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Abuse of Discretion – Writ of Mandamus

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: A.F. Moore & Associates, Inc., et al.,

Case No.: 20-2497

Officials: FLAUM, HAMILTON, and BARRETT, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Abuse of Discretion – Writ of Mandamus

In January, we reversed the dismissal of an equal-protection suit brought by a group of taxpayers challenging Cook County’s pre-2008 property tax assessments. The district court had determined that it lacked jurisdiction under the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341, because Illinois offered the taxpayers a “plain, speedy and efficient remedy.” We disagreed. Based on the defendants’ own concessions, we held that Illinois’s procedures left these taxpayers no remedy at all for their claims, let alone a speedy and efficient one—the taxpayers had been litigating in state courts for a decade. A.F. Moore & Assocs., Inc. v. Pappas, 948 F.3d 889, 896 (7th Cir. 2020). The defendant officials petitioned for rehearing and rehearing en banc, but no member of the court voted to rehear the case. Our mandate issued on April 17, and the case returned to the district court for further proceedings.

There have been no further proceedings. On June 9, the day before the defendants were to answer the complaint, the defendants filed two motions seeking a stay of the case pending the resolution of a petition for a writ of certiorari that they planned to submit in September. They filed the first motion in this court, asking that we recall our mandate and stay its reissuance. See FED. R. APP. P. 41(d). We summarily denied their request.

They filed the second motion in the district court, which chose to grant the relief that we had already denied. The district court rejected the taxpayers’ arguments that it was prohibited from entering a stay both by our mandate and by 28 U.S.C. § 2101(f), which expressly authorizes this court or the Supreme Court to stay execution of a final judgment pending certiorari. And having concluded that it possessed the necessary authority, the district court exercised it. It reasoned that if the Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed our decision, any actions that the district court took in the meantime would be invalid for lack of jurisdiction. In other words, acting on our judgment that it had authority to adjudicate the taxpayers’ case might result in wasted effort, so the district court decided to wait to see if the Supreme Court reversed us.

The taxpayers now petition for a writ of mandamus, asserting that the district court exceeded its authority when it entered the stay. A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, not lightly invoked, but it is available in an appropriate case for a litigant who can show that it has no other adequate means to attain relief to which it is clearly entitled. Cheney v. U.S. District Court, 542 U.S. 367, 380–81 (2004); In re CFTC, 941 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir. 2019). This is such a case.

The district court, of course, has broad discretion to decide what that pace should be. See Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254–55 (1936); Gonzalez v. Ingersoll Mill. Mach. Co., 133 F.3d 1025, 1030 (7th Cir. 1998). Our mandate did not obligate the court to rush to final judgment before September ends. Still, a district court can exercise its inherent authority only consistent with our mandate and our mandate foreclosed a stay pending certiorari. As we have already noted, countless district courts have drawn this very line as the outer limit of their authority. See, e.g., In re Servotronics, Inc., No. 2:18-MC00364-DCN, 2020 WL 3051247, at *3 (D.S.C. June 8, 2020); United States v. Sample, No. CR 15-4265 JCH, 2018 WL 6622198, at *3 (D.N.M. Dec. 18, 2018); Lentz, 352 F. Supp. 2d at 727–28. The district court here relied only on the pending petition for a writ of certiorari to grant the stay that we had already denied. That order was incompatible with the clear spirit of our mandate and must be vacated. PETITION GRANTED; MANDAMUS ISSUED.

Petition granted; Mandamus Issued

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Derek A Hawkins is trademark corporate counsel for Harley-Davidson. Hawkins oversees the prosecution and maintenance of the Harley-Davidson’s international trademark portfolio in emerging markets.

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