HURT et al v. VANTLIN et al
ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS - For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS the pending Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Appeal, 333 , and DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Defendants' Appeal as Frivolous, 343 . This action is hereby STAYED. SEE ORDER. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 5/3/2017. (JRB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
CITY OF EVANSVILLE,
ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS
On March 16, 2017, the Court issued an Order on Motions for Summary Judgment,
granting in part and denying in part various Defendants’ requests for summary judgment. [Filing
No. 324.] On April 13, 2017, all Defendants except for Dr. Amy Burrows-Beckham1 filed Notices
of Appeal. [Filing No. 331; Filing No. 336.] They cite 28 U.S.C. § 1291 as the basis for their
interlocutory appeal, stating that the Court’s Order on summary judgment “is a denial of qualified
immunity . . . which is a final decision that is immediately appealable.” [Filing No. 331 (citing
Defendants Zachary Jones and Matthew Wise have also filed a Motion to Stay
Proceedings Pending Appeal. [Filing No. 333.] They ask this Court to stay all district court
The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Burrows-Beckham on all claims pending
against her in this litigation, [Filing No. 324], and she is not a party to any of the pending motions.
For simplicity, the Court will still refer to the Defendants collectively for purposes of this Order.
proceedings pending appeal rather than allow this case to proceed to the currently scheduled trial
because “[a] trial destroys the rights created by immunity” and the benefit of that doctrine “is
effectively lost if the case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.” [Filing No. 333 at 2.]
In response, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Certify Defendants’ Appeals as Frivolous. [Filing
No. 343.] Plaintiffs point out that when the district court’s denial of qualified immunity turns on
a dispute of fact, “there is no right to an interlocutory appeal” because the “Seventh Circuit does
not have jurisdiction to consider a qualified immunity appeal that turns on a question of fact.”
[Filing No. 343 at 3 (citing cases).] Plaintiffs emphasize that this Court denied summary judgment
“because of the myriad disputes of material fact presented by the parties” and also found that
whether Defendants acted objectively reasonably for purposes of qualified immunity depends on
whether one accepts Plaintiffs’ version of the facts or Defendants’ version of the facts. [Filing No.
343 at 2.] Plaintiffs ask the Court to certify Defendants’ appeal as frivolous, deny Defendants’
Motion to Stay, and move forward with the currently scheduled trial. [Filing No. 343 at 11.]
In reply, Defendants2 emphasize that immediate appeals of the issue of qualified immunity
are “usual and customary.” [Filing No. 346 at 2.] They argue that their appeal is not taken in bad
faith and is not a sham. [Filing No. 347 at 2-3.] They contend that they “are not asking the Seventh
Circuit to address issues of disputed fact,” [Filing No. 346 at 1], and they list the following issues
that they intend to raise on appeal:
Defendants Wise and Jones and the Defendants related to the City of Evansville filed separate
responses to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify Appeal as Frivolous. [Filing No. 346; Filing No. 347.]
Because they all take the same position and ask the Court to deny Plaintiffs’ request to certify their
appeals as frivolous, the Court will collectively address Defendants’ position.
[Filing No. 346 at 2.] Accordingly, the Defendants ask the Court to deny Plaintiffs’ Motion to
Certify Defendants’ Appeals as Frivolous. [Filing No. 346; Filing No. 347.]
In Mitchell v. Forsyth, the United States Supreme Court held that “a district court’s denial
of a claim of qualified immunity, to the extent that it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable
‘final decision’ within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291 notwithstanding the absence of a final
judgment.” 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985); see also Gutierrez v. Kermon, 722 F.3d 1003, 1009 (7th
Cir. 2013) (“an order denying qualified immunity on summary judgment often is immediately
appealable on the basis that it is a final decision on the defendant’s right not to stand trial”) (citing
Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 524-30). As long as the issue is a legal one, the Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals “can consider the propriety of a denial of qualified immunity even on grounds other than
those relied on in the district court.” Hernandez v. Cook Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 634 F.3d 906, 912
(7th Cir. 2011). That said, it does “not have jurisdiction to review an order denying qualified
immunity on summary judgment if the issue on appeal is whether the record contains sufficient
evidence to create a ‘genuine’ issue of material fact.” Gutierrez, 722 F.3d at 1009. Appellate
jurisdiction in this context is nuanced, however, because “[a] district court’s finding that there are
genuine issues of material fact ‘does not always preclude appellate review.’” Id. (citing Sallenger
v. Oakes, 473 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2007)).
Plaintiffs’ request to certify Defendants’ appeal as frivolous is based on Apostol v. Gallion.
870 F.2d 1335 (7th Cir. 1989). In Apostol, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals consolidated
various appeals to address an issue of first impression regarding whether a district court could
proceed to trial while an interlocutory appeal from the denial of qualified immunity proceeded. Id.
at 1335. It noted that “[a]s a rule, only one tribunal handles a case at a time” and that “[i]t follows
that a proper [Mitchell v. Forsyth] appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction (that is, authority)
to require the appealing defendants to appear for trial.” Id. at 1337-38. The Seventh Circuit
acknowledged, however, that most appeals end in affirmance and that some defendants may appeal
a denial of qualified immunity “to stall because they gain from delay at plaintiffs’ expense, an
incentive yielding unjustified appeals.” Id. at 1338. Because courts “are not helpless in the face
of manipulation” when an appeal “is a sham” or “so baseless that it does not invoke appellate
jurisdiction,” the district court “may certify to the court of appeals that the appeal is frivolous and
get on with the trial.” Id. at 1338-39. The Seventh Circuit cautioned, however, that this “power
must be used with restraint.” Id. at 1339.
This Court found that numerous issues of material fact prevented it from granting summary
judgment in favor of Defendants on various bases, including on their request for qualified
immunity. [Filing No. 324.] Defendants have, however, pointed to some legal issues that they
intend to raise on appeal as to why this Court’s denial of qualified immunity was incorrect, such as
whether the Defendants’ alleged conduct violated clearly established constitutional rights and
whether the Court “applied the wrong legal standard in its analysis of the qualified immunity
issue.” [Filing No. 346 at 2.] Plaintiffs actually admit that “whether a constitutional right was
clearly established at a certain point in time” is “an abstract issue of law.” 3 [Filing No. 343 at 12.] Under these circumstances, the Court cannot conclude that Defendants’ interlocutory appeal
from this Court’s denial of qualified immunity is a sham, baseless, or frivolous. Accordingly, the
Court denies Plaintiffs’ request to certify it as such and must grant Defendants’ request to stay the
proceedings pending the appeal. See Apostol, 870 F.2d at 1337-38; Allman v. Smith, 764 F.3d 682,
684 (7th Cir. 2014) (“when a public official takes an interlocutory appeal to assert a colorable
claim to absolute or qualified immunity from damages, the district court must stay proceedings”)
For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS the pending Motion to Stay
Proceedings Pending Appeal, [Filing No. 333], and DENIES Plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify
Defendants’ Appeal as Frivolous, [Filing No. 343]. This action is hereby STAYED.
Date: May 3, 2017
While Plaintiffs contend that Defendants have waived certain aspects of their qualified immunity
defense on appeal by not more fully developing their arguments during summary judgment
briefing, [Filing No. 343 at 8], it is beyond dispute that Defendants raised qualified immunity as a
defense and that the Court rejected it. Whether Defendants waived any specific arguments for
purposes of appellate review is a legal decision to be made on appeal. Hernandez, 634 F.3d at
912-13 (“Accordingly, a finding of waiver is a legal determination which enables appellate review
of the denial of qualified immunity.”).
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