Law School Case Brief
Swint v. Chambers Cty. Comm'n - 514 U.S. 35, 115 S. Ct. 1203 (1995)
By statute, federal courts of appeals have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the district courts, except where direct review may be had in the Supreme Court of the United States. 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291. The collateral order doctrine is not an exception to the final decision rule laid down by Congress in § 1291, but a practical construction of it. Section 1291 permits appeals not only from a final decision by which a district court disassociates itself from a case, but also from a small category of decisions that, although they do not end the litigation, must nonetheless be considered final. 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.
After police raids on a nightclub, two of the club's owners, a patron, and an employee filed a suit for damages against the county commission for alleged civil rights violations. The district court denied the county commission's motion for summary judgment ruling that the individual officers were not entitled to qualified immunity from suit and that the sheriff who authorized the raids, although a state employee, may have been the county's final policymaker for law enforcement. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit assumed pendent appellate jurisdiction and reversed. The owners, patron, and employee appealed.
Did the court of appeals have appellate jurisdiction to rule on the county commission's liability at the given interlocutory stage of litigation?
The court held that the court of appeals should have dismissed the county commission's appeal for want of jurisdiction. The court of appeals' jurisdiction to review immediately the denial of summary judgment for the individual officer defendants in response to their pleas of qualified immunity was not jurisdiction to review at once the denial of the county commission's summary judgment motion, which was not appealable as a collateral order, and there was no "pendent party" appellate jurisdiction. The court found that the district court's decision was tentative because it determined only the defense that the sheriff may have been the final policy maker for the county and planned to reconsider its ruling on the county commission's motion before the case went to the jury.
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