Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter

PETITIONER: Mohawk Industries, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Norman Carpenter
LOCATION: Mohawk Industries-Corporate Offices

DOCKET NO.: 08-678
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 558 US 100 (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 26, 2009
ARGUED: Oct 05, 2009
DECIDED: Dec 08, 2009

ADVOCATES:
Edwin S. Kneedler - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent
Judith Resnik - argued the cause for the respondent
Randall L. Allen - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case

In 2006, Norman Carpenter, a Shift Supervisor at a Mohawk Industry manufacturing facility, was fired after violating Mohawk's Code of Ethics. He subsequently filed suit for wrongful termination in a Georgia federal district court. He argued that he was fired, not for violating company protocols, but for reporting immigration violations to Mohawk's human resources department. Mr. Carpenter stated that after filing his report, a Mohawk company attorney met with him and attempted to persuade him to recant. The report would have been detrimental to Mohawk as it was then involved in a class action lawsuit which charged the company with conspiring to hire illegal immigrants.

Before trial and as part of discovery, Mr. Carpenter requested information from Mohawk related to his meeting with its attorney. Mohawk contended that the information was protected by the attorney-client privilege. The federal district court ordered Mohawk to disclose the information, but permitted the company to appeal. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the order for discovery. It reasoned that while the Supreme Court's decision in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp. provided an exception to the finality requirement necessary for an appellate court to have jurisdiction over appeals, the appeal of a discovery order involving attorney-client privilege did not qualify for exception.

Question

Is an order for discovery involving attorney-client privilege eligible for immediate appeal under the Supreme Court's decision in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp.?

Media for Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 05, 2009 in Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 08, 2009 in Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

In case 08-678 Mohawk Industries Incorporated versus Carpenter, Justice Sotomayor has the opinion of the Court.

Sonia Sotomayor:

Section 1291 of the judicial code confers on federal courts of appeals jurisdiction to review final decisions of the district courts.

Although the final decisions typically are ones that trigger the entry of judgment, we have recognized that they also include a small class of Prejudgment orders that resolve important questions collateral to the merits of an action and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment.

In this case, petitioner Mohawk Industries attempted to bring a collateral order appeal after the district court ordered it to disclose certain confidential information on the ground that Mohawk had waived its attorney-client privilege.

The Court of Appeals dismissed Mohawk's appeal for want of jurisdiction.

The question before us is whether disclosure orders adverse to the attorney-client privilege qualify for immediate appeal under the collateral order doctrine.

We hold that they do not.

We readily acknowledge the importance of the attorney-client privilege.

By assuring confidentiality the privilege encourages full and frank communications between clients and counsel which in turn promotes a well functioning adversarial system.

The crucial question, however, is not whether the privilege is important in the abstract.

It is whether deferring appellate review until final judgment so imperils the vitality of the privilege as to justify the cost of allowing immediate appeal of all adverse, privilege rulings.

In our estimation, traditional post-judgment appeals generally suffice to protect the right of litigants and to assure adequate incentives for candid attorney-client consultation.

Moreover when litigants are confronted with particularly novel or injurious privilege rulings, they have several potential avenues of immediate review apart from collateral order appeal, including interlocutory appeal, pursuant to section 1292 (b), a mandamus.

In short, the benefits of extending the collateral order doctrine to attorney-client privilege rulings are likely to be minimal while the cost might well be significant.

Authorizing litigants to pursue successive piecemeal appeals of all such rulings which disrupt the orderly progress of ongoing litigation and needlessly burden the Court of Appeals.

Accordingly we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Justice Thomas concurs in part and concurs in the judgment.