Kerr v. United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of Cal.

RESPONDENT:United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of Cal.
LOCATION: Northern District Court of California

DOCKET NO.: 74-1023
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 426 US 394 (1976)
ARGUED: Nov 11, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1976

B. E. Bergesen, III – for respondents
Karl S. Mayer – for petitioners

Facts of the case

Seven prisoners in the custody of the California Department of Corrections sued the United States District Court for the Northern District Court of California and alleged the manner in which the California Adult Authority determined the length and conditions of punishment for convicted criminal offenders violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The defendants argued that two sets of documents, the Adult Authority files and the Prisoners’ files, which contained personal information, were irrelevant, confidential, and privileged information that should not be admissible into evidence. The district court ordered the production of the documents; however, the court limited the number of people associated with the prisoners who could examine those documents and only allowed access to the counsel and no more than two investigators designated by the counsel. The defendants filed a writ of mandamus requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacate the decision to compel discovery, but the appellate court denied the petition because the prisoners had no absolute privilege that would allow them to avoid production of the documents at issue. However, the petitioners were allowed to have their request for in camera review, or private review, considered.


Can a writ of mandamus be issued when prisoners suing the district court wish to have the petition for discovery vacated?

Media for Kerr v. United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of Cal.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 11, 1975 in Kerr v. United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of Cal.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 14, 1976 in Kerr v. United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist. of Cal.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinions of the Court in three cases: 74-1023, Kerr against the United States District Court; 74-1254, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers against Mobile Corporation; and 74-1471, TSC Industries against Northway Incorporated, will each be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

The first case, the Kerr case, is here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The petitioners, state officials, are defendants in the class action challenging the manner in which prison terms and conditions and confinement are assessed at the State of California.

In response to motions for discovery filed by the plaintiffs, the District Court ordered petitioners to turn, over to the plaintiffs, a broad range of materials including personal files of the California Adult Authority and representative sample of prisoner files.

The District Court rejected petitioners arguments that they should not be required to turn over these documents without prior in camera review of the court to evaluate petitioners’ claims of irrelevancy and privilege.

Petitioners filed petitions for mandamus with the Court of Appeals asking that the discovery orders be vacated.

The petition was denied.

We granted certiorari and we now affirm.

An opinion on file with the clerk, we read the opinions of the Court of Appeals as allowing petitioners to have their requests for in camera review reconsidered by having the privilege asserted with greater specificity and by responsible state officials.

Given therefore that the Court of Appeals apparently presented the petitioners with a more adequate and moderated avenue to achieve precisely the relief they seek, in camera review of the documents, there is no need to invoke the extraordinary remedy of mandamus in this case.

Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in consideration or decision of this case.