Carson v. American Brands, Inc

Decision Date25 February 1981
Docket NumberNo. 79-1236,79-1236
Citation67 L.Ed.2d 59,101 S.Ct. 993,450 U.S. 79
PartiesFrank L. CARSON, Lawrence Hatcher and Stuart E. Mines, Petitioners, v. AMERICAN BRANDS, INC., etc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioners, representing a class of present and former black employees and job applicants, sought injunctive and declaratory relief and damages in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that respondent employer and unions had engaged in racially discriminatory employment practices. The parties negotiated a settlement and jointly moved the District Court to enter a proposed consent decree which would permanently enjoin respondents from discriminating against black employees and would require them to give hiring and seniority preferences to black employees and to fill one-third of certain supervisory positions with qualified blacks. The court denied the motion, holding that since there was no showing of present or past discrimination, the proposed decree illegally granted racial preferences to the petitioner class, and that in any event the decree would be illegal as extending relief to all present and future black employees, not just to actual victims of the alleged discrimination. The Court of Appeals dismissed petitioners' appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that the District Court's order was not appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), which permits appeals as of right to the courts of appeals from interlocutory orders of district courts "refusing . . . injunctions."

Held : The District Court's interlocutory order refusing to enter the consent decree was an order "refusing" an "injunction" and was therefore appealable under § 1292(a)(1). Pp. 83-90.

(a) The order, although not in terms refusing an injunction, had the practical effect of doing so. However, for such an interlocutory order to be immediately appealable under § 1292(a)(1), a litigant must also show that the order might have "serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence" and that the order can be "effectually challenged" only by immediate appeal. Baltimore Contractors, Inc. v. Bodinger, 348 U.S. 176, 181, 75 S.Ct. 249, 252, 99 L.Ed. 233. Pp. 83-86.

(b) Here, petitioners meet such test. First, they might lose their opportunity to settle their case on the negotiated terms, because a party to a pending settlement might be legally justified in withdrawing its consent to the agreement once trial is held and final judgment en- tered. And a second "serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence" of the District Court's order justifying an immediate appeal is that, because petitioners cannot obtain the injunctive relief of an immediate restructuring of respondents' transfer and promotional policies until the proposed consent decree is entered, any further delay in reviewing the propriety of the District Court's refusal to enter the decree might cause them serious or irreparable harm. Pp. 86-89.

4 Cir., 606 F.2d 420, reversed.

Napoleon B. Williams, Jr., New York City, for petitioners.

Harlon L. Dalton, New York City, for United States and E.E.O.C. as amici curiae, by special leave of Court.

Henry T. Wickham, Richmond, Va., for respondent, American Brands, Inc.

Jay J. Levit, Richmond, Va., for respondent Unions.

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this Title VII class action is whether an interlocutory order of the District Court denying a joint motion of the parties to enter a consent decree containing injunctive relief is an appealable order.

I

Petitioners, representing a class of present and former black seasonal employees and applicants for employment at the- Richmond Leaf Department of the American Tobacco Co., brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Alleging that respondents 1 had discriminated against them in hiring, promotion, transfer, and training opportunities, petitioners sought a declaratory judgment, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, and money damages.

After extensive discovery had been conducted and the plaintiff class had been certified,2 the parties negotiated a settlement and jointly moved the District Court to approve and enter their proposed consent decree. See Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23(e).3 The decree would have required respondents to give hiring and seniority preferences to black employees and to fill one-third of all supervisory positions in the Richmond Leaf Department with qualified blacks. While agreeing to the terms of the decree, respondents "expressly den[ied] any violation of . . . any . . . equal employment law, regulation, or order." App. 25a.

