Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Seventh Circuit Invokes Pendent Appellate Jurisdiction, the “Embattled Doctrine”

Rosa Tumialan
Member, Dykema Gossett

The Seventh Circuit had the opportunity to consider the contours of pendent appellate jurisdiction in Allman v. Smith, 764 F. 3d 682 (7th Cir. 2014). The matter involved a ruling from a motions panel reviewing the district court’s denial of a motion to stay proceedings pending an interlocutory appeal. The case is important for appellate practitioners because it highlights that, although pendent appellate jurisdiction is “an embattled doctrine,” it will be invoked when compelling reasons exist.

In Allman, the plaintiffs, former employees of a city in Indiana, sued both the mayor and the city claiming that they were fired because of their political affiliations. The mayor argued that he violated no constitutional rights; and alternatively, even if the firings violated the employees’ constitutional rights, the doctrine of qualified immunity applied and absolved him from liability. The city, whose liability was derivative, claimed that the mayor’s actions did not constitute a constitutional violation and also moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the mayor’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity as to some plaintiffs, but denied the mayor’s motion for summary judgment as to two of the plaintiffs after finding that an issue of fact existed. The district court further denied the mayor’s motion that the proceedings be stayed pending appeal. The district court denied the city’s summary judgment motion as well as the city’s motion to stay further proceedings against it.

The Seventh Circuit first noted that there was no question that the mayor was entitled to a stay because of the qualified immunity claim. However, the more interesting question for the court was whether the city, who could not rely on qualified immunity, was entitled to a stay under pendent appellate jurisdiction.

The reviewing court observed that pendent appellate jurisdiction is “an embattled doctrine” that is significantly narrow in scope. It requires a compelling practical reason to allow an appeal from a ruling where there is otherwise no independent jurisdictional basis. The court found that the posture of the city’s case represented a compelling practical reason to stay further proceedings relative to the city pending resolution of the mayor’s appeal. The court noted that claims against the city depended on the outcome of the mayor’s appeal—if the merits panel agreed with the mayor’s principle argument that there was no constitutional violation, then the city would also be relieved of liability. Absent a stay, any proceedings against the city would have been for naught. The court also commented that the plaintiffs’ desire to proceed against the city pending the mayor’s appeal could result in two trials involving the same facts and witnesses—an outcome that the court deemed unattractive. Also unattractive was the possibility that there would be conflicting findings on the nature of the mayor’s conduct if the case against the city was to be tried while the mayor’s appeal remained pending. The court then concluded that a stay of proceedings as to the city was warranted due to the city’s claimed status as party “ ‘pendent’ because of its interdependence with the mayor’s appeal.” But the court cautioned that the pendent jurisdiction of the city’s claim was limited to asking for review of the denial of its motion to stay. It emphasized that it lacked jurisdiction over of the city’s appeal from any district court rulings other than the district court’s denial of the city’s motion to stay.

The net result was that the proceedings against both the mayor and the city were stayed pending the mayor’s appeal. The outcome of the mayor’s appeal will then determine whether a trial against the city will be necessary, and if so, the scope of issues to be tried.

Recommended Citation: Rosa M. TumialánSeventh Circuit Invokes Pendent Appellate Jurisdiction, the “Embattled Doctrine”The Brief, (October 29, 2014), http://applawyers-thebrief.blogspot.com/2014/10/seventh-circuit-invokes-pendent.html#more.

DISCLAIMER: The Appellate Lawyers Association does not provide legal services or legal advice. Discussions of legal principles and authority, including, but not limited to, constitutional provisions, statutes, legislative enactments, court rules, case law, and common-law doctrines are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.