Liberty Mutual Insurance Company v. Wetzel

Decision Date23 March 1976
Docket NumberNo. 74-1245,74-1245
Citation96 S.Ct. 1202,424 U.S. 737,47 L.Ed.2d 435
PartiesLIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Petitioner, v. Sandra WETZEL et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondents filed a complaint alleging that petitioner's employee insurance benefits and maternity leave regulations discriminated against its women employees in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and seeking injunctive relief, damages, costs, and attorneys' fees. After ruling in respondents' favor on their motion for a partial summary judgment on the issue of petitioner's liability under the Act, the District Court, upon denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration, issued an amended order stating that injunctive relief would be withheld because petitioner had filed an appeal and had asked for a stay of any injunction, and directing that, pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 54(b), final judgment be entered for respondents, there being no just reason for delay. The Court of Appeals, holding that it had jurisdiction of petitioner's appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, affirmed on the merits. Held:

1. The District Court's order was not appealable as a final decision under § 1291. Pp. 742-744.

(a) Even assuming that the order was a declaratory judgment on the issue of liability, it nevertheless left unresolved and did not finally dispose of any of the respondents' prayers for relief. P. 742.

(b) The order did not become appealable as a final decision pursuant to § 1291 merely because it made the recital required by Rule 54(b), since that Rule applies only to multiple-claim actions in which one or more but less than all of the claims have been finally decided and are found otherwise ready for appeal, and does not apply to a single-claim action such as this one where the complaint advanced a single legal theory that was applied to only one set of facts. Pp. 742-744.

(c) The order, apart from its reference to Rule 54(b), constitutes a grant of partial summary judgment limited to the issue of petitioner's liability, is by its terms interlocutory, and, where damages or other relief remain to be resolved, cannot be considered "final" within the meaning of § 1291. P. 744.

2. Nor was the order appealable pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292's provisions for interlocutory appeals. Pp. 744-745.

(a) Even if the order insofar as it failed to include the requested injunctive relief could be considered an interlocutory order refusing an injunction within the meaning of § 1292(a)(1), and thus would have allowed Respondents then to obtain review in the Court of Appeals, there was no denial of any injunction sought by Petitioner and it could not avail itself of that grant of jurisdiction. Pp. 744-745.

(b) Even if the order could be considered as an order that the District Court certified for immediate appeal pursuant to § 1292(b) as involving a controlling question of law as to which there was substantial ground for difference of opinion, it does not appear that petitioner applied to the Court of Appeals for permission to appeal within 10 days as required by § 1292(b); moreover, there can be no assurance had the other requirements of § 1292(b) been met that the Court of Appeals would have exercised its discretion to entertain the interlocutory appeal. P. 745.

3 Cir., 511 F.2d 199, vacated and remanded.

Kalvin M. Grove, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

Howard A. Specter, Pittsburgh, Pa., for respondents.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in which they asserted that petitioner's employee insurance benefits and maternity leave regulations discriminated against women in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e Et seq. (1970 ed. and Supp. IV). The District Court ruled in favor of respondents on the issue of petitioner's liability under that Act, and petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. That court held that it had jurisdiction of petitioner's appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and proceeded to affirm on the merits the judgment of the District Court. We

[Amicus Curiae Information from page 739 intentionally omitted] granted certiorari, 421 U.S. 987, 95 S.Ct. 1989, 44 L.Ed.2d 476 (1975), and heard argument on the merits. Though neither party has questioned the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals to entertain the appeal, we are obligated to do so on our own motion if a question thereto exists. Mansfield, Coldwater & Lake Michigan R. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 4 S.Ct. 510, L.Ed. 462 (1884). Because we conclude that the District Court's order was not appealable to the Court of Appeals, we vacate the judgment of the Court of appeals with instructions to dismiss petitioner's appeal from the order of the District Court.

Respondents' complaint, after alleging jurisdiction and facts deemed pertinent to their claim, prayed for a judgment against petitioner embodying the following relief:

"(a) requiring that defendant establish non-discriminatory hiring, payment, opportunity, and promotional plans and programs;

"(b) enjoining the continuance by defendant of the illegal acts and practices alleged herein;

"(c) requiring that defendant pay over to plaintiffs and to the members of the class the damages sustained by plaintiffs and the members of the class by reason of defendant's illegal acts and practices, including adjusted backpay, with interest, and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, and exemplary damages;

"(d) requiring that defendant pay to plaintiffs and to the members of the class the costs of this suit and a reasonable attorneys' fee, with interest; and

"(e) such other and further relief as the Court deems appropriate." App. 19.

After extensive discovery, respondents moved for partial summary judgment only as to the issue of liability. Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 56(c). The District Court on January 9, 1974, 372 F.Supp. 1146, finding no issues of material fact in dis- pute, entered an order to the effect that petitioner's pregnancy-related policies violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also ruled that Liberty Mutual's hiring and promotion policies violated Title VII.1 Petitioner thereafter filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied by the District Court. Its order of February 20, 1974, 372 F.Supp. at 1163, denying the motion for reconsideration, contains the following concluding language:

"In its Order the court stated it would enjoin the continuance of practices which the court found to be in violation of Title VII. The Plaintiffs were invited to submit the form of the injunction order and the Defendant has filed Notice of Appeal and asked for stay of any injunctive order. Under these circumstances the court will withhold the issuance of the injunctive order and amend the Order previously issued under the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b), as follows:

"And now this 20th day of February, 1974, it is directed that final judgment be entered in favor of Plaintiffs that Defendant's policy of requiring female employees to return to work within three months of delivery of a child or be terminated is in violation of the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; that Defendant's policy of denying disability income protection plan benefits to female employees for disabilities related to pregnancies or childbirth are (Sic ) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that it is expressly directed that Judgment be entered for the Plaintiffs upon these claims of Plaintiffs' Complaint; there being no just reason for delay." 372 F.Supp. 1146, 1164.

It is obvious from the District Court's order that respondents, although having received a favorable ruling on the issue of petitioner's liability to them, received none of the relief which they expressly prayed for in the portion of their complaint set forth above. They requested an injunction, but did not get one; they requested damages, but were not awarded any; they requested attorneys' fees, but received none.

Counsel for respondents when questioned during oral argument in this Court suggested that at least the District Court's order of February 20 amounted to a declaratory judgment on the issue of liability pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Had respondents sought Only a declaratory judgment, and no other form of relief, we would of course have a different case. But even if we accept respondents' contention that the District Court's order was a declaratory judgment on the issue of liability, it nonetheless left unresolved respondents' requests for an injunction, for compensatory and exemplary damages, and for attorneys' fees. It finally disposed of none of respondents' prayers for relief.

The District Court and the Court of Appeals apparently took the view that because the District Court made the recital required by Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 54(b) that final judgment be entered on the issue of liability, and that there was no just reason for delay, the orders thereby became appealable as a final decision pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We cannot agree with this application of the Rule and statute in question.

Rule 54(b) 2 "does not apply to a single claim action . . . . It is limited expressly to multiple claims actions in which 'one or more but less than all' of the multiple claims have been finally decided and are found otherwise to be ready for appeal." Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 435, 76 S.Ct. 895, 899, 100 L.Ed. 1297, 1306 (1956).3 Here, however, respondents set forth but a single claim: that petitioner's employee insurance benefits and maternity leave regulations discriminated against its women employees in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They prayed for several different types of relief in the event that they sustained...

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