Franklin v. District of Columbia

Decision Date22 March 1999
Docket NumberNo. 97-7162,97-7162
Citation163 F.3d 625
PartiesRobert FRANKLIN, et al., Appellees, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (94cv00511).

James C. McKay, Jr., Assistant Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were John M. Ferren, Corporation Counsel, and Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corporation Counsel.

Kenneth W. Brothers argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Jonathan M. Smith. John J. Rosenthal entered an appearance.

Before: SILBERMAN, HENDERSON, and RANDOLPH, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge RANDOLPH.

RANDOLPH, Circuit Judge:

Spanish-speaking prisoners incarcerated in the District of Columbia's eight correctional institutions brought a class action claiming violations of the First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution, federal statutes (42 U.S.C. § 2000bb; 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d)), and local law. They alleged that some class members were deficient in the English language and that the District had failed to provide qualified interpreters to these inmates when they appeared at parole and disciplinary hearings and when they sought medical care. The district court ruled in favor of the prisoners on their Fifth and Eighth Amendment claims, and the District brought this appeal.


There are 9,000 inmates in the prisons of the District of Columbia. The inmates speak dozens of languages; members of the prison staff are fluent in a total of forty-seven languages. Of the 188 Spanish-speaking prisoners within the plaintiff class, 1 150 had only a limited proficiency in English. To meet the needs of these and other prisoners who had difficulty communicating or understanding English, the District hired Laura Colon in November 1991 as the "Limited English-Proficient Program" coordinator. Under her aegis, the Program provided comprehensive orientation, diagnostic, mental health, vocational and language training for "Limited English-Proficient" prisoners. At the time of trial, the District required such prisoners to attend "English as a Second Language" classes and offered twenty-seven other programs either conducted in Spanish or specifically tailored for the plaintiff class. The prison system also employed seventy-two Spanish-speaking employees, including two case managers, two psychologists, and one psychiatrist. If bilingual staff or interpreters were unavailable, District officials could use the AT&T "Language Line," a service providing certified translators in 140 languages.

After a bench trial, the district court--on April 16, 1997--dismissed most of the prisoners' claims but held that the District was violating the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. Three months later, on July 8, 1997, the court issued a sixteen-page injunctive order mandating sweeping changes in the way the District operates its prisons. The District then filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment and for a new trial. The court denied the motion and this appeal followed.


The first question concerns our appellate jurisdiction. On April 17, 1997, one day after the district court rendered its decision on liability, the clerk of the court entered the judgment. The prisoners think this opened the thirty-day window for the District to file a notice of appeal, see FED. R.APP. P. 4(a)(1). The District missed the deadline and, so the prisoners claim, we cannot hear the appeal insofar as it attacks the April decision finding the District in violation of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments.

Our appellate jurisdiction extends to "final decisions" of district courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1291. A final decision is one that "ends the litigation on the merits and leaves nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment." Catlin v. United States, 324 U.S. 229, 233, 65 S.Ct. 631, 89 L.Ed. 911 (1945). In damage and injunction actions, a final judgment in a plaintiff's favor declares not only liability but also the consequences of liability--what, if anything, the defendants must do as a result. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wetzel, 424 U.S. 737, 742, 96 S.Ct. 1202, 47 L.Ed.2d 435 (1976); see also Gilda Marx, Inc. v. Wildwood Exercise, Inc., 85 F.3d 675, 677 (D.C.Cir.1996).

The order entered on April 17 established the District's liability, but it granted no relief, it imposed no obligations on the District, it did not say, as final decisions in such cases must, "who is entitled to what from whom." Horn v. Transcon Lines, Inc., 898 F.2d 589, 591 (7th Cir.1990). It therefore was not a final judgment subject to appeal. An order like the one entered in April, "adjudging liability but leaving the quantum of relief still to be determined has been a classic example of non-finality and non-appealability from the time of Chief Justice Marshall to our own." Taylor v. Board of Educ., 288 F.2d 600, 602 (2d Cir.1961) (Friendly, J.).

The antitrust case of Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294, 82 S.Ct. 1502, 8 L.Ed.2d 510 (1962), does not, as the prisoners suppose, alter this analysis. The district court in Brown Shoe disposed of the entire complaint, passed on every prayer for relief, ordered full divestiture, and permanently enjoined the defendants from acquiring any interest in each other. See Brown Shoe Co., 370 U.S. at 308, 82 S.Ct. 1502. The Supreme Court said: "The single provision of that judgment by which its finality may be questioned is the one requiring appellant to propose in the immediate future a plan for carrying into effect the court's order of divestiture." Id. That lone provision did not render the order nonfinal, the Court held, because the judgment had decided the consequences of liability--namely, full divestiture. See id. Here, by contrast, the April judgment did not address the consequences of the District's liability. In this respect it resembled the order in Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., an employment discrimination case in which plaintiffs received a favorable ruling on the issue of liability, but received none of the relief expressly sought in their complaint. See 424 U.S. at 742, 96 S.Ct. 1202. "They requested an injunction, but did not get one; they requested damages, but were not awarded any; they requested attorneys' fees, but received none." Id. Because--as in this case--the district court had not yet finally disposed of any of plaintiffs' prayers for relief, the Supreme Court held that the district court's order was not a final decision. See id.

