Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wetzel,
424 U.S. 737 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wetzel, 424 U.S. 737 (1976)

Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Wetzel

No. 74-1245

Argued January 19, 1976

Decided March 23, 1976

424 U.S. 737


Respondents filed a complaint alleging that petitioner's employee insurance benefits and maternity leave regulations discriminated against its women employees in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and seeking injunctive relief, damages, costs, and attorneys' fees. After ruling in respondents' favor on their motion for a partial summary judgment on the issue of petitioner's liability under the Act, the District Court, upon denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration, issued an amended order stating that injunctive relief would be withheld because petitioner had filed an appeal and had asked for a stay of any injunction, and directing that, pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 54(b), final judgment be entered for respondents, there being no just reason for delay. The Court of Appeals, holding that it had jurisdiction of petitioner's appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, affirmed on the merits.


1. The District Court's order was not appealable as a final decision under § 1291. Pp. 424 U. S. 742-744.

(a) Even assuming that the order was a declaratory judgment on the issue of liability, it nevertheless left unresolved and did not finally dispose of any of the respondents' prayers for relief. P. 424 U. S. 742.

(b) The order did not become appealable as a final decision pursuant to § 1291 merely because it made the recital required by Rule 54(b), since that Rule applies only to multiple claim actions in which one or more but less than all of the claims have been finally decided and are found otherwise ready for appeal, and does not apply to a single-claim action such as this one, where the complaint advanced a single legal theory that was applied to only one set of facts. Pp. 424 U. S. 742-744.

(c) The order, apart from its reference to Rule 54(b), constitutes a grant of partial summary judgment limited to the issue of petitioner's liability, is by its terms interlocutory, and, where

Page 424 U. S. 738

damages or other relief remain to be resolved, cannot be considered "final" within the meaning of § 1291. P. 424 U. S. 744.

2. Nor was the order appealable pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292's provisions for interlocutory appeals. Pp. 424 U. S. 744-745.

(a) Even if the order, insofar as it failed to include the requested injunctive relief, could be considered an interlocutory order refusing an injunction within the meaning of § 1292(a)(1), and thus would have allowed respondents then to obtain review in the Court of Appeals, there was no denial of any injunction sought by petitioner, and it could not avail itself of that grant of jurisdiction. Pp. 424 U. S. 744-745.

(b) Even if the order could be considered as an order that the District Court certified for immediate appeal pursuant to § 1292(b) as involving a controlling question of law as to which there was substantial ground for difference of opinion, it does not appear that petitioner applied to the Court of Appeals for permission to appeal within 10 days as required by § 1292(b); moreover, there can be no assurance, had the other requirements of § 1292(b) been met, that the Court of Appeals would have exercised its discretion to entertain the interlocutory appeal. P. 424 U. S. 745.

511 F.2d 199, vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except BLACKMUN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 424 U. S. 739

Primary Holding

Interlocutory appeals under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) are appropriate only in cases involving multiple claims.


Wetzel sued the insurance provider of her employer, Liberty Mutual, on the grounds that it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against women with regard to its employee insurance benefits and maternity leave rules. She sought money damages, injunctive relief, and attorney fees, among other remedies. The trial court judge granted partial summary judgment to Wetzel, finding that there was no issue of material fact in dispute with regard to Liberty Mutual's liability. Later, the court issued an order of final judgment on this issue, but it neglected to grant any of the remedies that Wetzel had sought. She brought an interlocutory appeal, which the appellate court ruled that it could hear under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291. It affirmed the decision of the lower court.



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

There was only a single claim in this complaint, and it was based on one set of facts and one legal theory. The declaratory judgment issued by the lower court failed to address the remedies of damages, an injunction, and attorney fees that had been requested by the plaintiff. The order could be interpreted as an order refusing an injunction, since it failed to include the requested injunction, but it did not deny the injunction. Therefore, it could not have been heard by the appellate court on an interlocutory appeal.


  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)

Case Commentary

The general rule is that only final judgments can be appealed, since an unsuccessful appeal imposes unnecessary costs. One could argue that prohibiting an interlocutory appeal also creates unnecessary costs because of the extra time and expense involved at the trial level, but trial judges are affirmed far more often than they are reversed, so the balance of potential costs favors this rule.

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