The Ninth Circuit recently granted a petition for writ of mandamus to vacate a district court's order that authorized a putative consumer class plaintiff who had no viable class claim to conduct discovery solely to identify others who might.
The plaintiff, William Rushing, a Kentucky resident, initially sued Williams-Sonoma for damages under California state law for allegedly misrepresenting that sheets he had purchased had a 600 thread count. Rushing also sought damages for a putative class of consumers who bought bedding from Williams-Sonoma based on the same underlying alleged misrepresentations.
Before any class action was certified, the district court determined that Kentucky law governed Rushing's claim and prohibited such class actions. In response, Rushing elected to pursue his personal claims under Kentucky law and to seek "discovery from Williams-Sonoma for the sole purpose of aiding his counsel's attempt to find a California purchaser . . . who might be willing to sue" and lead a California class action. The district court granted the discovery, ordering Williams-Sonoma to produce a list of California residents who purchased the bedding identified in Rushing's complaint.
The Ninth Circuit found this discovery to be improper—and writ relief appropriate—because the district court's granting of such discovery was contrary to US Supreme Court authority. In Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, the Supreme Court determined that seeking discovery of the name of a class member is not "relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action" within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1). Moreover, the court was unable to say that the district court's error was an oft-repeated error or a novel issue, which weighed in favor of granting writ relief. Additionally, the fact that Williams-Sonoma had no other adequate means for relief available, because the disclosure and damage to its interests would have been complete before a direct appeal could be heard, also weighed in favor of granting writ relief.
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