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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Three plaintiffs brought individual and class claims against SCI Texas Funeral Services Inc., SCI Funeral Services Inc., SCIT Holding Inc. and Service Corporation International (collectively, SCI) for violating federal and state disclosure requirements applicable to funeral providers. In connection with those claims, the plaintiffs sought broad discovery including every SCI contract for funeral services in Texas between 1998 and 2004 (reportedly 200,000) and documents concerning every item SCI purchased to provide those services (reportedly 2.5 million). After granting a series of motions to compel based on asserted gaps in SCI’s production, the trial court entered a sanctions order that held SCI had breached the class members’ contracts by making inadequate disclosures and barred SCI from contesting their method of calculating damages. After the 8th Court of Appeals denied mandamus relief, SCI sought a writ of mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court. One year later, the 8th Court reversed the trial court’s class certification order, finding no private cause of action under either the federal or state funeral disclosure rules, and barring the plaintiffs’ damage claims as their contracts were not illegal. Thus, what was once a damages claim on behalf of potentially hundreds of thousands of consumers became a claim by three consumers for injunctive relief alone, making much of the discovery irrelevant. HOLDING:The court conditionally granted the writ of mandamus. In its 1999 opinion In Re: Alford Chevrolet-Geo, the court rejected a blanket rule that all class-wide discovery should be abated until after certification. But the court also rejected the opposite rule which would mandate full class-wide discovery before certification noting the special risk in class actions that one party might seek to improve its bargaining position by heaping massive discovery on the other. Instead, the court held the proper rule was for trial courts to limit pre-certification discovery to the particular issues governing certification in each case, considering factors such as the importance, benefit, burden, expense and time needed to produce the proposed discovery. The court found that the discovery orders in this case did not comply with this rule. SCI’s primary objection to both discovery and certification was that private parties had no standing to assert violations of the funeral disclosure rules. This question of law did not require production of several hundred thousand contracts and millions of invoices. While the plaintiffs could have made a strong case for discovery related to the size of the class and representative samples of how SCI did business, these issues did not justify the burden and expense of producing every plaintiffs’ contract and every SCI invoice � discovery perhaps necessary to prove the ultimate issues but not tailored to the certification question before the court. Thus, the court held the trial court abused its discretion by compelling discovery that was not narrowly tailored to the relevant dispute. In an alternate holding, the court noted, the 8th Court denied mandamus relief based on laches. SCI filed its mandamus petition a little less than six months after the trial court’s final sanctions order. SCI explained the delay by establishing that it took three months to get the reporter’s record of the numerous discovery hearings and the remaining time to brief both the discovery and the certification appeals so they could be filed together (although in separate proceedings). The court found no fault with SCI, “given the related nature of the two proceedings and the incongruous results produced when the court of appeals decided them separately.” As a matter of law, the court stated that those explanations established that SCI had not slumbered on its rights. As to the trial court’s sanctions, the court found that the sanctions order “was not necessarily wrong just because the discovery orders were; a party’s recalcitrance is not entirely justified by winning on the merits on appeal.” But a just sanctions order, the court stated, “must be directed . . . toward remedying the prejudice caused the innocent party” and “should fit the crime.” In this case, the court stated that “the plaintiffs were neither prejudiced nor entirely innocent, as the massive discovery they sought was based on damage claims they had no standing to assert and evidence they did not need for the certification hearing.” Moreover, the court found that “an order deeming contracts breached and proscribing damage calculations no longer fits a case in which all contract and damage claims have been dismissed.” Accordingly, the court conditionally granted the writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its deemed factual findings and discovery orders in light of the court of appeals’ decertification. OPINION:Per curiam.

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