Swint v. Chambers County Commission

PETITIONER: Swint et al.
RESPONDENT: Chambers County Commission et al.
LOCATION: Schwegmann’s Grocery Store

DOCKET NO.: 93-1636
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 514 US 35 (1995)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1995
DECIDED: Mar 01, 1995

ADVOCATES:
Paul March Smith - for respondents
Paul M. Smith - on behalf of the Respondents
Paul R. Q. Wolfson - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners
Robert B. McDuff - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Swint v. Chambers County Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 1995 in Swint v. Chambers County Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 01, 1995 in Swint v. Chambers County Commission

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in number 93-1636 Swint against Chambers County Commission will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case stems from two warrants less police raids on a night club in Chambers County, Alabama.

Individuals affected by the raid, sued the Chambers County Commission and three police officers asserting civil rights violations.

The defendants sought the pretrial dismissal of the case.

The three police officers argued that they were immune from the suit because they had violated no clearly established Federal Law.

The Chambers County Commission argued that the sheriff who had authorized the raid worked for the State of Alabama not for Chambers County.

The district court refused to dismiss the case without trail, the individual police officers immediately appealed; they invoked a rule that allowed instant appellate review when a Trial Court rejects an officer’s plea of immunity from suit.

The County Commission also appealed and the viability of that appeal is the question we decide today.

It is the general rule that appeals may be taken only at the end of the road when the Trial Court is finished dealing with the entire case.

The County Commission asked us deviate from that main rule and to decide the question of it's liability at once for two reasons.

First, the County Commission urges that the order requiring it to proceed to trial could not be reviewed in a meaningful way after trial.

Second, the commission argued that it would be economical to hear it's appeal together with the police officers appeal, adapting only the second reason the judicial economy reason, the Court of Appeals exercise pendant appellate jurisdiction and decided the case definitively in favor of the County Commission.

We hold unanimously that the Court of Appeals has last authority to take up the County Commission’s appeal at this preliminary stage of the litigation.

Unlike the district courts order denying the police officers pled of immunity from suit, the order refusing to dismiss the liability claim against the County Commission can be reviewed in a meaningful way after trial and of vital importance, the district courts order refusing to dismiss the claims against the County Commission was only a tentative order, the court plan to reconsider the question of the commission’s liability before jury deliberations.

Our opinion explains why the County Commission cannot lax on two or append this appeal to the police officers appeals by statute congress has authorized District Court to certify for immediate review orders that the trial judge considered as important, pivotal and debatable.

Congress has also authorized this court to use the rule making process to define and levying the rules governing the timing of appeals.

If Courts of Appeals had pendent appellate authority of the kind asserted here this congressional design between District Court certification and multifaceted rule making would be severely undermined.

The County Commission therefore may not appeal now and must abide further proceedings in the District Court.