Weekly Case Digests August 5, 2019 August 9, 2019.

 
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Byline: Rick Benedict

7th Circuit Digests

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: DeAndre J. Beason v. Matthew Marske

Case No.: 18-3575

Officials: FLAUM, KANNE, and SCUDDER, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Sentencing Guidelines

The Armed Career Criminal Act, housed in 924(e) of the Federal Criminal Code, mandates a minimum 15-year sentence for a felon who unlawfully possesses a firearm and has three prior convictions for a "serious drug offense" or "violent felony." In 2009, Deandre Beason pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced under the Act. Now, roughly a decade later, the parties agree that under current law none of Beason's three prior convictions count as either violent felonies or serious drug offensesmeaning Beason no longer qualifies as an armed career criminal.

But this observation only gets us so far, as this case turns instead on whether Beason has available a procedural means to secure resentencing. He did not prevail on challenging his conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Nor did he succeed in his pursuit of post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. So he now turns to 28 U.S.C. 2241. Whether he can use 2241 to pursue what is often called traditional habeas relief turns under our caselaw on whether the claims he now raises in his current petition were foreclosed to him at the time of his initial 2255 motion. If so, the law would deem Beason's prior 2255 proceeding inadequate and thereby allow him to seek resentencing through and pursuant to 2241.

We conclude that at least one of Beason's grounds for reliefpertaining to two of his three prior convictionswas foreclosed to him at the time of his 2255 motion. And, because Beason is correct that those two offenses cannot serve as qualifying offenses, he no longer has the three offenses qualifying him as an armed career criminal. While the remainder of the opinion travels the procedural and legal maze to this conclusion, the upshot is that we reverse and remand for the petition to be granted and Beason to be resentenced.

Reversed and remanded

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: United States of America v. Ishaihu Harmelech

Case No.: 18-2169

Officials: ROVNER, HAMILTON, and BRENNAN, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Sentencing Guidelines

A federal grand jury indicted Ishaihu Harmelech on two counts of mail fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1341. Harmelech pleaded guilty to the first count, and the government dismissed the remaining count. In pleading guilty, Harmelech, who owned and operated multiple cable installation companies, admitted to setting up hundreds of DIRECTV accounts under a fraudulent scheme and pocketing the money that should have been paid for servicing those accounts. He now appeals his sentence, arguing the district court erred in calculating DIRECTV's losses and in applying a four-level sentencing enhancement pursuant to Sentencing Guideline 3B1.1(a). Because we see no error in the district court's loss calculation and sentencing determination, we affirm.

Affirmed

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: SelectSun GmbH v. Porter, Inc., d/b/a Thunderbird Products

Case No.: 18-3149

Officials: HAMILTON, BARRETT, and SCUDDER, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Contract Warranty

Contractual disputes can be messy and present many tangled knots. A year ago in a similar contractual dispute under Indiana law we observed that sometimes the harder questions can be avoided where the evidentiary record shows that the plaintiff "failed to prove its damages with anything close to reasonable certainty." Entertainment USA, Inc. v. Moorehead Communications, Inc., 897 F.3d 786, 797 (7th Cir. 2018). This same observation and evidentiary shortcoming resolves this appeal and leads us to affirm the district court's judgment against SelectSun GmbH in this contract and warranty dispute over whether the exhaust system on a $1 million yacht manufactured by Porter, Inc. complied with particular regulatory requirements imposed by the European Union.

Affirmed

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Donald Fessenden v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., et al.

Case No.: 18-1346

Officials: WOOD, Chief Judge, and SYKES and BARRETT, Circuit Judges.

Focus: ERISA Administrator Deadline

Donald Fessenden applied for long-term disability benefits through his former employer's benefits plan. After the plan administrator, Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, denied the claim, Fessenden submitted a request for review with additional evidence supporting it. When Reliance failed to issue a decision within the timeline mandated by the regulations governing the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), he sought review of Reliance's decision in federal court. Eight days later, after Fessenden had already filed suit, Reliance finally issued a decision, again denying Fessenden's claim.

