McLin v. Trimble, No. 73237

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtSUMMERS; The plaintiff; HARGRAVE; SIMMS; OPALA
Citation795 P.2d 1035,1990 OK 74
PartiesBart McLIN and Michael O. Vinson, Petitioners, v. The Honorable Preston TRIMBLE, District Judge of the 21st Judicial District and J.C. Stewart, Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 73237
Decision Date19 June 1990

Page 1035

795 P.2d 1035
1990 OK 74
Bart McLIN and Michael O. Vinson, Petitioners,
v.
The Honorable Preston TRIMBLE, District Judge of the 21st
Judicial District and J.C. Stewart, Respondents.
No. 73237.
Supreme Court of Oklahoma.
June 19, 1990.

Robert H. Henry, Atty. Gen., Robert A. Nance and Timothy S. Gilpin, Asst. Attys. Gen., Oklahoma City, for petitioners.

Lee Cate, Norman, for respondents.

SUMMERS, Justice.

I.

The first question is whether two Corrections Department employees named as defendants in an inmate's civil rights case may have rejection of their "qualified immunity" defense reviewed in this court prior to trial. The second is whether that defense insulates them from having to defend a suit for damages. We answer both questions in the affirmative.

The plaintiff, J.C. Stewart, brought a civil rights action against three employees of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based on the defense of qualified immunity. The trial court denied the motion and two of the defendants appealed. Their petition in error requested an immediate appeal or alternatively, review of the trial court's action by extraordinary relief. They then filed an amended application for extraordinary relief (prohibition) and again asserted a right to an immediate appeal.

The petitioners correctly state that they have a right to an immediate appeal when a federal court rejects a defense of qualified immunity. They assert that this court should also grant immediate appeals from interlocutory orders which deny a claim of qualified immunity in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They argue that qualified immunity is not merely an immunity from damages, but immunity from suit and trial as well. Thus, they conclude that a post-trial appeal is inadequate to protect their immunity. The respondent/real party in interest has not responded. 1

We assume original jurisdiction pursuant to Art. VII, § 4, of the Oklahoma Constitution in order to address the issue of first impression concerning interlocutory review in civil rights actions brought in state courts. See, First National City Bank of New York v. Smith, 531 P.2d 321 (Okla.1975).

II.

The question before us involves the scope of qualified immunity in § 1983 actions brought in state courts. The qualified immunity doctrine may be stated thus:

"government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 517, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985), quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727 [2738] 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982).

Qualified immunity was provided by common law and was not abolished by the enactment of § 1983. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554-555, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 1217-1218, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967).

Although § 1983 provides a "uniquely federal remedy", Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 239, 92 S.Ct. 2151, 2160, 32 L.Ed.2d 705 (1972), and, thus, a federal cause of action, United States v. Memphis Cotton Oil Co., 288 U.S. 62, 68,

Page 1037

53 S.Ct. 278, 280-81, 77 L.Ed. 619 (1933), the courts of this state hear § 1983 claims. Willbourn v. City of Tulsa, 721 P.2d 803 (Okla.1986).

However, the assertion of an immunity is not a state-law created defense to a federal cause of action. The issue of the application of an immunity is one of federal law. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 284 n. 8, 100 S.Ct. 553, 558 n. 8, 62 L.Ed.2d 481 (1980) (state sovereign immunity not applicable to § 1983 action in state court). See also, Steinglass, The Emerging State Court § 1983 Action: A Procedural Review, 38 U.Miami L.Rev. 381, 475 (1984). The Court emphasized this point in Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 108 S.Ct. 2302, 101 L.Ed.2d 123 (1988), wherein it explained that state immunity law was "preempted" in § 1983 actions brought in state court because state immunity law would thwart the Congressional remedy and that immunities to § 1983 actions were provided by its prior decisions. Id. 108 S.Ct. at 2307. Thus, the scope of qualified immunity in a state court proceeding is the same as that found in a federal court.

III.

