7th Circuit condemns 75-day delay in opinion, saying wait could spell ‘disaster’ for litigants

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A federal judge whose delayed opinion could have been “catastrophic” for a litigant has been reprimanded by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which cautioned other district judges not to follow suit.

The federal appeals court in an Oct. 8 order was critical of the original Northern District of Illinois judge who presided over the case of Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Incorporated v. American Board of Medical Specialties, 20-3072. The case was filed in 2013, and the defendant sought dismissal in May 2014.

“The original district judge granted that motion, but not until September 30, 2017 — more than three years later — and then only for ‘the reasons stated in the Memorandum Opinion to follow,’” the 7th Circuit wrote.

That subsequent opinion wasn’t issued until Dec. 13, 2017, leaving a 75-day gap.

“We have condemned this practice in the past and do so again today,” Circuit Judge Michael Scudder wrote. “This approach may have the benefit of ticking a case off a list of outstanding motions, but it risks catastrophe for litigants.”

Citing Walker v. Weatherspoon, 900 F.3d 354, 356 (2018), the appellate court pointed out that if an opinion doesn’t follow for more than 180 days — 150 days plus the ordinary 30 days for an appeal — then an appeal may be barred.

That, in turn, could spell disaster for litigants unfamiliar with appellate rules, the 7th Circuit wrote.  While no disaster ensued in the case at hand, the court warned against such conduct in the future.

“… (U)nless extenuating circumstances require the ‘speedy announcement of the outcome, the opinion should accompany the decision,’” the appellate court concluded, citing Walker.

 The opinion does not identify the judge in question, but online court records show that the case was initially assigned to Judge Andrea Wood of the Northern District of Illinois. In August 2019, multiple cases from multiple judges, including Judge Wood’s case at issue here, were transferred to Judge Martha Pacold.

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