An Appeal to Common Sense: Why “Unappealable” District Court Decisions Should be Subject to Appellate Review

Heins, Matthew D. | April 1, 2015

28 U.S.C. § 1291 vests jurisdiction in the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal to hear “appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States.” Various circuit courts have, however, determined that they may only hear appeals of final “judicial” decisions, and that they do not have jurisdiction to hear appeals from final decisions of United States district courts if those decisions are “administrative.” Circuit courts have been loath to explicitly define the dividing line between the two classes of case, and have frequently invoked the potential availability of mandamus review as a means of placating litigants who are told they cannot receive direct review of their purportedly administrative case. Yet because the distinction is ill defined, and because alternative avenues of review are in reality unavailable, “administrative” has proven broad and unforgiving. This Note critiques the tenuous distinction between administrative and judicial, examining fee reimbursement decisions under the Criminal Justice Act to pinpoint where the line is, where it should be, and how courts should explain its location. If there is to be a line separating administrative from judicial, it should be sharply drawn with an eye to the connectedness of the litigants and the dispute to the inner workings of the court. If administrative decisions remain unreviewable, judicial consistency and legitimacy demand that “administrative” be a narrow classification.