Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders
Annotate this Case
437 U.S. 340 (1978)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340 (1978)
Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders
Argued February 28-March 1, 1978
Decided June 19, 1978
437 U.S. 340
Respondents brought a class action under Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23(b)(3) on behalf of themselves and a class of purchasers against petitioners (including an open-end investment fund, its management corporation, and a brokerage firm), seeking to recover the amount by which the allegedly artificially inflated price respondents paid for fund shares exceeded their value. Respondents sought to require petitioners to help compile a list of the names and addresses of the members of the plaintiff class from records kept by the fund's transfer agent so that the individual notice required by Rule 23(c)(2) could be sent. The class proposed by respondents numbered about 121,000 persons, of whom about 103,000 still held shares, and, since 171,000 persons currently held shares, approximately 68,000 were not members of the class. To compile a list of the class members' names and addresses, the transfer agent's employees would have had to sort manually through many records, keypunch 150,000 to 300,000 computer cards, and create several new computer programs, all for an estimated cost of over $16,000. Respondents' proposed redefinition of the plaintiff class, opposed by petitioners, to include only those persons who bought fund shares during a specified period and who still held shares was rejected by the District Court as involving an arbitrary reduction in the class, but the court held that the cost of sorting out the list of class members was the petitioners' responsibility, while also rejecting respondents' proposal, opposed by petitioners, that the class notice be included in a regular fund mailing, because it would reach the 68,000 shareholders who were not class members. On petitioners' appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the federal discovery rules authorized the District Court to order petitioners to assist in compiling the class list and to bear the $16,000 expense incident thereto.
1. Federal Rule Civ.Proc. 23(d), which empowers district courts to enter appropriate orders in the handling of class actions, not the discovery rules, is the appropriate source of authority for the District Court's order directing petitioners to help compile the list of class members. The information as to such members is sought to facilitate the sending of notice, rather than to define or clarify issues in the case,
as is the function of the discovery rules, and thus cannot be forced into the concept of relevancy reflected in Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 26(b)(1), which permits discovery "regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action." Pp. 437 U. S. 350-356.
2. Where a defendant in a class action can perform one of the tasks necessary to send notice, such as identification, more efficiently than the representative plaintiff, the district court has discretion to order him to perform the task under Rule 23(d), and also has some discretion in allocating the cost of complying with such an order, although, as a general rule, the representative plaintiff should bear all costs relating to the sending of notice, because it is he who seeks to maintain the suit as a class action. See Eisen. v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U. S. 156. Pp. 437 U. S. 356-359.
3. Here, however, the District Court abused its discretion in requiring petitioners to bear the expense of identifying class members and in not requiring respondents to pay the transfer agent, where respondents can obtain the information sought by paying the transfer agent the same amount that petitioners would have to pay, the information must be obtained to comply with respondents' obligation to provide notice to their class, and no special circumstances have been shown to warrant requiring petitioners to bear the expense. Pp. 437 U. S. 359-364.
(a) Petitioners' opposition to respondents' proposed redefinition of the class and to the method of sending notice is an insufficient reason for requiring petitioners to pay the transfer agent, because it is neither fair nor good policy to penalize a defendant for prevailing on an argument against a representative plaintiff's proposals. Pp. 437 U. S. 360-361.
(b) Nor is the fact that $16,000 is a "relatively modest" sum in comparison to the fund's assets a sufficient reason for requiring petitioners to bear the expenses, since the proper test is normally whether the cost is substantial, not whether it is "modest" in relation to ability to pay. Pp. 437 U. S. 361-362.
(c) The District Court's order cannot be justified on the ground that part of the records in question were kept on computer tapes, rather than in less modern forms. P. 437 U. S. 362.
(d) And petitioners should not be required to bear the identification expense simply because they are alleged to have breached a fiduciary duty to respondents and their class, since a bare allegation of wrongdoing, whether by breach of fiduciary duty or otherwise, is not a fair reason for requiring a defendant to undertake financial burdens and risks to further a plaintiff's case. P. 437 U. S. 363.
558 F.2d 636, reversed and remanded.