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No Collateral-Order Review of Refusal to Quash; Seventh Circuit Would Affirm on Merits

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear a collateral-order appeal of two non-party state agencies that unsuccessfully moved to quash subpoenas. Even if it had appellate jurisdiction, however, the court would affirm on the merits.

Chaunte Ott was convicted of the 1995 murder of Jessica Payne, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After serving 13 years in prison, DNA evidence exonerated Ott and all charges were dismissed in 2009.

"Shortly thereafter, the Milwaukee Police Department announced that it had connected the DNA found on nine victims, including Payne, to Walter E. Ellis."

Ott then brought federal suit against the City of Milwaukee and several police officers, seeking damages for his wrongful conviction and incarceration.

During that litigation, "Ott served subpoenas on the Wisconsin Crime Laboratory and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45, in an effort to obtain documents associated with the DNA testing of Ellis."

The agencies moved to quash the subpoenas, arguing that they are not persons within the meaning of Rule 45 and Ott's service by certified mail was invalid. The district court denied the motion and the agencies appealed.

Citing the Supreme Court's decision in Mohawk Industries, Inc v. Carpenter, 130 S.Ct. 599 (2009), the Seventh Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

"If perchance (it) read Mohawk Industries too strictly and the Court meant to leave a wider door open for collateral-order appeals brought by nonparties," the court "would nonetheless reject (the agencies') position on the merits" because the agencies were subject to subpoena under Rule 45 and service by certified mail was allowed by that rule. See: Ott v. City of Milwaukee, 682 F.3d 552 (7th Cir. 2012).

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Related legal case

Ott v. City of Milwaukee