Johnson v. Jones

PETITIONER: Johnson
RESPONDENT: Jones
LOCATION: Ashtabula County

DOCKET NO.: 94-455
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 515 US 304 (1995)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1995
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1995

ADVOCATES:
Cornelia T. L. Pillard - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners
Charles Rothfeld - for petitioners
Charles A. Rothfeld - Argued the cause for petitioners
Edward G. Proctor, Jr. - Argued the cause for respondent

Facts of the case

Police officers found Houston Jones, a diabetic, on the street while he was having an insulin seizure. The officers arrested Jones because he appeared drunk. Later, Jones found himself with several broken ribs. Jones brought a constitutional tort action against the officers, 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 the officers moved for summary judgment arguing that 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's theory of the case, the District Court denied the motion. The officers 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. The Court of Appeals held that it lacked appellate jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal.

Question

Is a Federal District Court's determination, in denying a summary judgment motion of police officers entitled to assert a qualified immunity defense, that the record raised a factual issue an appealable final decision?

Media for Johnson v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1995 in Johnson v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 12, 1995 in Johnson v. Jones

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in number 94-455, Johnson against Jones will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Mr. Johnson sued five policemen; he said they have wrongly arrested him and beaten him.

Three of the policemen then asked the District Court for a summary judgment.

They claimed there wasn’t any evidence showing really they had been around.

The District Court said no, and they wanted to appeal; to appeal before the end of the case; an interlocutory appeal.

The Court of Appeals said, “There is no interlocutory appeal; you have to wait till the end of the case.”

And that’s what we had to decide; can they appeal before the end of the case or not? We think they cannot.

Now, they agreed, normally, you can’t appeal from the denial of the summary judgment until the end of the case, but they point out they are special, because they are policemen with the defense of “qualified immunity.”

They’ll get off if the law was not clearly against them; and they say the policy behind that should permit them to take an interlocutory appeal here.

We decide however that the policy does not extend to this kind of case.

This is a kind of case where the appeal would be heavily fact-laid.

Where they have an appeal, it is a question primarily and purely of law.

We explain in our opinion how that distinction fits within the words of the appellate statute and prior case law to deny them an appeal here.

The opinion is unanimous.