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Supreme Court agrees to hear case on scope of collateral-order doctrine

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official site] granted certiorari Friday in Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District v. SolarCity Corporation [docket] where it will determine '[w]hether orders denying state-action immunity to public entities are immediately appealable under the 'collateral-order doctrine'.

The plaintiff in the case, SolarCity, is a corporate subsidiary of the electric car company Tesla [corporate website] that manufactures, sells and installs solar panels that reduce the amount of electricity its customers have to purchase from traditional providers. SolarCity filed a federal antitrust suit against Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District [official website], an agency of the state of Arizona serving as a public electric utility for the Phoenix metropolitan area. SolarCity alleges that the power district, which has a state-sanctioned monopoly on the supply of traditional electric power in the area, has imposed punitive rates against customers who use solar power, which has resulted in a significant decline to SolarCity's regional sales.

Power district moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that the "state-action immunity doctrine" prohibits it from being sued under federal antitrust law given that Arizona law sanctioned its authority to set prices. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] declined [opinion, PDF] to review power district's appeal after a district court denied its motion to dismiss.

The Ninth Circuit found that power district lacked jurisdiction since the "collateral-order doctrine does not allow an
immediate appeal of an order denying a dismissal motion based on state-action immunity." Generally, a party can only appeal a "final" judgement against it. The collateral-order doctrine, however, allows for immediate appeal for denials of certain types of immunity, such as absolute immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court reasoned that the collateral-order doctrine is limited in scope and application, specifically to immunities from suit in general as opposed to mere immunities from liability like the state-action immunity affords. The question will now be presented to the Supreme Court, which will likely render a decision next summer.

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