Monday, January 13, 2020

In re Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (9th Cir. - Jan. 13, 2020)

First off, congratulations to the attorneys at Sheppard Mullin for getting the Ninth Circuit to grant a mandamus petition.  That's no small feat in any dispute, made even more significant by (1) the fact that it's a civil case, and (2) involves a non-privilege discovery issue.  Well done.  And that they win (albeit in a split opinion) is a bonus as well.

Second, the holding is a pretty important one.  Judge Fernandez, joined by Judge Choe-Groves (sitting by designation from the Court of International Trade), holds that plaintiffs in a putative class action aren't allowed to obtain precertification discovery of names of alternative class members in order to find a substitute for a named plaintiff who didn't work out.  (Here, the original named class plaintiff was from Kentucky, which bars consumer class action suits like the one here.)  Judge Paez dissents, but at least for now, the majority opinion rules.  That's bad for class action plaintiffs, but good for class action defendants.

Finally, even though they lose, it might well be possible for the plaintiffs to salvage practical victory from this unambiguous legal defeat.  The matter was not -- but became -- a high-profile dispute once today's opinion came down.  It's a case that will now be talked about repeatedly in the legal press, including (but very much not limited to) here.  Lots of people will read the underlying story for the first time.

Plaintiffs were looking for discovery so they could find the names of individuals (hopefully in California) who bought 600-count bedding from Williams-Sonoma.  Because the underlying class action alleges that the "600-count" sheets therefrom was actually way, way less than that.

There are more than a few lawyers (and others in the legal profession) who shop at Williams-Sonoma and who like to sleep on nice sheets.  I bet you a fair number of them either themselves purchased 600-count sheets from the place or know someone who did.  Any one of whom could read today's opinion and volunteer to be the missing class action plaintiff.  With ample incentive to do so.

All they'd need to do is to contact class counsel: Amber Eck in San Diego, or any of the other attorneys for the plaintiff listed on the caption.

Because if Williams-Sonoma really is selling 600-count sheets that are anything but, they should probably be held to account.  And, notwithstanding the legal holding from the Ninth Circuit today, that could definitely still happen.