution either by granting the permits to build or by failing to construct dykes to keep water away.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit, noting the plaintiffs do not contend that the Village required them to build where they did or dig basements, or took any steps after the houses’ construction that made flooding worse. The Constitution establishes rights to be free of governmental interference but does not compel governmental intervention to assist persons. Even if the Village violated a local ordinance and a federal regulation, 44 C.F.R. §60.3(c)(7), by granting the applications without insisting that the houses be built higher, the Constitution does not entitle private parties to accurate enforcement of local, state, or federal law. The Village did not take anyone’s property, either by physical invasion or by regulation that prevented the land’s use. The river, which did invade their basements, is not a governmental body. Government-induced flooding of limited duration may be compensable but the -plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that the water in their basements is “government-induced.” View "Billie v. Village of Channahon" on Justia Law

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Sanchez filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) against his former employer, DuPage Regional Office of Education. Sanchez claimed that, after he made two protected disclosures concerning expenditures to DuPage, he suffered five reprisals in violation of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, 41 U.S.C. 4712. The OIG investigated and determined his claims to be unsubstantiated. An ALJ determined, contrary to the findings of the OIG, that Sanchez was entitled to relief for all five alleged reprisals and ordered DuPage to pay Sanchez compensatory damages of $210,000.The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the Department of Education, “suggesting” assignment to a different ALJ. The court held that DuPage did not establish that it was entitled to sovereign immunity from the Department’s adjudication of Sanchez’s whistleblower complaint. On the merits, the court concluded that the actions described by Sanchez were not retaliatory. View "DuPage Regional Office of Education v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, firefighters and their union, alleged retaliation for protected First Amendment activity. Mayor Copeland, a former firefighter of 26 years, had implemented cost-cutting measures, including freezing the firefighters' salaries and benefits. During Copeland’s reelection campaign, the firefighter’s political action committee endorsed Copeland’s opponent and other candidates who opposed Copeland’s policies. Copeland was reelected. Several firefighters protested at Copeland’s inauguration. Copeland vetoed an ordinance to restore some of the benefits and directed Fire Chief Serna to develop a new schedule. An 8/24 schedule, whereby a firefighter would work eight hours and then be off 24 hours was proposed. No other fire department in the country has adopted that schedule, which assigns firefighters to different shifts every day. In a secretly-recorded conversation, Serna said: “You can call it retaliation.” The defendants proposed to give up the schedule in exchange for the Union giving up its right to lobby the Common Council. The Union rejected the proposal; the city implemented the 8/24 schedule. The Council later returned the firefighters’ to a 24/48 schedule. Copeland sued the Council, alleging that the ordinance violated his executive power. The state court agreed with Copeland and struck the ordinance—leaving the 8/24 schedule in effect.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction, ordering the city to immediately begin reinstating the old work schedule. There was no evidence that the 8/24 schedule would result in cost savings; the firefighters would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction. View "International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 365 v. City of East Chicago, Indiana" on Justia Law

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After the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) terminated McHugh’s employment, he sued seven individuals under federal law, alleging due process violations, and sued IDOT under an Illinois statute, the Ethics Act. IDOT argued that sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment barred the suit. The district court held that McHugh’s claim against IDOT could proceed in state court but not federal court, and entered judgment on the merits. The Seventh Circuit modified the judgment to dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. If a defendant enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity from a claim and invokes that immunity, it deprives a federal court of jurisdiction over the claim. View "McHugh v. Illinois Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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OSHA inspector Minett-Jackson attempted to conduct an inspection of AMC, a Chicago fruit and vegetable wholesaler. AMC considered the timing suspicious because AMC was scheduled to go to trial on another OSHA matter days later. AMC denied Minett-Jackson entry. OSHA applied for an ex parte inspection warrant. Minett-Jackson’s warrant application stated that it was “based upon a complaint from one of AMC’s current employees.” who had witnessed a forklift accident. Minett-Jackson stated that, based on her training and experience, she knew that the described situation might constitute violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. 651. When Minett-Jackson returned to AMC with a warrant, she was again denied entry. AMC filed an emergency motion to stay the warrant and unseal the application and requested time to file a motion to quash the warrant on the ground that it was not supported by probable cause.The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal from the denial of the motion to quash, noting that the district court’s order was not final under 28 U.S.C. 1291. Significant ongoing proceedings in the district court afford the contesting party a full opportunity to object to the warrant in an adversarial context. Motions for contempt and to toll the statute of limitations are pending before the district court. View "Anthony Marano Co. v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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Olson and Zdroik sustained injuries while volunteering at municipal fireworks displays in 2018. Fireworks distributed by Spielbauer Fireworks exploded prematurely at both events, severely burning the two. Both towns used teams of volunteers to operate their Fourth of July displays. Olson opened and closed a bin from which other volunteers retrieved fireworks during the Rib Lake show. Zdroik worked at the Land O’Lakes event as a “shooter,” manually lighting the fuses on mortar shells.Spielbauer’s insurer, T.H.E. Insurance, contested coverage under Spielbauer’s general and excess liability policies, which stated: This policy shall NOT provide coverage of any kind ... for any claims arising out of injuries or death to shooters or their assistants hired to perform fireworks displays or any other persons assisting or aiding in the display of fireworks whether or not any of the foregoing are employed by the Named Insured, any shooter or any assistant. The issue was whether the exclusion extends to all volunteers or only to those assisting hired shooters or hired assistants.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of T.H.E. Insurance. The Shooters Endorsement plainly and unambiguously excludes from coverage hired shooters and their hired assistants and “any other persons” who assist the fireworks display, regardless of whether they assist hired persons. View "T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson" on Justia Law

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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