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Mohawk Indus. v. Carpenter - 558 U.S. 100, 130 S. Ct. 599 (2009)


The collateral order doctrine does not extend to disclosure orders adverse to the attorney-client privilege. By statute, Courts of Appeals have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States, except where a direct review may be had in the Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291. A final decision is typically one by which a district court disassociates itself from a case. The Supreme Court, however, has long given § 1291 a practical rather than a technical construction. The statute encompasses not only judgments that terminate an action, but also a small class of collateral rulings that, although they do not end the litigation, are appropriately deemed final. That small category includes only decisions that are conclusive, that resolve important questions separate from the merits, and that are effectively unreviewable on appeal from the final judgment in the underlying action. In applying the collateral order doctrine, the Court has stressed that it must never be allowed to swallow the general rule that a party is entitled to a single appeal, to be deferred until final judgment has been entered. That admonition reflects a healthy respect for the virtues of the final-judgment rule. Permitting piecemeal, prejudgment appeals undermines efficient judicial administration and encroaches upon the prerogatives of district court judges, who play a special role in managing ongoing litigation.


When respondent Norman Carpenter informed the human resources department of his employer, petitioner Mohawk Industries, Inc. (“Mohawk”), that the company employed undocumented immigrants, he was unaware that Mohawk stood accused in a pending class action--the Williams case--of conspiring to drive down its legal employees' wages by knowingly hiring undocumented workers. Mohawk directed Carpenter to meet with the company's retained counsel in Williams, who allegedly pressured Carpenter to recant his statements. When he refused, Carpenter maintains in the present unlawful termination suit that Mohawk fired him under false pretenses. In granting Carpenter's motion to compel Mohawk to produce information concerning his meeting with retained counsel and the company's termination decision, the District Court agreed with Mohawk that the requested information was protected by the attorney-client privilege, but concluded that Mohawk had implicitly waived the privilege through its disclosures in the Williams case. The court declined to certify its order for interlocutory appeal, and the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Mohawk's appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding, inter alia, that the District Court's ruling did not qualify as an immediately appealable collateral order under Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., because a discovery order implicating the attorney-client privilege can be adequately reviewed on appeal from final judgment.


Does the collateral order doctrine extend to disclosure orders adverse to the attorney-client privilege so that the orders can be adequately reviewed on appeal from final judgment?




Upon a writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that disclosure orders adverse to the attorney-client privilege do not qualify for immediate appeal under the collateral order doctrine. According to the Court, effective appellate review of disclosure orders adverse to the attorney-client privilege can be had by means other than collateral order appeal, including post-judgment review. Affirming, the Court ruled that the admonition that the class of collaterally appealable orders must remain narrow and selective in its membership.


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