SCOTUS holds discovery ruling requiring disclosure of privileged information is not appealable

Richard Westfall at Rocky Mountain Appellate Blog wrote up the first SCOTUS opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter, in which the unanimous court (with a separate concurrence from Justice Thomas) holds that a discovery order is not immediately appealable under the “collateral order doctrine.” Westfall summarized the case:

In Mohawk, the district court ordered Mohawk to turn over documents Mohawk asserted were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The collateral-order doctrine allows for immediate appeals if: (1) the particular ruling conclusively determines the disputed question; (2) resolves an important issue separate from the merits of the action; and (3) is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Some circuits allow for immediate appeals under the collateral-order doctrine to review whether an order violates the attorney-client privilege. The Supreme Court held in Mohawk that orders requiring disclosure of arguably privileged material will have to wait for a final judgment because they are reviewable after judgment, however imperfectly. Justice Sotomayor noted that parties in such situations can defy disclosure orders and suffer sanctions, which will then be reviewable, or subject themselves to contempt of court, thereby also obtaining review.

Westfall urges the Colorado state courts not to adopt the rule, to which I say . . . be glad you don’t practice in California, Steve! In California state courts, discovery rulings are generally not appealable, even where the disclosure of privileged information would result. In such a situation, the party seeking review must do so by petitioning for a discretionary writ, and hope that the issue presented and the gravity of the disclosure are enough for the court of appeal to exercise its discretion to hear the petition on the merits.

Mohawk Industries resolves a circuit split in which the Ninth Circuit was in the minority camp that allowed appeal from such rulings. (In re Napster, Inc. Litigation (9th Cir. 2007) 479 F.3d 1978.) I’ll have more on the federal angle in an update.

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