Director, Center for Supreme Court AdvocacyNational Association of Attorneys General
This Report summarizes an opinion issued on January 23 (Part I); and cases granted review on December 27, 2022, and January 13, 2023 (Part II).
Case Granted Review: Dupree v. Younger, 22-210
Dupree v. Younger, 22-210. The Court will resolve “[w]hether to preserve the issue for appellate review a party must reassert in a post-trial motion a purely legal issue rejected at summary judgment.” Except for limited circumstances, see 28 U.S.C. §1292, federal circuits have jurisdiction over only “final decisions of the district courts,” 28 U.S.C. §1291. Orders denying a motion for summary judgment are not final and thus generally cannot be appealed until after entry of a final judgment. In this action, respondent Kevin Younger filed a §1983 suit after he was assaulted by three corrections officers while he was in pre-trial detention. One of the defendants, petitioner Neil Dupree, moved for summary judgment on the basis that respondent had not exhausted his administrative remedies. The district court denied his motion. The case proceeded to trial, where petitioner lost. Petitioner did not raise an exhaustion defense during the trial or in a post-trial motion, but after the entry of final judgment he appealed the district court’s ruling as to exhaustion. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal, concluding that petitioner’s exhaustion defense was unreviewable. 2022 WL 738610.
The Fourth Circuit explained that, under its precedent, it could not review any issue—legal or factual—rejected at summary judgment unless the issue was raised again in a post-trial motion. The court recognized the existence of a circuit split on this question and observed that its view is in the minority, but explained that it could not, as a three-judge panel, overturn its precedent. Indeed, petitioner submits, and respondent agrees, that the circuits are divided 8-3-1 on this issue, with the Fourth Circuit in the three-court minority and the Eighth Circuit following a distinct rule allowing review of preliminary claims unrelated to the merits.
The majority view, petitioner argues, is correct because “[u]nder the merger rule, interlocutory rulings, even pretrial ones, are typically appealable after a jury trial because they otherwise would not be appealable at all.” Thus, “’[t]he general rule is that a party is entitled to a single appeal, to be deferred until final judgment has been entered, in which claims of district court error at any stage of the litigation may be ventilated’.” Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 712 (1996) (quoting Digit. Equip. Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863, 868 (1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Petitioner adds that application of this general rule to purely legal issues raised at summary judgment will conserve judicial resources, as those issues do not turn on the sufficiency of the evidence and thus the district court’s view of them is unlikely to change following trial.
Respondent defends the Fourth Circuit’s decision as faithful to the “orderly scheme” set out by Congress in relevant statutes and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, under which litigants must re-raise issues rejected at summary judgment in post-trial motions. In his view, “parties can easily raise arguments lost at summary judgment on appeal via motions under Rule 50(a) and 50(b). ‘If such motions are properly made, the denied motion for summary judgment need not be reviewed, because the . . . issues determined by the district court are freely reviewable, and the case may be reversed and rendered on that basis.’ Rule 50 motions are the expected and simple way for parties to preserve issues for appeal.” (Internal citation omitted.) The majority view, he contends, impermissibly seeks to rewrite that scheme by expanding the limited category of interlocutory decisions that can be appealed. Respondent adds that petitioner concedes that factual disputes raised in summary judgment motions must be re-raised following trial, and that the “divide between legal and factual issues finds no support in the text or structure of section 1292 or Rule 50.” Plus, he says, it is often difficult to separate out whether summary judgment motions are based on the facts or the law.