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Kerr v. United States District Court for the Northern District of California

United States Supreme Court
426 U.S. 394 (1976)


Seven prisoners in the custody of the California penal system (prisoners) (plaintiff) sued various entities within the California state penal system (California) (defendant) alleging constitutional violations in determining the length and conditions of prison sentences. The suit was brought in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The prisoners sought to represent in a class action all prisoners currently held in the California penal system. During discovery, the prisoners made two significant production requests. The first was for all personnel records and documents dealing with the operations of the California Adult Authority, one of the defendants. The prisoners also requested the prisoner files of every twentieth prisoner in the California penal system, to represent a sample of the prison population in the state. California objected to the production request and the prisoners filed a motion to compel. In both production requests, California argued that the contents of the files were privileged and were thus barred from production. The district court granted the motions to compel. However, the Adult Authority files were only to be reviewed by counsel of record for the prisoners along with no more than two investigators employed by the prisoners. The court also ordered that two hundred prisoner files be produced by California. A similar confidentiality order was also issued as to the prisoner files. Additionally, no file would be turned over to the prisoners without the consent of the prisoner to whom the file belonged. California sought a writ of mandamus in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to halt the production of documents. The court of appeals denied the petition. California appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

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