UNITED STATES V. JOHN DOE, INC. I, 481 U. S. 102 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. John Doe, Inc. I, 481 U.S. 102 (1987)

United States v. John Doe, Inc. I

No. 85-1613

Argued January 12, 1987

Decided April 21, 1987

481 U.S. 102


Under United States v. Sells Engineering, Inc., 463 U. S. 418, attorneys for the Civil Division (CD) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) may not automatically obtain disclosure of grand jury materials for use in a civil suit, but must instead seek a district court disclosure order under Rule 6(e)(3)(C)(i) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which order is available upon a showing of "particularized need." After an extensive investigation, a grand jury that had been convened by attorneys from the DOJ's Antitrust Division (AD) was discharged upon their conclusion that, although respondents had engaged in price fixing violative of the Sherman Act, criminal prosecution was unwarranted under the circumstances. Subsequently, in preparation for a possible civil action against respondents, the AD attorneys reviewed materials furnished to the grand jury and concluded that respondents had violated the False Claims Act, primary enforcement responsibility for which rests in the CD. Because they wished to consult with CD lawyers and also with the appropriate local United States Attorney before bringing suit, the AD lawyers obtained a Rule 6(e) order allowing them to disclose grand jury material to six named Government attorneys. The District Court denied respondents' motions to vacate the disclosure order and to enjoin the Government from using the grand jury information in the anticipated civil suit. However, after allowing the Government to file a complaint under seal, the Court of Appeals reversed both aspects of the District Court's denial of relief to respondents, holding that, because the AD attorneys were now involved only in civil proceedings, they were forbidden from making continued use of grand jury information without first obtaining a court order, and that disclosure to the six attorneys for consultation purposes was not supported by an adequate showing of "particularized need." Nonetheless, the court took no action with respect to the complaint, concluding that it disclosed nothing about the grand jury investigation.


1. An attorney who conducted a criminal prosecution may make continued use of grand jury materials in the civil phase of the dispute without obtaining a court order to do so under Rule 6(e). The Rule forbids a Government attorney to "disclose" material, which word cannot be interpreted

Page 481 U. S. 103

to embrace a solitary reexamination of grand jury material in the privacy of an attorney's office. Thus, by its plain language, the Rule merely prohibits those who already have legitimate access to grand jury material from revealing the material to others not authorized to receive it. Respondents' contention that disclosure to unauthorized outsiders will result inevitably when a civil complaint is filed is refuted by the record, which indicates that the complaint the DOJ filed did not quote or refer to any grand jury transcripts, documents, or witnesses, refer to the existence of a grand jury, or indirectly disclose grand jury material. Pp. 481 U. S. 107-111.

2. Pursuant to the considerations described in Sells, there was a "particularized need" for disclosure of the grand jury materials to the CD lawyers and the United States Attorney. Disclosure was requested to enable the AD lawyers to obtain the full benefit of the experience and expertise of the other Government lawyers, and thus serves the public purpose of efficient, effective, and evenhanded enforcement of federal statutes. Since the contemplated use of the material might result in a decision not to proceed with a civil action, the disclosure could have the effect of saving the Government, the potential defendants, and the witnesses costly and time-consuming discovery. The disclosure's public benefits clearly outweigh its dangers, since it poses comparatively little risk to grand jury secrecy, to the integrity of the grand jury itself, or to the normal civil limitations on the Government's discovery and investigative powers. The Court of Appeals exaggerated the significance of potential alternative information sources by means of discovery under the Antitrust Civil Process Act. Wide discretion must be afforded district courts in evaluating the appropriateness of disclosure, and the District Court here did not abuse its discretion. Pp. 481 U. S. 111-117.

774 F.2d 34, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 117. WHITE, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 481 U. S. 104

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