MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioners, defendants in a class action, sought issuance of writs of mandamus from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to compel the District Court to vacate two discovery orders. The Court of Appeals refused to issue the writs. We hold that in the circumstances of this case—and particularly in light of
Seven prisoners in the custody of the Department of Corrections of the State of California filed a class action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of themselves and "on behalf of all adult male felons who now are, as well as all adult male felons who in the future will be, in the custody of the California Department of Corrections, whether confined in an institution operated by the Department or on parole." App. 370.
In the course of discovery, plaintiffs submitted requests for the production of a number of documents pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 34. Petitioners' subsequent two petitions for writs of mandamus were concerned with two classes of documents that were part of these requests. The first class, part of a series of requests first made in June 1973, and which will be referred to here as the "Adult Authority files," is generally composed of the personnel files of all members and employees of the Adult Authority, all Adult Authority
When presented with the request for the Adult Authority files, petitioners objected, claiming that the files were irrelevant, confidential, and privileged, and suggesting that they should not be required to turn over the files to plaintiffs without prior in camera review by the District Court to evaluate the claims of privilege. Plaintiffs moved, pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 37, for an order compelling discovery. App. 76. The District Court referred the matter to a Magistrate for findings and recommendations, and the Magistrate recommended that the District Court order production of the Adult Authority files without undertaking an in camera inspection of the files. The District Court accepted the Magistrate's recommendations and ordered the production of the documents. Seeking to limit distribution of the personnel files of the Adult Authority members and their employees, however, the District Court issued a protective order limiting the number of people associated with the plaintiffs who could examine those documents:
A similar course was followed with regard to the requests for the prisoners' files. When petitioners, asserting grounds of privilege, objected to the requests, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel production which the District Court referred for findings and recommendations to a Magistrate. The Magistrate recommended that petitioners be required to produce up to 200 prisoner files subject to a protective order "that would restrict examination and inspection of inmate files to attorneys for plaintiffs and for their use only in connection with this lawsuit." Pet. for Cert. xl. The District Court accepted the Magistrate's recommendation, but added to the recommended
Petitioners sought review in this Court of the denial of both petitions.
The remedy of mandamus is a drastic one, to be invoked only in extraordinary situations. Will v. United States, 389 U.S. 90, 95 (1967); Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland, 346 U.S. 379, 382-385 (1953); Ex parte Fahey, 332 U.S. 258, 259 (1947). As we have observed, the writ "has traditionally been used in the federal courts only `to confine an inferior court to a lawful exercise of its prescribed jurisdiction or to compel it to exercise its authority when it is its duty to do so.' " Will v. United States, supra, at 95, quoting Roche v. Evaporated Milk Assn., 319 U.S. 21, 26 (1943). And, while we have not limited the use of mandamus by an unduly narrow and technical understanding of what constitutes a matter of "jurisdiction," Will v. United States, supra, at 95, the fact still remains that "only exceptional circumstances amounting to a judicial `usurpation of power' will justify the invocation of this extraordinary remedy." Ibid.
Our treatment of mandamus within the federal court system as an extraordinary remedy is not without good reason. As we have recognized before, mandamus actions such as the one involved in the instant case "have the unfortunate consequence of making the [district court] judge a litigant, obliged to obtain personal counsel or to leave his defense to one of the litigants [appearing] before him" in the underlying case. Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland, supra, at 384-385,
As a means of implementing the rule that the writ will issue only in extraordinary circumstances, we have set forth various conditions for its issuance. Among these are that the party seeking issuance of the writ have no other adequate means to attain the relief he desires, Roche v. Evaporated Milk Assn., supra, at 26, and that he satisfy "the burden of showing that [his] right to issuance of the writ is `clear and indisputable.' " Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Holland, supra, at 384, quoting United States v. Duell, 172 U.S. 576, 582 (1899); Will v. United States, supra, at 96. Moreover, it is important to remember that issuance of the writ is in large part a matter of discretion with the court to which the petition is addressed. Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104, 112 n. 8 (1964); Parr v. United States, supra, at 520. See also Technitrol, Inc. v. McManus, 405 F.2d 84 (CA8 1968), cert. denied, 394 U.S. 997 (1969); Pacific Car & Foundry Co. v. Pence, 403 F.2d 949 (CA9 1968).
