A court’s decision denying summary judgment on the defense of qualified immunity is considered to be a final judgment. It can be appealed immediately to the extent that the denial turns on an issue of law. However, an appellate court doesn’t have jurisdiction to review that decision if an interlocutory (or interim decision before the case is concluded) appeal turns on issues of fact. The Third Circuit recently looked at this issue in the context of a terminated government employee and the defense of qualified immunity.
Richard Wren, who was employed as the Director of Veterans’ Affairs of Luzerne County since 2005, was fired in September 2009 by the votes of County Commissioners Petrilla and Urban (“the Commissioners”). Wren brought this action against, among others, the Commissioners alleging that he was unlawfully terminated in violation of his First Amendment rights. The commissioners appealed the District Court’s partial denial of their motion for summary judgment. They argued that the United States Court of Appeals had appellate jurisdiction over this interlocutory matter and that they are entitled to qualified immunity.