We must decide whether Reliance's tardiness affects the standard of review in the district court. If the decision had been timely, the court would have applied an arbitrary and capricious standard because the plan gave Reliance the discretion to administer it. When a plan administrator commits a procedural violation, however, it loses the benefit of deference and a de novo standard applies. We have recognized an exception, though, and Reliance seeks to take advantage of it: if the administrator "substantially complies" with the prescribed proceduresin other words, if the violation is relatively minorthen the court will still defer to the administrator's decision. Reliance argues that it "substantially complied" with the deadline because it was only a little bit late.

We reject Reliance's argument because we hold that the "substantial compliance" exception does not apply to blown deadlines. An administrator may be able to "substantially comply" with other procedural requirements, but a deadline is a bright line. Because Reliance violated a hard-and-fast obligation, its late decision to deny Fessenden benefits is not entitled to deference.

Vacated and remanded

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Joseph S. McGreal v. Village of Orland Park, et al.

Case No.: 18-3342

Officials: KANNE, SYKES, and BRENNAN, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Abuse of Discretion Attorney Fees

The Village of Orland Park fired police officer Joseph McGreal in 2010. McGreal sued, alleging that the Village fired him in retaliation for remarks he made at a community board meeting. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding that McGreal had advanced only speculation to support his claims. We affirmed and also remarked on the dearth of evidence to support McGreal's allegations.

After we affirmed summary judgment, the district court granted the defendants' motion for attorney fees and directed John P. DeRoseMcGreal's attorneyto pay $66,191.75 to the defendants. DeRose now appeals that order. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.

Affirmed

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Kimberly Bilinsky v. American Airlines, Inc.

Case No.: 18-3107

Officials: EASTERBROOK, KANNE, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

Focus: ADA Violation

American Airlines employed Kimberly Bilinsky for more than two decades. That employment continued without issue after Bilinsky contracted multiple sclerosis ("MS") in the late 1990s. American provided a "Work from Home Arrangement" ("WFHA"), which permitted Bilinsky to do her job from her home in Chicago, even though her colleagues operated out of the company headquarters in Dallas. But after a 2013 merger, American restructured its operations and informally repurposed Bilinsky's department. The executives determined that the new duties required the in-person involvement of the employees, so the company rescinded the arrangement and demanded that Bilinsky relocate to Texas to work face-to-face. Once negotiations collapsed, American terminated Bilinsky.

This lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") followed. 42 U.S.C. 12111 et seq. The district court granted summary judgment to American, finding that Bilinsky was no longer qualified for the position in light of the changes in her responsibilities. Because Bilinsky's evidence does not counter that assertion, we affirm.

Affirmed

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: J.K.J., et al. v. Polk County, et al.

Case No.: 18-1498; 18-1499; 18-2170; 18-2177

Officials: BAUER, BRENNAN, and SCUDDER, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Sufficiency of Evidence

Darryl Christensen, a Polk County, Wisconsin Jail corrections officer, sexually assaulted plaintiffs J.K.J. and M.J.J. over three years during their incarcerations. Plaintiffs sued Christensen and the county under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, in addition to a state law negligence claim against the county. After trial, the jury found Christensen and the county liable for J.K.J. and M.J.J.'s injuries and awarded each $2 million in compensatory damages. The jury also levied punitive damages against Christensen, awarding $3,750,000 to each plaintiff. Both defendants moved for new trials, and the county also moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court denied those requests and defendants now appeal the judgments entered against them. The sum of these allegations, plaintiffs argued, prove the county was deliberately indifferent to a known risk of sexual assault by jail staff. The county disagreed, arguing that the trial evidence did not support the jury's liability finding and damages awards.

We see no reason to disturb the jury's verdict against Christensen and so affirm the denial of his request for a new trial. His assaults were predatory and knowingly criminal. But to impose liability against the county for Christensen's crimes, there must be evidence of an offending county policy, culpability, and causation. These are demanding standards. Christensen's acts were...

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