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P Stone Inc. v. Koppers Corp.


decided: October 7, 1980.



Before Aldisert, Rosenn and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam


The question for decision is whether in this anti-trust case the district court's order denying a motion to disqualify plaintiff's counsel is appealable under the test announced in Greene v. Singer Co., 509 F.2d 750 (3d Cir. 1971) (sur motion to dismiss appeal), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 848, 93 S. Ct. 54, 34 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1972), and in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S. Ct. 1221, 93 L. Ed. 1528 (1949). We hold that it is not and dismiss.

Although this court has faced repeatedly the problem of disqualification of counsel, and although the increasing frequency of these motions raises the possibility that counsel are using them for purely strategic purposes, it is not necessary for this court to discuss in detail the numerous cases in which we have applied the Greene-Cohen test.*fn1 The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in a case raising this troublesome question. See In Re Multi-Piece Rim Products Liability Litigation, 612 F.2d 377 (8th Cir. 1980) (in banc), cert. granted sub nom. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Risjord, 446 U.S. 934, 100 S. Ct. 2150, 64 L. Ed. 2d 786 (1980). Pending instruction from the Supreme Court, we will continue using the analysis previously adopted by this court.

The appellants seek to invoke this court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which gives the courts of appeals jurisdiction of "appeals from all final decisions of the district courts ...." Although they recognize that an order denying a pre-trial motion to disqualify opposing counsel is not a "final decision," they argue that the present case is within the "collateral order" doctrine of Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S. Ct. 1221, 93 L. Ed. 1528 (1949). Cohen held that a preliminary order may be treated as an appealable "final decision" under § 1291 if it falls within "that small class which finally determine claims of right separable from, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated." Id. at 546, 69 S. Ct. at 1225. In addition, the Court noted that an appeal from a final judgment would come "too late effectively to review the present order and the rights conferred by the statute, if it is applicable, will have been lost, probably irreparably." Id. Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 98 S. Ct. 2454, 57 L. Ed. 2d 351 (1978), endorsed and restated the Cohen test. To come within Cohen, "the order must conclusively determine the disputed question, resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." Id. at 468, 98 S. Ct. at 2458 (footnote omitted).

In Greene v. Singer Co., we applied the Cohen test and permitted an immediate appeal from an order denying a motion to disqualify counsel. Greene, however, specifically refused to "hold that every ruling relating to conflict of interest by an attorney should activate the Cohen rule." 509 F.2d at 751 (footnote omitted). We recognized then, and we reiterate now, that every attempt to appeal an interlocutory order of a district court raises serious questions of appellate jurisdiction.*fn2 As we explained in Greene,

"Every interlocutory order involves, to some degree, a potential loss. That risk, however, must be balanced against the need for efficient federal judicial administration as evidenced by the Congressional prohibition of piecemeal appellate litigation. To accept (a contrary) view is to invite the inundation of appellate dockets with what have heretofore been regarded as nonappealable matters."

Id. at 751 n.3 (quoting Borden Co. v. Sylk, 410 F.2d 843, 846 (3d Cir. 1969)).

We conclude that the appellants here have not demonstrated an irreparable harm as required by the Greene-Cohen test; their contentions may be reviewed in due course on appeal from a final judgment. The appellants in this case allege two categories of harm. First, they charge that a partner in the firm of Stuart, Murphy, Smith, Mussina, Harris & Rieders represented Raymond A. Gottschall in an aborted sale of land to Lycoming, a subsidiary of Koppers, at the same time another Stuart attorney was preparing the present anti-trust suit against Koppers and Lycoming; and that a Stuart attorney introduced documents obtained in the Gottschall representation at a deposition in the anti-trust suit. Second, they allege that the Stuart firm performed some estate work for members of the Heim family, the family which formerly owned Lycoming. The district court held that the appellants did not have standing to raise these matters in a motion to disqualify counsel in the anti-trust case. P Stone, Inc. v. Koppers Co., Inc., Civ. No. 78-720, typescript op. at 7-8 (M.D.Pa. Nov. 30, 1979). Judge Rambo reasoned that the record revealed "no evidence of actual, potential or apparent harm to the present parties" from either the Gotschall representation or the Heim family estate work. Id. The court saw no potential for harm in the Stuart firm's use of Gotschall documents because they could have been obtained by discovery. Id. at 7 n.6.

Our independent review of the record persuades us that the appellants have alleged no actual or potential harms that cannot be vindicated on appeal from a final judgment of the predicate case.*fn3 Applying the Greene-Cohen test, we conclude that the district court's order of November 30, 1979, was not a final decision within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

The appeal will be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

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