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U.S. Supreme Court

Douglas Oil Co. v. Petrol Stops Northwest, 441 U.S. 211 (1979)

Douglas Oil Company of California v. Petrol Stops Northwest

No. 77-1547

Argued December 5, 1978

Decided April 18, 1979

441 U.S. 211


Respondents are independent gasoline dealers, one of which operates in Arizona and several other States, and two of which operate in the vicinity of Tucson, Ariz. They brought civil antitrust actions in the District Court in Arizona against several large oil companies, including petitioners. While these proceedings were in pretrial stages, a Government antitrust investigation in the Central District of California culminated in an indictment for illegal price fixing in California, Arizona, and elsewhere, of petitioners and several other large oil companies, all of which ultimately pleaded nolo contendere. After unavailing discovery requests, respondents petitioned the District Court for the Central District of California to order release of certain grand jury transcripts under Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 6(e)(2)(C)(i), which provides for disclosure of grand jury transcripts "when so directed by a court preliminarily to or in connection with a judicial proceeding." The Antitrust Division did not object to the disclosure. Over petitioners' objection, the transcripts' release was ordered by the District Court for the Central District of California, subject to various protective conditions. The Court of Appeals affirmed, relying upon United States v. Procter & Gamble Co., 356 U. S. 677, which held that parties seeking grand jury transcripts must show that the material sought is needed to avoid a possible injustice in another judicial proceeding; that the disclosure need exceeds the need for continued secrecy; and that the disclosure request covers only the material needed. The court found that continued grand jury secrecy was not a substantial factor, as the grand jury proceeding had concluded three years before and the transcripts had already been released to petitioners. Although the court conceded that it knew little about the Arizona proceedings, it speculated that the transcripts would facilitate prosecution of the civil suits.


1. The courts below did not err in selecting the standard governing disclosure of grand jury transcripts under Rule 6(e). Though the veil of grand jury secrecy should not be lifted unnecessarily, it is recognized

Page 441 U. S. 212

that, in some situations, justice may demand that discrete portions of transcripts be made available in subsequent proceedings. Here, the California District Court made clear that it had to be demonstrated that a particularized need for disclosure outweighed the interest in continued grand jury secrecy, and the Court of Appeals correctly understood the standard applied in Procter & Gamble, supra. Pp. 441 U. S. 217-224.

2. In this case, however, the California District Court having custody of the grand jury transcripts abused its discretion in issuing the disclosure order, for that court concededly had no dependable knowledge of the status of, and the needs of the parties in, the Arizona civil suits. The court based its decision largely upon unsupported assertions of counsel during oral argument, supplemented by other inadequate data such as the criminal indictment and the civil complaints. Even a comparison of those documents did not clearly show what portions, if any, of the transcripts would be pertinent to the Arizona actions, which involved only some of the same parties and only some of the same territory as were involved in the criminal case. Under these circumstances, the better practice would have been for the California District Court, after making a written evaluation of the need for continued grand jury secrecy and a determination that the limited evidence before it showed that disclosure might be appropriate, to send the requested materials to the Arizona District Court where the civil cases were pending. Pp. 441 U. S. 224-231.

571 F.2d 1127, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 441 U. S. 231. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 233.

Page 441 U. S. 213

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