514 U.S. 35 (1995), 93-1636, Swint v. Chambers County Comm'n.

Docket Nº:No. 93-1636
Citation:514 U.S. 35, 115 S.Ct. 1203, 131 L.Ed.2d 60, 63 U.S.L.W. 4189
Case Date:March 01, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court

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514 U.S. 35 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 1203, 131 L.Ed.2d 60, 63 U.S.L.W. 4189

SWINT et al.



No. 93-1636

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 1995

Argued January 10, 1995



In the wake of police raids on a nightclub in Chambers County, Alabama, two of the club's owners joined by an employee and a patron (all petitioners here) sued respondent Chambers County Commission, along with a municipality and three individual police officers; petitioners sought damages and other relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged civil rights violations. The District Court denied the summary judgment motions of all five defendants, ruling, inter alia, 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 District Court stated that it would rule dispositively on the county's liability before jury deliberations. Invoking the rule that an order denying qualified immunity is appealable before trial, Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530, the individual defendants immediately appealed. The county commission also appealed, arguing that the denial of its summary judgment motion was immediately appealable as a collateral order satisfying the test announced in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 546, and, alternatively, that the Eleventh Circuit had "pendent appellate jurisdiction" to decide the questions presented by the commission. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the county commission's first argument, but asserted pendent jurisdiction over the commission's appeal. Determining that the sheriff was not a policymaker for the county, the Eleventh Circuit held that the county commission qualified for summary judgment.

Held: The Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to rule on the county commission's liability at this interlocutory stage of the litigation and, accordingly, should have dismissed the commission's appeal. Pp. 41-51.

(a) The order denying the county commission's summary judgment motion was not an appealable collateral order under Cohen, supra, at 546, which allows immediate appeal from decisions that are conclusive, resolve important questions separate from the merits, and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment. The order in question fails this test because it was tentative, the District Court having announced its intention to revisit its initial determination. Moreover,

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the order is effectively reviewable after final judgment, because the commission's assertion that the sheriff is not its policymaker ranks solely as a defense to liability, not as an immunity from suit that is effectively lost if the case is erroneously permitted to go to trial. See Mitchell, supra, at 526. Pp. 41-43.

(b) There is no "pendent party" appellate jurisdiction of the kind the Eleventh Circuit purported to exercise. Although that court unquestionably had jurisdiction immediately to review the denial of the individual officers' summary judgment motions, it did not thereby gain authority to review at once the unrelated question of the county commission's liability. The parties' arguments to the contrary drift away from the statutory instructions Congress has given to control the timing of appellate proceedings. In particular, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) confers on district courts first line discretion to certify for immediate appeal interlocutory orders deemed pivotal and debatable; this provision grants to the court of appeals discretion to review only orders first certified by the district court. If courts of appeals had jurisdiction of the type here claimed by the Eleventh Circuit, § 1292(b)'s two-tiered arrangement would be severely undermined. Furthermore, provisions Congress passed in 1990 and 1992, 28 U.S.C. § 2072(c) and 28 U.S.C. § 1292(e), designate the rulemaking process as the way to define or refine when a district court ruling is "final" and when an interlocutory order is appealable. These legislative provisions counsel resistance to expansion of appellate jurisdiction by court decision. Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. 651, 662-663, and United States v. Stanley, 483 U.S. 669, 676-677, securely support the conclusion that the Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to review the denial of the county commission's summary judgment motion. Although the parties are correct that this Court has not universally required courts of appeals to confine review to the precise decision independently subject to review, the Court need not definitively or preemptively settle here whether or when it may be proper for a court of appeals with jurisdiction over one ruling to review, conjunctively, related rulings that are not themselves independently appealable. The parties do not—indeed could not—contend that the District Court's decision to deny the commission's motion on the ground that the sheriff may have been a county policymaker was inextricably intertwined with that court's decision to deny the individual defendants' qualified immunity motions, or that review of the former decision was necessary to ensure meaningful review of the latter. Pp. 43-51.

5 F.3d 1435 and 11 F.3d 1030, vacated in part and remanded.

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Robert B. McDuff argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Carlos A. Williams, Bryan Stevenson, and Bernard Harcourt.

Paul R. Q. Wolfson argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae in support of petitioners. On the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Patrick, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Beth S. Brinkmann, Jessica Dunsay Silver, and Linda F. Thome.

Paul M. Smith argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief for respondent Chambers County Commission were Bruce J. Ennis, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., James W. Webb, Kendrick E. Webb, and Bart Harmon.[*]

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the wake of successive police raids on a nightclub in Chambers County, Alabama, two of the club's owners joined by an employee and a patron (petitioners here) sued the Chambers County Commission (respondent here), the city of Wadley, and three individual police officers. Petitioners sought damages and other relief, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for alleged civil rights violations. We granted certiorari to review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which held that the Chambers County Commission qualified for summary judgment because the sheriff who authorized the raids was a state executive officer and not an agent of the county commission. We do not reach that issue, however, because we conclude

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that the Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to rule on the county commission's liability at this interlocutory stage of the litigation.

The Eleventh Circuit unquestionably had jurisdiction to review the denial of the individual police officer defendants' motions for summary judgment based on their alleged qualified immunity from suit. But the Circuit Court did not thereby gain authority to review the denial of the Chambers County Commission's motion for summary judgment. The commission's appeal, we hold, does not fit within the "collateral order" doctrine, nor is there "pendent party" appellate authority to take up the commission's case. We therefore vacate the relevant portion of the Eleventh Circuit's judgment and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


On December 14, 1990, and again on March 29, 1991, law enforcement officers from Chambers County and the city of Wadley, Alabama, raided the Capri Club in Chambers County as part of a narcotics operation. The raids were conducted without a search warrant or an arrest warrant. Petitioners filed suit, alleging, among other claims for relief, violations of their federal civil rights. Petitioners named as defendants the county commission; the city of Wadley; and three individual defendants, Chambers County Sheriff James C. Morgan, Wadley Police Chief Freddie Morgan, and Wadley Police Officer Gregory Dendinger.

The five defendants moved for summary judgment on varying grounds. The three individual defendants asserted qualified immunity from suit on petitioners' federal claims. See Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 639 (1987) (governmental officials are immune from suit for civil damages unless their conduct is unreasonable in light of clearly established law). Without addressing the question whether Wadley Police Chief Freddie Morgan, who participated in the

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raids, was a policymaker for the municipality, the city argued that a respondeat superior theory could not be used to hold it liable under § 1983. See Monell v. NewYork City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (a local government may not be sued under § 1983 for injury inflicted solely by its nonpolicymaking employees or agents). The Chambers County Commission argued that County Sheriff James C. Morgan, who authorized the raids, was not a policymaker for the county.

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama denied the motions for summary judgment. The District Court agreed that § 1983 liability could not be imposed on the city for an injury inflicted by a nonpolicymaking employee; that court denied the city's summary judgment motion, however, because the city had failed to argue that Wadley Police Chief Freddie Morgan was not its policy-maker for law enforcement. Regarding the county commission's motion, the District Court was "persuaded by the Plaintiffs that Sheriff [James C.] Morgan may have been the final decision-maker for the County in ferreting out crime, although he is a State of Alabama employee." App. to Pet. for Cert. 67a. The District Court later denied...

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