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FIRESTONE TIRE & RUBBER CO. v. RISJORD

decided: January 13, 1981.

FIRESTONE TIRE & RUBBER CO
v.
RISJORD



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Marshall, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Stewart, White, Blackmun, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which Burger, C. J., joined, post, p. 380.

Author: Marshall

[ 449 U.S. Page 369]

 JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a party may take an appeal, pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 1291,*fn1 from a district court order denying a motion to disqualify counsel for the opposing party in a civil case. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that such orders are not appealable, but made its decision prospective only and therefore

[ 449 U.S. Page 370]

     reached the merits of the challenged order. We hold that orders denying motions to disqualify counsel are not appealable final decisions under § 1291, and we therefore vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand with instructions that the appeal be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

I

Respondent is lead counsel for the plaintiffs in four product-liability suits seeking damages from petitioner and other manufacturers of multipiece truck tire rims for injuries caused by alleged defects in their products.*fn2 The complaints charge petitioner and the other defendants with various negligent, willful, or intentional failures to correct or to warn of the supposed defects in the rims. Plaintiffs seek both compensatory and exemplary damages. App. 6-72.

Petitioner was at all relevant times insured by Home Insurance Co. (Home) under a contract providing that Home would be responsible only for some types of liability beyond a minimum "deductible" amount. Home was also an occasional client of respondent's law firm.*fn3 Based on these facts, petitioner in May 1979 filed a motion to disqualify respondent from further representation of the plaintiffs. Petitioner argued that respondent had a clear conflict of interest because his representation of Home would give him an incentive to structure plaintiffs' claims for relief in such a way as to enable the insurer to avoid any liability. This in turn, petitioner

[ 449 U.S. Page 371]

     argued, could increase its own potential liability. Home had in fact advised petitioner in the course of the litigation that its policy would cover neither an award of compensatory damages for willful or intentional acts nor any award of exemplary or punitive damages.*fn4 The District Court entered a pretrial order requiring that respondent terminate his representation of the plaintiffs*fn5 unless both the plaintiffs and Home consented to his continuing representation.*fn6 Id., at 157, 160.

In accordance with the District Court's order, respondent filed an affidavit in which he stated that he had informed both the plaintiffs and Home of the potential conflict and that neither had any objection to his continuing representation of them both. He filed supporting affidavits executed by the plaintiffs and by a representative of Home. Because he had satisfied the requirements of the pretrial order, respondent was able to continue his representation of the plaintiffs. Petitioner objected to the District Court's decision to permit respondent to continue his representation if he met the stated

[ 449 U.S. Page 372]

     conditions, and therefore filed a notice of appeal pursuant to ...


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