The District Court denied the motion to enter the proposed decree. 446 F.Supp. 780 (1977). Concluding that preferential treatment on the basis of race violated Title VII and- the Constitution absent a showing of past or present discrimination, and that the facts submitted in support of the decree demonstrated no "vestiges of racial discrimination," id., at 790, the court held that the proposed decree illegally granted racial preferences to the petitioner class. It further declared that even if present or past discrimination had been shown, the decree would be illegal in that it would extend relief to all present and future black employees of the Richmond Leaf Department, not just to actual victims of the alleged discrimination. Id., at 789.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, dismissed petitioners' appeal for want of jurisdiction. 606 F.2d 420 (1979). It held that the District Court's refusal to enter the consent decree was neither a "collateral order" under 28 U.S.C. § 1291,4 nor an interlocutory order "refusing" an "injunctio[n]" under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1).5 Three judges dissented, concluding that the order refusing to approve the consent decree was appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1).

Noting a conflict in the Circuits,6 we granted certiorari. 447 U.S. 920, 100 S.Ct. 3009, 65 L.Ed.2d 1111 (1980). We hold that the order is appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), and accordingly reverse the Court of Appeals.7

II

The first Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, established the general principle that only final decisions of the federal district courts would be reviewable on appeal. 28 U.S.C. § 1291. See Baltimore Contractors, Inc. v. Bodinger, 348 U.S. 176, 178-179, 75 S.Ct. 249, 250-251, 99 L.Ed. 233 (1955); Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. 323, 324-325, 60 S.Ct. 540, 541, 84 L.Ed. 783 (1940). Because rigid application of this principle was found to create undue hardship in some cases, however, Congress created certain exceptions to it. See Baltimore Contractors, Inc. v. Bodinger, supra, 348 U.S., at 180-181, 75 S.Ct., at 252-253. One of these exceptions, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), permits appeal as of right from "[i]nterlocutory orders of the district courts . . . granting, continuing, modifying, refusing or dissolving injunctions . . . ." (Emphasis added.) 8

Although the District Court's order declining to enter the proposed consent decree did not in terms "refus[e]" an "injunctio[n]," it nonetheless had the practical effect of doing so. Cf. General Electric Co. v. Marvel Rare Metals Co., 287 U.S. 430, 433, 53 S.Ct. 202, 203, 77 L.Ed. 408 (1932). This is because the proposed decree- would have permanently enjoined respondents from discriminating against black employees at the Richmond Leaf Department, and would have directed changes in seniority and benefit systems, established hiring goals for qualified blacks in certain supervisory positions, and granted job-bidding preferences for seasonal employees. Indeed, prospective relief was at the very core of the disapproved settlement.9

For an interlocutory order to be immediately appealable under § 1292(a)(1), however, a litigant must show more than that the order has the practical effect of refusing an injunction. Because § 1292(a)(1) was intended to carve out only a limited exception to the final-judgment rule, we have construed the statute narrowly to ensure that appeal as of right under § 1292(a)(1) will be available only in circumstances where an appeal will further the statutory purpose of "permit[ting] litigants to effectually challenge interlocutory orders of serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence." Baltimore Contractors, Inc. v. Bodinger, supra, at 181, 75 S.Ct., at 252. Unless a litigant can show that an interlocutory order of the district court might have a "serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence," and that the order can be "effectually challenged" only by immediate appeal, the general congressional policy against piecemeal review will preclude interlocutory appeal.

In Switzerland Cheese Assn., Inc. v. E. Horne's Market, Inc., 385 U.S. 23, 87 S.Ct. 193, 17 L.Ed.2d 23 (1966), for example, petitioners contended that the District Court's denial of their motion for summary judgment was appealable under § 1292(a)(1) simply because- its practical effect was to deny them the permanent injunction sought in their summary-judgment motion. Although the District Court order seemed to fit within the statutory language of § 1292(a)(1), petitioners' contention was rejected because they did not show that the order might cause them irreparable consequences if not immediately reviewed. The motion for summary judgment sought permanent and not preliminary injunctive relief and petitioners did not argue that a denial of summary judgment would cause them irreparable harm pendente lite. Since permanent injunctive relief might have been obtained after trial,10 the interlocutory order lacked the "serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence" that is a prerequisite to appealability under § 1292(a)(1).

Similarly, in Gardner v. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., 437 U.S. 478, 98 S.Ct. 2451, 57 L.Ed.2d 364 (1978), petitioner in a Title...

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