Stringfellow v. Concerned Neighbors,
480 U.S. 370 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Stringfellow v. Concerned Neighbors, 480 U.S. 370 (1987)

Stringfellow v. Concerned Neighbors in Action

No. 85-184

Argued January 20, 1987

Decided March 9, 1987

480 U.S. 370


Respondent nonprofit organization, whose members live near a hazardous waste dumpsite, moved to intervene in a suit brought by the United States and the State of California against petitioners, who owned or operated the dumpsite, or who allegedly dumped waste there. The suit sought injunctive relief that would require petitioners to abate the release of harmful substances from the site, to take remedial steps to correct the unsafe conditions, and to reimburse the costs of bringing about the cleanup. The Federal District Court denied respondent's request to intervene as a matter of right, but granted its alternative application to become a permissive intervenor, subject to the conditions that it could not (1) assert any claim for relief not already requested by one of the original parties; (2) intervene in the cleanup costs claim; or (3) file motions or conduct its own discovery unless it first conferred with all the original parties and obtained the permission of one of them. Respondent filed an immediate appeal, protesting both the denial of intervention as of right and the restrictions imposed on permissive intervention. The Court of Appeals allowed the appeal, holding that the denial of intervention was a final appealable order within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291, despite the grant of permissive intervention.

Held: A district court order granting permissive intervention but denying intervention as of right is not immediately appealable. Such an order is not "final" in the traditional sense, since it does not end the litigation. Furthermore, it does not fall within one of the narrow categories the Court has deemed final for review purposes. Pp. 480 U. S. 374-380.

(a) The District Court order is not covered by the "collateral order" exception to § 1291, because respondent's party status as a permissive intervenor will allow it to obtain effective review of its claims on appeal from the final judgment. Although, after a long and complex trial, it might be difficult for respondent to show that the harm from the intervention order is sufficiently great to overturn the final judgment, this has little bearing on whether respondent has the right to an interlocutory appeal under the collateral order doctrine. The complained-of difficulty is the same one faced by any party subject to an adverse pretrial order. Respondent has presented no compelling evidence why the

Page 480 U. S. 371

intervention order here should be treated differently than these other orders.

(b) The limitations placed on respondent's right to participate cannot be construed as a complete denial of intervention sufficient to render the District Court order immediately reviewable. Respondent is, in fact, a participant in the case. and has alternative means for challenging the order. It is significant that none of the limitations on permissive intervention interfere with respondent's ability to raise its claims on post-judgment appeal. Pp. 480 U. S. 377-378.

(c) The District Court order does not come within 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), which authorizes interlocutory appeals from orders "refusing . . . injunctions." Even assuming the order had the effect of denying injunctions sought by respondent, such a denial is appealable under § 1292(a)(1) only if the order will have a serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence, and can be effectively challenged only by an immediate appeal. Respondent's right, during post-trial review, to challenge the limits on its participation renders § 1292(a)(1) inapplicable. Pp. 480 U. S. 378-379.

(d) Section 1291's finality rule protects a variety of interests that contribute to the efficiency of the legal system. The trial judge's ability to conduct efficient and orderly trials would be frustrated, rather than furthered, by piecemeal review. Pp. 480 U. S. 380.

755 F.2d 1383, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-B of which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 480 U. S. 380.

Page 480 U. S. 372

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