There can be no doubt that a defendant is entitled to an immediate appeal from an interlocutory adjudication of qualified immunity in federal court. In Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985), a plurality of the Supreme Court 2 discussed the earlier Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), and said:

Page 1038

"Harlow thus recognized an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation, conditioned on the resolution of the essentially legal question whether the conduct of which the plaintiff complains violated clearly established law. The entitlement is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial. Accordingly, the reasoning that underlies the immediate appealability of an order denying absolute immunity indicates to us that the denial of qualified immunity should be similarly appealable; in each case, the district court's decision is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. at 526-527, 105 S.Ct. at 2815-2816. (Emphasis in original).

The opinion in Mitchell recognized that qualified immunity is an entitlement to not be subject to suit, and that entitlement is effectively lost if the suit erroneously goes to trial. Thus, a review of an erroneous pretrial decision regarding qualified immunity was held available by an appeal.

Federal law is paramount to any state law which conflicts with federal law in § 1983 actions brought in state court. Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 108 S.Ct. 2302, 2306, 101 L.Ed.2d 123 (1988). See also, Wolcher, Sovereign Immunity and the Supremacy Clause: Damages Against the States in Their Own Courts for Constitutional Violations, 69 Calif.L.Rev. 189, 239 (1981). In Felder, the court said with regard to a state notice-of-claim statute:

"Because the notice-of-claim statute at issue here conflicts both in its purpose and effects with the remedial objectives of § 1983, and because its enforcement in such actions will frequently and predictably produce different outcomes in § 1983 litigation based solely on whether the claim is asserted in state or federal court, we conclude that the state law is pre-empted when the § 1983 action is brought in state court." Id. 108 S.Ct. at 2306-2307.

The court thus found a state statute to be preempted because a § 1983 action would have a predictably different outcome merely because the action was brought in state court instead of federal court. The Court emphasized this view when it said that: "States may not apply such an outcome-determinative law when entertaining substantive federal rights in their courts." Id. 108 S.Ct. at 2308. The Court also said:

"Just as federal courts are constitutionally obligated to apply state law to state claims, see Erie [R. Co. v. Tompkins], supra, 304 U.S. , at 78-79, 58 S.Ct. , at 822-823 [82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938) ], so too the Supremacy Clause imposes on state courts a constitutional duty 'to proceed in such manner that all the substantial rights of the parties under controlling federal law [are] protected.' Garrett v. Moore-McCormack, 317 U.S. 239, 245, 63 S.Ct. 246, 251, 87 L.Ed. 239 (1942)." Felder v. Casey, 108 S.Ct. at 2313.

Thus, state courts have a constitutional duty pursuant to the Supremacy Clause to recognize the "substantial rights" arising out of a federal clause of action when such is brought in state courts.

If an order denying a claim of qualified immunity was not reviewable prior to trial in a state court then it is predictable with certainty that the outcome would be effectively losing the immunity merely because the action was brought in state court. The federally recognized entitlement to qualified immunity is lost if an erroneous pretrial adjudication of that entitlement goes to trial.

Thus, we hold that a defendant's entitlement to review of an order denying him qualified immunity by a higher court prior to trial is mandated by the Supremacy Clause. Felder v. Casey, supra. However, once we establish that a defendant is entitled to some review of his asserted qualified immunity prior to trial the question still remains as to the form that review will take.

The proceeding before the court is not an appeal from a final order, nor an interlocutory appeal of the nature sanctioned

Page 1039

by state statutes and decisional law. See, 12 O.S.1981, § 952. This court will not review a trial court order which overrules a motion for summary judgment. Rowan v. Rowan, 523 P.2d 1068 (Okla.1974). The rules of appellate procedure absolutely prohibit considering such a trial court's order on a certified interlocutory appeal; "[n]o certified interlocutory order shall be considered if taken from an order overruling a motion for summary judgment". 12 O.S.1981, Ch. 15, App. 2. Rules of Appellate Procedure in Civil Cases, Rule 1.50.

