The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in Ortiz v. Jordan, on whether a party may appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits if the party chose not to appeal the order before trial. Petitioner Michelle Ortiz was sexually assaulted by a corrections officer in prison and then placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for reporting the assault. She brought a § 1983 claim against respondents Paula Jordan, a case manager at the prison, and Rebecca Bright, who was responsible for Ortiz's time in solitary confinement. The district court denied respondents' motion for summary judgment, and they went ahead with trial without appealing. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury awarded Ortiz more than $600,000. Jordan and Bright subsequently appealed the denial of summary judgment.
The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that, "although courts normally do not review the denial of a summary judgment motion after a trial on the merits, denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity is an exception to this rule." Counsel for Ortiz argued, "Denial of summary judgment is not reviewable on appeal after trial, especially where the decision depends on whether the evidence on the merits of the claim is sufficient to cross the legal line for liability." Counsel for the respondents argued for the qualified immunity exception.
In United States v. Tohono O'odham Nation, the court heard arguments on whether 28 USC § 1500 deprives the Court of Federal Claims (CFC) of jurisdiction over a claim seeking monetary relief for the government's alleged violation of fiduciary obligations if the plaintiff has another suit pending in federal district court based on substantially the same operative facts, especially when the plaintiff seeks monetary relief or other overlapping relief in the two suits. 28 USC § 1500 provides that the CFC lacks jurisdiction over "any claim for or in respect to which the plaintiff has any suit or process against the United States" or its agents "pending in any other court." The Tohono O'odham Nation filed a complaint against the US in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, and, one day later, it filed a similar complaint against the US in the CFC.
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the CFC's dismissal of the case, concluding "that the Nation's complaint in the Court of Federal Claims seeks relief that is different from the relief sought in its earlier-filed district court action." Counsel for the US government argued:
The Federal Circuit erred in holding that section 1500 applies when both suits -- only when both suits seek the same relief, and that the critical distinction in this regard is whether the particular relief in the plaintiff's plea for relief is deemed legal or equitable. Section 1500's text broadly bars CFC jurisdiction whenever any suit that the plaintiff has pending in any other court is a suit for the CFC claim or is merely a suit in respect to that claim. In other words, another suit for a different but a related claim will trigger section 1500.