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In re Williams-Sonoma, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

January 13, 2020

In re: Williams-Sonoma, Inc.; Williams-Sonoma Advertising, Inc.;
v.
United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco, Respondent, Williams-Sonoma DTC, Inc., Williams-Sonoma, Inc., a Delaware corporation, DBA Pottery Barn, DBA Williams-Sonoma, DBA Williams-Sonoma Home; Williams-Sonoma Advertising, Inc., a California corporation; Williams-Sonoma DTC, Inc., a California corporation, Petitioners, William Rushing, Individually and on Behalf of all Others Similarly Situated, Real Party in Interest.

          Argued and Submitted October 2, 2019 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court No. 3:16-cv-01421-WHO for the Northern District of California William Horsley Orrick, District Judge, Presiding

          P. Craig Cardon (argued), Robert J. Guite, and Benjamin O. Aigboboh, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, San Francisco, California, for Petitioners.

          Kathryn Honecker (argued) and Jonathan Udell, Rose Law Group, PC, Scottsdale, Arizona; Amber L. Eck and Robert D. Prine, Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, San Diego, California; George Richard Baker, Baker Law, PC, Los Angeles, California; for Real Party in Interest.

          No appearance for Respondent.

          Timothy G. Blood and Paula R. Brown, Blood Hurst & O'Reardon, LLP, San Diego, California, for Amicus Curiae Consumer Attorneys of California.

          Before: Ferdinand F. Fernandez and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Jennifer Choe-Groves, [*] Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Writ of Mandamus / Discovery

         The panel granted Williams-Sonoma Advertising, Inc.'s petition for a writ of mandamus, and ordered the district court to vacate a pre-class-certification discovery order that directed Williams-Sonoma to produce a list of California customers who had purchased certain bedding products.

         William Rushing brought an underlying action against Williams-Sonoma to recover damages that he allegedly suffered due to Williams-Sonoma's alleged misrepresentations about thread count on bedding he purchased. Before a class action was certified, the district court determined that Kentucky law governed Rushing's claim and that Kentucky consumer law prohibited class actions. The district court granted Rushing's request to obtain discovery from Williams-Sonoma for the purpose of aiding his counsel's attempt to find a California customer who purchased similar bedding.

         In determining whether to issue mandamus relief, the panel applied the Bauman v. U.S. Dist. Court, 557 F.2d 650, 656-661 (9th Cir. 1977), factors. The panel held that Supreme Court authority demonstrated clear error in the district court's decision. The panel held that the Supreme Court has determined that seeking discovery of the name of a class member (here an unknown person, who could sue Williams-Sonoma) was not relevant within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), which limits the scope of discovery. Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 353 (1978). The panel concluded that the district court clearly erred as a matter of law when it ordered the discovery in question, and the balance of factors weighed in favor of granting the writ of mandamus.

         Judge Paez dissented because in his view the district court had not erred, let alone committed the clear error required for the extraordinary remedy of mandamus relief.

          OPINION

          FERNANDEZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Williams-Sonoma, Inc., Williams-Sonoma DTC, Inc., and Williams-Sonoma Advertising, Inc. (collectively "Williams-Sonoma") petition for a writ of mandamus[1] ordering the district court to vacate a pre-class-certification discovery order that directed Williams-Sonoma to produce a list of California customers who had purchased certain bedding products. The purpose of the discovery was to enable opposing counsel to find a lead plaintiff to pursue a class action against Williams-Sonoma under California law. We grant the petition.

         BACKGROUND

         William Rushing, a resident and citizen of the State of Kentucky, allegedly purchased bedding from Williams-Sonoma, and an important reason for his doing so was based upon the advertised thread count. Williams-Sonoma said that the thread count was 600 threads per square inch, but Rushing allegedly later discovered that it was actually much lower than that. Thus, he brought an action against Williams-Sonoma to recover damages under the law of the State of California that he allegedly suffered due to Williams-Sonoma's alleged misrepresentations. He also sought damages under California law for a class of consumers who bought bedding from Williams-Sonoma due to the selfsame alleged misrepresentations.

         Before a class action was certified, [2] the district court determined, inter alia, that Kentucky law governed Rushing's claims and that Kentucky consumer law prohibited class actions. Rushing gave notice that he would pursue his personal claims under Kentucky law, but sought to obtain discovery[3] from Williams-Sonoma for the sole purpose of aiding his counsel's attempt to find a California purchaser of bedding from Williams-Sonoma who might be willing to sue. The district court obliged, and to that end ordered Williams-Sonoma to produce a list of all California customers who purchased bedding products of the type referred to in Rushing's complaint since January 29, 2012. Williams-Sonoma's request for leave to file a motion for reconsideration was denied; this petition followed.

         DISCUSSION

         Williams-Sonoma seeks a writ of mandamus to avoid the strictures of the district court's discovery order. In deciding whether to issue a writ of mandamus we apply the Bauman factors, which we have described as follows:

(1) The party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as a direct appeal, to attain the relief ...

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