Ninth Circuit Takes Appellate Jurisdiction over Pretrial Stay Orders

A whole lot of insurance companies sue a whole lot of doctors and clinics. The insurers allege that the defendants gave away cash and vacation packages to lure patients into undergoing unnecessary procedures, for which defendants billed the plaintiff insurers, who paid millions on the claims. Several individual defendants are also facing criminal prosecution and move to stay the civil proceedings because discovery would implicate their Fifth Amendment rights. The clinics say they can’t put on an adequate defense if the action is stayed only as to the individuals facing prosecution, so they, too, ask for a stay of the proceedings. The district court obliges the stay requests — apparently in multiple orders, as the plaintiff insurers take three appeals and one writ petition from the same underlying case. Blue Cross and Blue Shield v. Rubin, case no. 05-56261 (May 25, 2007).

The Ninth Circuit holds it has appellate jurisdiction notwithstanding the lack of a final judgment because the stay orders, all of which are indefinite in duration and could last for years, place the plaintiff insurers “effectively out of court.” In doing so, the Ninth joins a majority of other circuits finding appellate jurisdiction in such circumstances, and explains that the indefinite delay poses threats of “denying justice by delay,” lost evidence and faded witness recollections, and irreparable harm to the business plaintiffs, including the risk of going out of business in the interim.

A second lesson for counsel lies in the decision on the merits. The court neither affirms nor reverses, but vacates the stay orders and remands for further consideration by the district court because there is an inadequate record to review the court’s exercise of discretion.