June 08, 2020 Top Story

Discovery Cannot Be Used to Find a Class Action Plaintiff

Circuit court of appeals rejects pre-class discovery to substitute plaintiff

By Erik A. Christiansen

A U.S. court of appeals refused to permit discovery prior to class certification to find a replacement plaintiff, finding that the discovery is not relevant to an issue in the case. Relying on Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in In Re Williams-Sonoma, Inc. granted a rare writ of mandamus and held that discovery to find a potential plaintiff is beyond the scope of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The subject of the class action was the thread count of bed sheets from Williams-Sonoma

The subject of the class action was the thread count of bed sheets from Williams-Sonoma

Credit: serezniy | iStockphoto by Getty Images

Rule 23 Does Not Permit a Backdoor Discovery Device to Find a Class Plaintiff

The plaintiff, William Rushing, a Kentucky resident, filed a purported class action lawsuit in California seeking to recover damages that he and a proposed class allegedly suffered due to the defendant Williams-Sonoma’s representations about sheet thread count. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that Kentucky law applied and barred consumer class actions. The plaintiff gave notice that he would pursue his own Kentucky claims but sought discovery from the defendant to find a lead California class plaintiff. The district court permitted the discovery and ordered the defendant to produce a list of California customers. The defendant then filed a writ of mandamus, arguing that the district court committed clear error.

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