Monday, August 27, 2007

Catholic Mutual Relief Society v. Superior Court (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Aug. 27, 2007)

Rarely do you see the California Supreme Court take up routine discovery matters; here, whether plaintiffs are entitled to discover the a nonparty insurance company's reinsurance agreements in order to faciliate a potential settlement. But not only does the California Supreme Court do so here, but it also granted review in the case (and adjudicates it) even though -- as explained in footnote 5 -- the plaintiffs here actually withdrew the discovery requests, and the requested discovery in this case was thus technically moot.

So the California Supreme Court obviously really wanted to decide this one. And holds, in a very close 4-3 decision, that plaintiffs can't usually obtain this information. With Justices Corrigan, Kennard, and Werdegar dissenting. (As usual in these 4-3 decisions, Chief Judge George is in the majority.)

It's an interesting case, especially since the dissent has a point that the statutory language seems facially to allow discovery of these agreements. But, for policy (and other) reasons, the majority concludes that these agreements aren't discoverable.

It's a high-profile case: this is one of the sex abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Diego. And the discovery matters, since everyone knows that the defendant is insured, but whether the insurance company can actually fulfill its contractual obligations is much more uncertain.

But that mystery -- like many others in the Catholic Church -- will apparently remain so. An interesting 4-3 decision.