Before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals could rule on the dismissal of multiple plaintiffs from a civil rights and breach of contract lawsuit, the appellate court had to determine if it had jurisdiction to rule on the plaintiffs’ appeal.
In Adrianna Brown, et al. v. Columbia Sussex Corp., et al., No. 10-3849, 224 of the original 268 plaintiffs were dismissed from the lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Marriott because they continually missed formal and informal deadlines throughout pre-trial discovery. The plaintiffs – a group of people traveling to visit historically black universities – had their reservation at the Marriott canceled, forcing the group to drive through the night to their next destination. The plaintiffs believe the decision to cancel was racially motivated.
On Nov. 10, 2010, the District Court concluded it had to dismiss the plaintiffs who hadn’t responded as a sanction. A month later, 53 of those dismissed appealed, but a review by the 7th Circuit showed the District Court ruling wasn’t a final judgment. The District Court on Jan. 7, 2011, granted the appellants’ Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 54(b) motion, finding their claims are separate from the claims of the remaining plaintiffs and entered a final judgment.
The Marriott argued that the 7th Circuit lacked jurisdiction to even rule on the matter because the plaintiffs prematurely filed their appeal and never filed another one after the District Court entered final judgment in January. The appellate court looked at the interplay among 28 U.S.C. Section 1291, Rule 54(b), and Rule 4(a) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, as well as FirsTier Mortgage Co. v. Investors Mortgage Ins. Co., 498 U.S. 269 (1991), to find that they could rule on the appeal.
“We therefore hold that, in the context of a multi-party or multi-claim suit, a premature notice of appeal from the dismissal of a party or claim will ripen upon the entry of a belated Rule 54(b) judgment under Rule 4(a)(2) and FirsTier,” wrote Judge Joel Flaum.
Addressing the appellants’ arguments, the 7th Circuit found the District Court was within its discretion to find that the appellants acted willfully, in bad faith or with fault in their discovery delays despite the appellant’s claims otherwise.
“In the case at hand, the district court made a finding that appellants displayed a pattern of ‘willful delay and avoidance,’ thus meeting the (Federal Rule of Civil Procedure) Rule 37 standard of willfulness, bad faith, or fault. A comparison to relevant case law clearly illustrates that this finding was not erroneous,” he wrote.