Seventh Circuit Issues Writ of Mandamus to Vacate District Court’s Grant of Stay Pending Certiorari

In In re A.F. Moore & Associates, Inc., No. 20-2497 (7th Cir. Sept. 10, 2020) (per curiam), the Seventh Circuit granted a petition for writ of mandamus to vacate a stay pending certiorari that was granted by the district court after the court of appeals had already denied it.

“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 . . . . Our mandate issued on April 17, and the case returned to the district court for further proceedings.”

The defendants moved in the Seventh Circuit for a stay of the case pending the resolution of a petition for a writ of certiorari that they planned to file. The Seventh Circuit denied the motion. “They filed the second motion in the district court, which chose to grant the relief that we had already denied.” The taxpayers petitioned for mandamus in the Seventh Circuit.

The Seventh Circuit grants the petition, finding the stay order “incompatible with the clear spirit of our mandate.”

The panel first notes, but tables, an argument that 28 U.S.C. § 2101(f) – which “expressly authorizes this court or the Supreme Court to stay execution of a final judgment pending certiorari” – divests district courts of any power to issue such stays.

While noting that “many other courts that have considered the issue [have] accepted this interpretation” of § 2101(f), the panel “see[s] no need to evaluate” the argument “because the taxpayers’ second argument in support of the writ is more straightforward: the district court’s stay was in direct opposition to our mandate.” Mandamus is suited to prevent lower courts from frustrating the judgments of reviewing courts. “We call this obligation to follow the judgment of a reviewing court the mandate rule, a relative of the law of the case . . . . The court may believe and even express its belief that our reasoning was flawed, yet it must execute our mandate nevertheless.”

“The spirit of our mandate in this case was clear. After concluding that the taxpayers lacked a plain, speedy, and efficient remedy in the state courts, we remanded the case to the district court for it to resolve the taxpayers’ claims. Then, mindful that the taxpayers had already spent a decade trying to litigate these claims in state court, and judging the Supreme Court unlikely to grant certiorari, much less to reverse our judgment, we expressly denied the defendants’ request that we stay our remand pending their petition for a writ of certiorari. The district court was powerless to reconsider our decision on this matter and grant what we had withheld.”

The panel rejects the district court’s holding that the Seventh Circuit’s denial of the stay lacked the force because the mandate had already issued. “The district court also discounted our order because it lacked an explanation. Quite frankly, there was little need for us to say anything more than that the motion was denied . . . . Our summary denial certainly did not reflect inattention to the defendants’ arguments; if anything, it reflected our view that our disposition of the motion was not a close call. In any event, though, it should not have mattered to the district court that we summarily denied the defendants’ motion. An order is an order regardless whether it contains an explanation.”

The panel, aside from addressing the technicalities of the mandate rule, regards the stay as simply an affront to its power. “The defendants’ motion obligated the district court, which had been reversed by a reviewing court, to weigh the likelihood that it might be later vindicated by our own reversal. That analysis is only a step removed from a court declaring that it was right all along and entering the judgment just reversed—the most obvious violation of the mandate rule.”

Finally, while noting that the district court has inherent authority “to decide what [the proceedings’] pace should be,” a district court can exercise such power “only consistent with our mandate and our mandate foreclosed a stay pending certiorari.”

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