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Seventh Circuit Clarifies Appellate Jurisdiction for Appeals from Denials of Qualified Immunity

September 07, 2021 8:27 PM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

By:  Carson Griffis*

In Taylor v. Ways, Nos. 20-1410 & 20-1411, the Seventh Circuit clarified the scope of its jurisdiction when a party files an interlocutory appeal from a denial of qualified immunity.  

Unlike most other defenses,  the denial of a qualified immunity defense may be immediately appealed by a defendant, but only to the extent the appeal  raises legal questions.  If the defendant's arguments are dependent on, and inseparable from, disputed facts, then the court of appeals lacks jurisdiction.  

In Taylor, the plaintiff sued three officials in the Cook County Sheriff's Office, alleging that he was fired because of his race.  At the summary judgment stage, the district court denied all three officials qualified immunity based on evidence that one of them had used a racial slur toward the plaintiff.

The officials filed an interlocutory appeal of the denial of qualified immunity, and the plaintiff argued that the Seventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction.  Because some of the officials' arguments raised legal questions, the Seventh Circuit concluded that it had jurisdiction, but not over every argument raised by the officials.  It concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over one official's argument that his actions were not the proximate cause of the plaintiff's termination because the facts over what caused the plaintiff's firing were disputed.  Given the conflicting evidence over whether that official had used a racial slur, the court held that it could not, as a matter of law, find that the official's alleged racial animus had no effect on the decision to terminate the plaintiff. 

The court left open the question of whether proximate cause, which is typically a factual issue, could ever be an appropriate subject for an interlocutory appeal from the denial of qualified immunity. 

*Carson Griffis is an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Appeals Division of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.  No comments made in this post are made on behalf of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, nor do they reflect the views or opinions of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.

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