Petitioners contend that by denying the petition for mandamus the Court of Appeals has afforded them no remedy at all. To the contrary, we read the above-quoted
To the extent that the opinion below might be regarded as ambiguous, we are fortified in our reading of it by a recognition of the serious consequences which could flow from an unwarranted failure to grant petitioners the opportunity to have the documents reviewed by the trial judge in camera before being compelled to turn them over. Petitioners' claims of privilege rest in large part on the notion that turning over the requested documents would result in substantial injury to the State's prison-parole system by unnecessarily chilling the free and uninhibited exchange of ideas between staff members within the system, by causing the unwarranted disclosure and consequent drying up of confidential sources,
Insofar as discovery of the prisoners' files is concerned, it is true that the Court of Appeals' order denying the petition for a writ of mandamus with regard to those files was issued without any statement of reasons for the denial. However, there is no reason to think that by its order the Court of Appeals meant to foreclose petitioners from following precisely the same avenue with regard to the prisoners' files as it gave them the opportunity to follow with regard to the Adult Authority files.
We are thus confident that the Court of Appeals did in fact intend to afford the petitioners the opportunity to apply for and, upon proper application, receive in camera review. Accordingly the orders of the Court of Appeals are affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
"7. All files, including all personnel files, which are maintained by the Adult Authority or by the Department of Corrections, or by any officer or employee thereof, with respect to each member, each hearing representative, and the Executive Officer of the Adult Authority."
"14. Each report submitted by any member, hearing representative, Executive Officer, or any other employee or official of the Adult Authority . . . ."
"15. All written statements written or delivered by any member or hearing representative or the Executive Officer of the Adult Authority during the past 5 years favoring, opposing, or in any way commenting upon bills or other legislation or legislative proposal pending in the U. S. House of Representatives, the Senate of the United States, or the California Legislature."
"18. All written proposals for any change whatsoever in the organization or operation of, qualifications for, or substantive criteria and procedures to be employed by the Adult Authority . . . ."
"20. All memoranda written by the Chairman of the Adult Authority during the past 5 years, no matter to whom sent, including without limitation memoranda sent to other government organizations, agencies or officials, or to other members, hearing representatives, officials or employees of the Adult Authority."
"21. All documents in effect on November 15, 1972 which pertain to any Policy Statement or Resolution issued by the Adult Authority, including without limitation any file maintained on any Resolution or Policy Statement and all such documents executed or issued subsequent to that date."
"22. All documents, however formal or informal, issued during the past calendar year, which concern the Adult Authority's adoption of new policies, procedures, criteria, and the like, to be followed by members, hearing representatives, officials and employees . . . ." App. 52-56.
"The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law."
Subsequent to the filing of the petition for certiorari in the instant case, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in the underlying action in which they added allegations which led petitioners in turn to request the appointment of a three-judge District Court to hear the case. See 28 U. S. C. § 2281. The single judge then hearing the case certified it to the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit as one appearing to require the convening of a three-judge court. The Chief Judge appointed the three members of the court on October 28, 1975, several days before oral argument was held in the instant case. But soon thereafter plaintiffs amended their complaint once again. This subsequent amendment made the convening of a three-judge court appear unnecessary and the three-judge court dissolved itself, remanding the entire case to the single judge originally assigned to the case. Thus, as the matter now stands, the underlying action is being heard by a single-judge District Court.
We deferred decision on the suggestion of mootness until after oral argument. However, at oral argument counsel for plaintiffs stated that, because the trial date for the underlying action had been substantially delayed, they had changed their minds and did indeed want the documents. Tr. of Oral Arg. 38, 40-41. While no papers were filed here formally withdrawing the suggestion of mootness, plaintiffs' representations at oral argument, combined with the fact that the trial of the underlying action has not yet taken place, leave us with no indication that this case is moot.