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Cunningham v. Hamilton Cty. - 527 U.S. 198, 119 S. Ct. 1915 (1999)


The Court has interpreted the term "final decision" in 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291, to permit jurisdiction over appeals from a small category of orders that do not terminate the litigation. That small category includes only decisions that are conclusive, that resolve important questions separate from the merits, and that are effectively unreviewable on appeal from the final judgment in the underlying action.


Petitioner was an attorney representing a client in a federal civil rights action filed against respondent county and others. After failing to heed a magistrate's orders pertaining to discovery, respondents filed motions for sanctions against petitioner. The magistrate found that petitioner had violated the discovery order and imposed sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4). Following the trial court's affirmance of the magistrate's sanctions order, petitioner immediately appealed. The court of appeals dismissed petitioner's appeal for lack of jurisdiction because it was not a final order under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291. On appeal, the Court affirmed the decision dismissing petitioner's appeal.


Is an order imposing sanctions on an attorney pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(4) a final decision?




A sanctions order imposed on an attorney was not a final decision under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291. An attorney's continued participation in a case did not affect whether a sanctions order was final for purposes of § 1291. To permit an immediate appeal of sanctions would undermine the purposes ofFed. R. Civ. P. 37(a).

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