Cunningham was an attorney
representing Starcher in a civil rights lawsuit.
Starcher's son died in
prison, and he was suing Hamilton County.
Cunningham was served with a
request for interrogatories as part
of the discovery process.
However, she willfully refused to provide the information requested.
Hamilton County made a motion to sanction Cunningham.
The Trial Judge found
Cunningham's conduct egregious and imposed sanctions under Rule
37(a)(4), and fined her $1500.
appealed the sanctions.
Cunningham was dismissed
from the case.
The case between Starcher
and Hamilton County was still ongoing...
The Appellate Court dismissed
the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
The Appellate Court found
that under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, a
Federal Appellate Court does not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal
until the original trial has reached a final decision.
In a dissent, it was argued
that sanctions order was immediately appealable under the collateral
To be eligible, the issue
being appealed must meet three criteria:
The Trial Court's decision
It resolves important
questions separate from the merits of the case.
The decision is
effectively unreviewable on appeal from the final judgment in the
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that a Rule 37(a)(4) sanction is
not a final decision as required for an appeal.
The Court agreed
that the Trial Court's decision was conclusive.
Basically, the Court didn't feel that the
issue was separate from the merits of the underlying case.
An evaluation of the
appropriateness of the sanctions may require the reviewing court to
inquire into the importance of the information sought or the adequacy or
truthfulness of a response.
argued that since she was not a party to the case, she had no standing to
The Court felt that Cunningham
was sanctioned for delaying the case by not providing information. To
award such behavior by allowing an immediate appeal to delay the case
even further was not in the interests of justice.