Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District v. SolarCity Corporation

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Sovereign Immunity
  • Date Filed: December 1, 2017
  • Case #: 17-368
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 859 F.3d 720, 722 (9th Cir. 2017)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether orders denying state-action immunity to public entities are immediately appealable under the "collateral-order" doctrine.

Petitioner, a municipal corporation supplying electrical power, changed its service rates to impose an additional fee to users who obtained power from a source other than Petitioner. Respondents, providers of solar panels, sued in federal district court claiming that Petitioner's actions amounted to entrenching its monopoly, violating sections the Sherman and Clayton Acts governing monopolization and exclusive dealing, respectively. Petitioner filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that it was a state actor and entitled to immunity from antitrust liability. The district court denied the motion, holding the state had not expressly authorized Petitioner's conduct, thus it was not immune from suit. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the Petitioner was seeking immunity from liability, distinguishable from immunity from suit, and thus the narrow exception of the "collateral-order" doctrine did not apply because Petitioner could argue for the protection of its liability just as effectively in a post-judgment appeal. The collateral-order doctrine permits immediate appeals on orders which: (1) are "conclusive" interlocutory orders; (2) "address a question separate from the merits" of the case; and (3) are "effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment." Dig. Equip. Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863, 878–79 (1994). Petitioner argues that orders denying its immunity as a state-actor are "effectively unreviewable" and are an issue "completely separate from the merits" of the case. It asks the court to find that a state’s sovereign ability to freely set and carry out policy is consequential to public interest and requires immediate appellate review.

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