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FLANAGAN V. UNITED STATES, 465 U. S. 259 (1984)

U.S. Supreme Court

Flanagan v. United States, 465 U.S. 259 (1984)

Flanagan v. United States

No. 82-374

Argued November 30, 1983

Decided February 21, 1984

465 U.S. 259


Petitioners, four Philadelphia police officers, were indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to deprive citizens of their civil rights and for committing substantive civil rights offenses. Prior to the return of the indictment, petitioners had retained a certain law firm to act as joint counsel, and continued the joint representation after the indictment, even though the indictment did not make the same allegations against all petitioners. After three of the petitioners moved to sever their case from the fourth petitioner's, and after petitioners moved to dismiss the conspiracy count, the District Court granted the Government's motion to disqualify the law firm from its multiple representation. The Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, because the disqualification order was appealable prior to trial as a collateral order.

Held: The disqualification order was not immediately appealable under § 1291, and hence the Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction to review the order prior to entry of final judgment in the case. Pp. 465 U. S. 263-270.

(a) The policy embodied in § 1291, which limits the jurisdiction of the courts of appeals to appeals from "final decisions of the district courts," is inimical to piecemeal appellate review of trial court decisions that do not terminate the litigation. This policy is at its strongest in the field of criminal law. Pp. 465 U. S. 263-265.

(b) To come within the "collateral order" exception to the final judgment rule, a trial court order must (1) "conclusively determine the disputed question," (2) "resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action," and (3) "be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U. S. 463, 437 U. S. 468. A counsel disqualification order is not analogous to any of the three types of interlocutory orders -- orders denying motions to reduce bail or to dismiss an indictment on double jeopardy or speech or debate grounds -- that this Court has found immediately appealable in criminal cases as collateral-order exceptions. Nothing about a counsel disqualification order distinguishes it from the run of pretrial decisions that affect the rights of criminal defendants yet must await completion of trial court proceedings for review. Such an order fails to satisfy the

Page 465 U. S. 260

stringent Coopers & Lybrand conditions for qualification as an immediately appealable collateral order, and the overriding policies against interlocutory review in criminal casts apply in full. Pp. 465 U. S. 265-270.

679 F.2d 1072, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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