Swint v. Chambers County Comm'n, 514 U.S. 35 (1995)

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

No. 93-1636. Argued January 10, 1995—Decided March 1, 1995

In the wake of police raids on a nightclub in Chambers County, Alabama, two of the club's owners joined by an employee and a patron (all petitioners here) sued respondent Chambers County Commission, along with a municipality and three individual police officers; petitioners sought damages and other relief under 42 U. S. C. 1983 for alleged civil rights violations. The District Court denied the summary judgment motions of all five defendants, ruling, inter alia, that the individual officers were not entitled to qualified immunity from suit and that the sheriff who authorized the raids, although a state employee, may have been the county's final policymaker for law enforcement. The District Court stated that it would rule dispositively on the county's liability before jury deliberations. Invoking the rule that an order denying qualified immunity is appealable before trial, Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511, 530, the individual defendants immediately appealed. The county commission also appealed, arguing that the denial of its summary judgment motion was immediately appealable as a collateral order satisfying the test announced in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, 546, and, alternatively, that the Eleventh Circuit had "pendent appellate jurisdiction" to decide the questions presented by the commission. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the county commission's first argument, but asserted pendent jurisdiction over the commission's appeal. Determining that the sheriff was not a policymaker for the county, the Eleventh Circuit held that the county commission qualified for summary judgment.

Held: The Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to rule on the county commission's liability at this interlocutory stage of the litigation and, accordingly, should have dismissed the commission's appeal. Pp. 41-51. (a) The order denying the county commission's summary judgment motion was not an appealable collateral order under Cohen, supra, at 546, which allows immediate appeal from decisions that are conclusive, resolve important questions separate from the merits, and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment. The order in question fails this test because it was tentative, the District Court having announced its intention to revisit its initial determination. Moreover,


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