An interlocutory order adjudicating a claim of qualified immunity is appealable in federal court pursuant to the collateral order doctrine because the immunity is a " 'claim of right separable from, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action' ". Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. at 527, 105 S.Ct. at 2816. An order adjudicating qualified immunity " 'resolve[s] an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action ' ". Id. 472 U.S. at 543, 105 S.Ct. at 2824. (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part, discussing the scope of the collateral order doctrine) (emphasis added). An appeal of a certified interlocutory order under 12 O.S.1981, § 952(b)(3), must involve an...

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43 practice notes
  • Johnson v. Frankell, 96292
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 9, 1997
    ...denying qualified immunity on the theory that such review is necessary to protect a substantial federal right, see McLin v. Trimble, 795 P.2d 1035, 1037-1038 (Okla.1990); Lakewood v. Brace, 919 P.2d 231, 238-240 (Colo.1996). We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict, 519 U.S. ----, 117 ......
  • Carrillo v. Rostro, No. 19650
    • United States
    • August 28, 1992
    ...The Writ of Prohibition in New Mexico, 5 N.M.L.Rev. 91, 121-28 (1974). The Supreme Court of Oklahoma in a recent case, McLin v. Trimble, 795 P.2d 1035 (Okla.1990), granted review of a trial court's denial of qualified immunity by exercising its original jurisdiction and issuing a writ of pr......
  • Akin v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., No. 86,632
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • October 13, 1998
    ...this case by defendant. 62 United States v. Home Fed. S. & L. Ass'n of Tulsa, 1966 OK 135, p 18, 418 P.2d 319, 325; McLin v. Trimble, 1990 OK 74, p 3, n. 5, 795 P.2d 1035, 1045, n. 5 (Opala, V.C.J., dissenting). 63 A.L. Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 376, 113 S.Ct. 838, 846, 122 L.......
  • Barnthouse v. City of Edmond, No. 97,350.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • April 22, 2003
    ...a party's immunity to suit in a § 1983 proceeding. See, e.g., Lambert v. Town of Stringtown, 1992 OK 103, 834 P.2d 955; McLin v. Trimble, 1990 OK 74, 795 P.2d 1035; Phillips v. Wiseman, 1993 OK 100, 857 P.2d 50; Powell v. Seay, 1976 OK 22, 553 P.2d 17. A qualified immunity defense does not ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • Johnson v. Frankell, 96292
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 9, 1997
    ...denying qualified immunity on the theory that such review is necessary to protect a substantial federal right, see McLin v. Trimble, 795 P.2d 1035, 1037-1038 (Okla.1990); Lakewood v. Brace, 919 P.2d 231, 238-240 (Colo.1996). We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict, 519 U.S. ----, 117 ......
  • Carrillo v. Rostro, No. 19650
    • United States
    • August 28, 1992
    ...The Writ of Prohibition in New Mexico, 5 N.M.L.Rev. 91, 121-28 (1974). The Supreme Court of Oklahoma in a recent case, McLin v. Trimble, 795 P.2d 1035 (Okla.1990), granted review of a trial court's denial of qualified immunity by exercising its original jurisdiction and issuing a writ of pr......
  • Akin v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., No. 86,632
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • October 13, 1998
    ...in this case by defendant. 62 United States v. Home Fed. S. & L. Ass'n of Tulsa, 1966 OK 135, p 18, 418 P.2d 319, 325; McLin v. Trimble, 1990 OK 74, p 3, n. 5, 795 P.2d 1035, 1045, n. 5 (Opala, V.C.J., dissenting). 63 A.L. Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 376, 113 S.Ct. 838, 846, 122 L.E......
  • Barnthouse v. City of Edmond, No. 97,350.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • April 22, 2003
    ...a party's immunity to suit in a § 1983 proceeding. See, e.g., Lambert v. Town of Stringtown, 1992 OK 103, 834 P.2d 955; McLin v. Trimble, 1990 OK 74, 795 P.2d 1035; Phillips v. Wiseman, 1993 OK 100, 857 P.2d 50; Powell v. Seay, 1976 OK 22, 553 P.2d 17. A qualified immunity defense does not ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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