Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304 (1995)

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

No. 94-455. Argued April 18, 1995—Decided June 12, 1995

Respondent Jones brought this "constitutional tort" action under 42 U. S. C. 1983 against five named policemen, claiming that they used excessive force when they arrested him and that they beat him at the police station. As government officials, the officers were entitled to assert a qualified immunity defense. Three of them (the petitioners here) moved for summary judgment arguing that, whatever evidence Jones might have about the other two officers, he could point to no evidence that these three had beaten him or had been present during beatings. Holding that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence supporting Jones' theory of the case, the District Court denied the motion. Petitioners sought an immediate appeal, arguing that the denial was wrong because the evidence in the pretrial record was not sufficient to show a "genuine" issue of fact for trial, Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56(c). The Seventh Circuit held that it lacked appellate jurisdiction over this contention and dismissed the appeal.

Held: A defendant, entitled to invoke a qualified immunity defense, may not appeal a district court's summary judgment order insofar as that order determines whether or not the pretrial record sets forth a "genuine" issue of fact for trial. Pp. 309-320. (a) Three background principles guide the Court. First, 28 U. S. C. 1291 grants appellate courts jurisdiction to hear appeals only from district courts' "final decisions." Second, under Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, and subsequent decisions, a so-called "collateral order" amounts to an immediately appealable "final decisio[n]" under 1291, even though the district court may have entered it long before the case has ended, if the order (1) conclusively determines the disputed question, (2) resolves an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and (3) will be effectively unreviewable on appeal from the final judgment. Third, in Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511, 528, this Court held that a district court's order denying a defendant's summary judgment motion was an immediately appealable "collateral order" (i. e., a "final decision") under Cohen, where (1) the defendant was a public official asserting a qualified immunity defense,

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