The general rule is that a party is entitled to a single appeal, to be deferred until final disposition of the case. See McLish v. Roff, 141 U.S. 661, 665-66, 12 S.Ct. 118, 35 L.Ed. 893 (1891); see also Catlin, 324 U.S. at 234, 65 S.Ct. 631; Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., 147 U.S. 337, 341, 13 S.Ct. 356, 37 L.Ed. 194 (1893); Digital Equip. Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863, 868, 114 S.Ct. 1992, 128 L.Ed.2d 842 (1994). To hold that defendants in injunction actions must immediately appeal orders finding only that they are liable would further erode the long-standing policy against piecemeal litigation. The final judgment rule is already riddled with exceptions: orders granting or denying preliminary injunctions may be taken up immediately; some collateral orders may be appealed; rulings on controlling issues of law may be certified for appeal; orders adjudicating the claims of fewer than all the parties may be appealable, if the district court acts pursuant to Rule 54(b), FED.R.CIV.P.; and Congress has given the Supreme Court rulemaking authority to allow other interlocutory appeals, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(e). There are good reasons why none of the recognized "exceptions" fits the district court's April order. As here, courts often resolve questions of liability first and questions of relief later. To allow an initial appeal challenging the finding of liability followed by a second appeal challenging the relief would frequently transform one appellate case into two. Delays at the trial level would become common, as district courts awaited appellate decisions on liability. For their part, the courts of appeals would often need to master the same record twice, and render two opinions instead of one. See 15A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 3907 (1992). Furthermore, if defendants had to wait until the remedy came down, they might decide not to appeal despite the earlier decisions holding them liable. The relief ordered may turn out to be nominal. The parties may settle. In these events, and others, forcing an appeal at the liability stage without waiting for the consequences of liability to become final would lead to unnecessary appellate litigation. For all these reasons, the April 17 order was not an appealable final decision of the district court.

Still, the prisoners insist that the April order must be considered final and appealable because the district court issued it separately and the clerk of the court entered it on the docket, as Rules 58 and 79(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure required. While a properly entered separate judgment is an indicium of finality, see Diamond v. McKenzie, 770 F.2d 225, 229 n. 9 (D.C.Cir.1985), it is not conclusive. The district court in Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. described its liability order as a "final judgment," 424 U.S. at 741, 96 S.Ct. 1202, yet the Supreme Court treated it as a non-appealable interlocutory order. When appellate jurisdiction is at stake, what matters is the appellate court's assessment of finality, not the district court's or the clerk's. A non-final order cannot be appealed even if the district court designates it a "final judgment" and the clerk of the court enters it as such on the civil docket.

For purposes of our appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, the final ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
115 cases
  • Smith v. U.S., CIV.A. 03-0464(RMU).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • August 19, 2003 life or property interest at stake, any CCC entitlement, if it exists, must be called a liberty interest. Franklin v. District of Columbia, 163 F.3d 625, 631 (D.C.Cir.1998) (stating that "[w]hen neither life nor property is involved, courts—speaking in a sort of shorthand —talk of the ne......
  • Majhor v. Kempthorne
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • October 30, 2007
    ...the case of Governor Tulafono) hardly suggest "the obduracy and wantonness that mark deliberate indifference." Franklin v. District of Columbia, 163 F.3d 625, 636 (D.C.Cir. 1998) (internal quotation Finally, nothing in the record remotely suggests that Hales has acted with "reckless[] disre......
  • Holland v. Bibeau Constr. Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • December 16, 2014
    ...28 U.S.C. § 1291. To be “final,” a decision must determine not just liability, but also remedies. See Franklin v. Dist. of Columbia, 163 F.3d 625, 628–30 (D.C.Cir.1998). The district court's Order of May 23, 2013 directed Bibeau to pay $241,227.21 for the period February 1, 2000 through Mar......
  • Holland v. Bibeau Constr. Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • December 16, 2014
    ...28 U.S.C. § 1291. To be “final,” a decision must determine not just liability, but also remedies. See Franklin v. Dist. of Columbia, 163 F.3d 625, 628–30 (D.C.Cir.1998).The district court's Order of May 23, 2013 directed Bibeau to pay $241,227.21 for the period February 1, 2000 through Marc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Prisoners' Rights
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
    • August 1, 2022
    ...current treatment plan still provided direct acting antiviral drugs to prisoners with more progressed Hepatitis C); Franklin v. D.C., 163 F.3d 625, 636 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (no deliberate indifference where prison failed to provide interpreters for Spanish-speaking prisoners during conversation......
    • United States
    • Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 49 No. 2, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...(quoting People v. Romero, 200 Cal. Rptr. 404, 406 (Ct. App. 1984) (citation omitted))); see also Franklin v. District of Columbia, 163 F.3d 625 (D.C. Cir. 1998); People v. Romero, 200 Cal. Rptr. 404, 405 (Ct. App. (124.) See Gonzales Rose, supra note 31, at 336. (125.) See Daniel J. Procac......
  • Best methods for increasing medical translators for limited English proficient patients: the carrot or the stick?
    • United States
    • Journal of Law and Health Vol. 18 No. 1, March 2003
    • March 22, 2003
    ...supra note 11, at 572. (17) Franklin v. District of Columbia, 960 F. Supp 394, 410 (D.C.D.C. 1997), rev'd in part, vacated in part by 163 F.3d 625 (18) Keers-Sanchez, supra note 11. (19) Plantiko, supra note 13, at 240. (20) Id. (21) Id. (22) Id. at 240. (23) Id. (24) REVISED GUIDANCE, 68 F......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT