Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Attorney Stilp represented Miller in claims concerning the construction of Miller’s house by contractor Herman. The district court dismissed. Stilp recommended that Miller terminate the action based on state law. Miller told Stilp that needed time to consider whether to refile., Herman filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Herman’s bankruptcy attorney, Jones, prepared schedules listing the addresses of all creditors. Miller was listed as a creditor on the bankruptcy schedules and creditor matrix, but his address was listed as “c/o Thomas Stilp, Attorney” at Stilp’s office address. Notice of the bankruptcy was delivered to Stilp’s office but was routed to another attorney. Neither Stilp nor Miller was informed of the notice. Miller subsequently informed Stilp that he wanted to refile his complaint against Herman. Stilp then discovered that Herman had filed for bankruptcy protection. Miller did not take immediate action and, about a month later, the bankruptcy court entered a discharge order. About 13 months after he learned of Herman’s bankruptcy petition, Miller moved to reopen the case (11 U.S.C. 727(a)(4)(A)). The bankruptcy court denied the motion. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that Miller had been properly served when notice was delivered to Stilp’s firm. View "Miller v. Herman" on Justia Law

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Steidl and Whitlock were convicted of 1987 murders, largely based on testimony by two supposed eyewitnesses. Long after the convictions, an investigation revealed that much of the testimony was perjured and that exculpatory evidence had been withheld. The revelations led to the release of the men and dismissal of all charges. Steidl had spent almost 17 years in prison; Whitlock had spent close to 21 years. They sued. By 2013, both had settled with all defendants. Because the defendants were public officials and public entities, disputes arose over responsibility for defense costs. National Casualty sought a declaratory judgment that it was not liable for the defense of former State’s Attorney, McFatridge, or Edgar County, agreeing to pay their costs under a reservation of rights until the issue was resolved. The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of National Casualty. In another case McFatridge sought a state court order that the Illinois Attorney General approve his reasonable expenses and fees; the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the claim. In a third case, National Casualty sought a declaratory judgment that another insurer was liable for costs it had advanced. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the other company is liable. It would be inequitable for that company to benefit from National’s attempt to do the right thing, especially since it did not do the right thing and contribute to the defense costs under a reservation of rights. View "Nat'l Cas. Co. v. White Mountains Reinsurance Co." on Justia Law

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Brindley and Thompson entered appearances as counsel for one of two defendants charged with drug offenses. A joint trial was scheduled. Both moved for continuance; the court set a hearing and ordered defendants counsel to be present. Thompson was present; Brindley was not. At a subsequent status conference, the court scheduled a jury trial and set a deadline for pretrial motions. Britton did not file any motions. On November 6, the court set a status conference for November 26 to discuss pretrial motions and ordered Brindley “to be present in person … not through other counsel.” Defendant appeared, but Brindley and Thompson did not and did not contact the court. The court set a show cause hearing; Brindley moved for continuance, claiming that he had not seen the order and had obligations in another trial. He apologized. The district court denied the motion and ordered Brindley to appear on November 30. Brindley appeared, but the court rejected his explanations as lies, held Brindley in contempt under Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(b), and remanded him to custody for two days. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court erred in using Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(b)ʹs summary contempt procedures, which apply only when there is a compelling reason for an immediate remedy, contempt occurred in the judge’s presence, and the judge saw or heard the contemptuous conduct. The court noted that if the district court chooses, on remand, to proceed under 18 U.S.C. 401, a different judge will preside. View "United States v. Britton" on Justia Law

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After the mutual funds, known as the Lancelot or Colossus group, folded in 2008, the trustee in bankruptcy filed independent suits or adversary actions seeking to recover from solvent third parties, including the Funds’ auditor, law firm, and some of the Funds’ investors, which the Trustee believes received preferential transfers or fraudulent conveyances. The Funds had invested in notes issued by Thousand Lakes, which was actually a Ponzi scheme, paying old investors with newly raised money. In these proceedings the trustee contends that investors who redeemed shares before the bankruptcy received preferential transfers, 11 U.S.C. 547, or fraudulent conveyances, 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(B) and raised a claim under the Illinois fraudulent-conveyance statute, using the avoiding power of 11 U.S.C. 544. The bankruptcy court dismissed the claims against the law firm that prepared circulars for the Firms. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No Illinois court has held that failure to report a corporate manager’s acts to the board of directors exposes a law firm to malpractice liability. The complaint does not plausibly allege that alerting the directors would have made a difference. View "Peterson v. Winston & Strawn, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Tax Court upheld the IRS’ disallowance of losses claimed by various LLCs that had been created by a tax attorney as tax shelters and a 40 percent penalty for a “gross valuation misstatement,” 26 U.S.C. 6662(a). An LLC is generally treated as a partnership for tax purposes, so that its income and losses are deemed to flow through to the owners and are taxed to them rather than to the business. How much income or loss should be recognized on the owners’ tax returns is now determined by an audit of the business. The LLCs at issue were formed to reduce taxes by transferring the losses of a bankrupt Brazilian electronics retailer to create what is called a distressed asset/debt (DAD) tax shelter, based on a tax loophole closed by the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, 26 U.S.C. 704(c) the year after creation of the tax shelters at issue. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, characterizing the LLCs as entities without economic substance, not recognized for federal tax law purposes. View "Superior Trading, LLC v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Attorney Turza sent out a fax, titled the “Daily Plan-It,” containing business advice. The fax was sent to CPAs who were not Turza’s clients, about every two weeks. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 47 U.S.C. 227, prohibits any person from sending unsolicited fax advertisements; even permitted fax ads must tell the recipient how to stop receiving future messages. Turza’s faxes did not contain opt-out information. The district court certified a class of the faxes’ recipients and ordered Turza to pay $500 in statutory damages for each of 8,430 faxes. ($4,215,000): $7,500 to the representative plaintiff ; $1,430,055.90 to class counsel for attorneys’ fees and expenses; and any residue, after payments to class members, to the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago “as a cy pres award.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed on the merits, rejecting an argument that the faxes were not ads, but vacated the remedial order. View "Holtzman v. Turza" on Justia Law

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A class of Motorola investors claimed that, during 2006, the firm made false statements to disguise its inability to deliver a competitive mobile phone that could employ 3G protocols. When the problem became public, the price of Motorola’s stock declined. The parties settled for $200 million. None of the class members contends that the amount is inadequate. Two objected to approval of counsel’s proposal that it receive 27.5 percent of the fund. One objector protested almost a month after the deadline and failed to file a claim to his share of the recovery. The Seventh Circuit dismissed his appeal, stating that he lacks any interest in the amount of fees, since he would not receive a penny from the fund even if counsel’s share were reduced to zero. The other objector claimed that fee schedules should be set at the outset, preferably by an auction in which law firms compete to represent the class. Noting the problems inherent in such a system, the court held that the district judge did not abuse her discretion in approving the award. View "Liles v. Motorola Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Kivers retained C&T, an Illinois law firm, to prepare trusts to benefit their daughters, Diane and Maureen, among others. Maureen and Diane each served as trustee of various trusts. Maureen died in 2007. Her husband, Minor, represents Maureen’s estate, which filed suit against C&T, alleging that C&T failed to disclose the existence and terms of certain trusts to Maureen, to her detriment, and failed to make distributions to her. The estate filed a separate state court suit against Diane, alleging that Diane breached her duties as trustee by failing to disclose the existence of certain trusts to Maureen or make distributions to her. Diane was a client of C&T during the relevant period. The district court entered an agreed protective order governing discovery disclosure to deal with privilege issues and denied the estate’s motion to compel production. The estate violated the protective order. The district court imposed sanctions and dismissed several of the estate’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that “The complexity of the multiple trusts … the untimely death of Maureen, the pursuit of concurrent state and federal suits … the length of this litigation, and the disorderly nature of the estate’s presentation… evoke a middle installment of Bleak House." View "Scott v. Chuhak & Tecson, PC" on Justia Law

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From 2006 until he was fired in 2011, Chrzanowski was an assistant state’s attorney. In 2011, a special prosecutor began investigating Chrzanowski’s boss, Bianchi. Bianchi allegedly had improperly influenced cases involving his relatives and political allies. Under subpoena, Chrzanowski testified before a grand jury, and later, again under subpoena, he testified at Bianchi’s trial. A few months later, Chrzanowski was interrogated by Bianchi and fired. Chrzanowski believed that the firing was retaliation for his testimony and filed suit, alleging violation of his First Amendment rights and state statutes. The district court dismissed the 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, finding that First Amendment protections did not apply because the testimony was “pursuant to [his] official duties” and, in the alternative, that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, because any First Amendment protections were not “clearly established” at the time. The Seventh Circuit reversed. When Chrzanowski spoke out about his supervisors’ potential or actual wrongdoing, he was speaking outside the duties of employment. Providing eyewitness testimony regarding potential wrongdoing was never part of what Chrzanowski was employed to do; his rights were clearly established at all relevant times. Unlike restrictions on speech made pursuant to official duties, punishment for subpoenaed testimony chills civic discourse “in significant and pernicious ways.” View "Chrzanowski v. Bianchi" on Justia Law

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Stern represented Allen in a discrimination suit, after which they became romantically involved. Allen and her husband had separated and had executed a settlement agreement awarding Allen $95,000, to be paid in installments. A month later, Allen visited a bankruptcy attorney, Losey, giving Stern’s name as “friend/referral” on an intake form. In filing for bankruptcy, Allen did not disclose the marital settlement. While her bankruptcy was pending, Allen received the money. A month after her bankruptcy discharge, Allen transferred the settlement proceeds to Stern, who opened a CD in his name. The attorney for Allen’s ex-husband informed the bankruptcy trustee that Allen failed to disclose the settlementand the discharge was revoked. Allen pleaded guilty to making a false declaration in a bankruptcy proceeding, 18 U.S.C. 152(3). She told a grand jury that Stern had not referred her to Losey and was convicted of making a material false statement in a grand jury proceeding, 18 U.S.C. 1623. The court admitted Losey’s client-intake form as evidence of perjury. Stern was convicted of conspiring to commit money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1956(h). The Seventh Circuit affirmed Allen’s conviction, holding that the intake form was not a communication in furtherance of legal representation and was not subject to attorney-client privilege. Reversing Stern’s conviction, the court held that the judge erred in excluding Stern’s testimony about why he purchased the CDs. View "United States v. Stern" on Justia Law