Digital Equipment Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 93-405. Argued February 22, 1994—Decided June 6, 1994

Pursuant to a settlement agreement between the parties, the District

Court dismissed a trademark infringement suit that respondent Desktop Direct, Inc., had filed against petitioner Digital Equipment Corporation. Months later, it granted Desktop's motion to vacate the dismissal and rescind the agreement on the ground that Digital had misrepresented material facts during settlement negotiations. The Court of Appeals dismissed Digital's appeal for lack of jurisdiction, see 28 U. S. C. 1291, holding that the District Court order was not immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine. Applying the three-pronged test set forth in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, and Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U. S. 463, it concluded that the entitlement claimed under the settlement agreement was insufficiently "important" to warrant immediate appeal as of right and reasoned that an alleged privately negotiated "right not to go to trial" was different in kind from an immunity rooted in an explicit constitutional or statutory provision or compelling public policy rationale, the denial of which has been held to be immediately appealable.

Held: A refusal to enforce a settlement agreement claimed to shelter a party from suit is not immediately appealable under 1291. Pp. 867-884. (a) Although certain categories of prejudgment decisions justify departure from 1291's general final judgment requirement, the collateral order doctrine is a narrow exception and should never be allowed to swallow the rule. Thus, immediate appeal is confined to those decisions that are conclusive, that resolve important questions completely separate from the merits, and that would render such questions effectively unreviewable on appeal from the final judgment in the underlying action. See Coopers & Lybrand, supra. Appealability must be determined for the entire category to which a claim belongs, without regard to the chance that the litigation at hand might be speeded, or a particular injustice averted, by a prompt appellate court decision. Pp. 867-868. (b) Orders denying immunities are strong candidates for prompt appeal under 1291. Abney v. United States, 431 U. S. 651 (right to be free from a second trial on a criminal charge); Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511 (right of government official to qualified immunity from dam-


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