537 U.S. 129 (2003), 01-1229, Pierce County v. Guillen

Docket NºNo. 01-1229.
Citation537 U.S. 129, 123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610, 71 U.S.L.W. 4035
Party Name123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610, 71 U.S.L.W. 4035 PIERCE COUNTY, WASHINGTON, Petitioner, v. Ignacio GUILLEN, Legal Guardian of Jennifer Guillen and Alma Guillen, Minors, et al.
Case DateJanuary 14, 2003
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 129

537 U.S. 129 (2003)

123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610, 71 U.S.L.W. 4035

123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610, 71 U.S.L.W. 4035

PIERCE COUNTY, WASHINGTON, Petitioner,

v.

Ignacio GUILLEN, Legal Guardian of Jennifer Guillen and Alma Guillen, Minors, et al.

No. 01-1229.

United States Supreme Court.

Jan. 14, 2003

Argued November 4, 2002.

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WASHINGTON

Syllabus

As part of its effort to improve the safety of the Nation’s highways, Congress adopted the Hazard Elimination Program (Program),23 U.S.C. §152,which provides state and local governments with funding to improve the most dangerous sections of their roads. To be eligible for such funding, a government must undertake a thorough evaluation of its public roads. Because of States’ concerns that the absence of confidentiality with respect to §152’s compliance measures would increase the liability risk for accidents that took place at hazardous locations before improvements could be made and Department of Transportation’s concerns that the States’ reluctance to be forthcoming in their data collection efforts undermined the Program’s effectiveness, Congress, in 1987, adopted §409, which provided that materials "compiled " for §152 purposes "shall not be admitted into evidence in Federal or State court. "Responding to subsequent court decisions holding that §409 did not apply to pretrial discovery and protected only materials that an agency actually generated for §152 purposes, not documents that the agency collected to prepare its §152 application, Congress expressly made the statute applicable to pre-trial discovery in 1991 and added the phrase "or collected " after the word "compiled " in 1995..Several months before respondent Ignacio Gullien’s wife died in an automobile accident at an intersection in petitioner county, petitioner’s §152 funding request for the intersection was denied. Its second request was approved three weeks after the accident. Petitioner declined to provide respondents’ counsel with information about accidents at the intersection, asserting that any relevant information was protected by §409.Respondents then filed an action in Washington state court, alleging that petitioner’s refusal to disclose violated the State’s Public Disclosure Act (PDA). The trial court granted respondents summary judgment, ordering petitioner to disclose five documents and pay respondents’ attorney’s fees. While petitioner’s appeal was pending, respondents filed another state-court action, alleging that petitioner had been negligent in failing to install proper traffic controls at the intersection. Petitioner refused to comply with their discovery request for information regarding accidents at the intersection, and respondents

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successfully sought an order to compel. The State Court of Appeals granted petitioner’s motion for discretionary appellate review of the interlocutory order, consolidated this and the PDA appeals, and in large part affirmed, concluding that four of the documents requested in the PDA action were not protected. On further appeal, the Washington Supreme Court determined that disclosure under the relevant state laws would be appropriate only if the requested materials were not protected by §409;that protection under §409,as amended in 1995,turned on whether the documents were collected for §152 purposes, without regard to the identity of the documents’ custodian; and that the 1995 amendment’s adoption exceeded Congress’ powers under the Spending, Commerce, and Necessary and Proper Clauses. It therefore vacated the lower court’ s judgment and remanded the case.

Held:

1. This Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the tort portion of the case but has jurisdiction to hear the PDA portion. Certain state-court judgments can be treated as final for jurisdictional purposes even though further proceedings are to take place in the state courts. Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469, 477–483 (outlining four exceptions to the finality rule). In the tort action, the Washington Supreme Court resolved only a discovery dispute; it did not determine the litigation’s final outcome. And the Cox exceptions do not apply to that action. Accordingly, this Court dismisses the writ of certiorari with respect to that action for want of jurisdiction. However, the PDA action falls squarely under the first Cox exception. The State Supreme Court’s ruling that the 1995 amendment to §409 was invalid, which left four documents subject to disclosure under the PDA and only the amount of attorney’s fees remaining to be decided on remand, is "conclusive "as to the federal issue and "the outcome of further proceedings preordained," id., at 479. Pp. 140 –143.

2.Both the original §409 and the 1995 amendment fall within Congress’ Commerce Clause power. Pp.143 –148.

(a) Before addressing the constitutional question, this Court must determine §409’s scope. Evidentiary privileges, such as §409, must be construed narrowly because they impede the search for the truth. See Baldrige v. Shapiro, 455 U.S. 345, 360.This Court agrees with the United States that § 409 protects only information compiled or collected for §152 purposes, but does not protect information that was compiled or collected for purposes unrelated to §152,as held by agencies that complied or collected that information, even if the information was at some point "collected " by another agency for §152 purposes. Although respondents offer the narrowest interpretation of §409 —that §409 protects only materials actually created by the agency responsible for seeking §152 funding —their reading leaves the 1995 amendment (changing

Page 131

"compiled " to "compiled or collected ")with no real and substantial effect. By contrast, petitioner’s reading —that a document initially prepared by an agency for purposes unrelated to §152, and held by that agency, becomes protected under § 409 when a copy of that document is collected by another agency for §152 purposes —gives the statute too broad of a reach, thus conflicting with the rule that privileges should be construed narrowly. The Government’s interpretation suffers from neither of these faults. It gives effect to the 1995 amendment by making clear that §409 protects not just the information an agency compiles for §152 purposes but also any information that an agency collects from other sources for those purposes. It also takes a narrower view of the privilege by making it inapplicable to information compiled or collected for purposes unrelated to §152 and held by agencies that are not pursuing §152 objectives. The Court’s view of §409 is reinforced by the 1995 amendment’s history." [A]s collected " was added to address confusion about § 409’s proper scope and to overcome judicial reluctance to protect raw data collected for §152 purposes. Congress wished to make clear that §152 was not intended to be an effort-free tool in litigation against state and local governments, but § 409’s text evinces no intent to make plaintiffs worse off than they would have been had §152 funding never existed.Pp.143 –146.

(b) Section 409 is a proper exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority to "regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce" and "to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, "United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558.Congress adopted §152 to assist state and local governments in reducing hazardous conditions in the Nations’ channels of commerce, but that effort was impeded by the States’ reluctance to comply fully with §152’s requirements lest those governments become easier targets for negligence actions by providing a centralized location from which would-be plaintiffs could obtain much of the evidence necessary to sue. Because Congress could reasonably believe that adopting a measure eliminating an unforeseen side effect of §152’s information-gathering requirement would result in more diligent collection efforts, more candid discussions of hazardous locations, better informed decisionmaking, and greater safety on the Nation’s roads, both the original §409 and the 1995 amendment can be viewed as legislation aimed at improving safety in the channels of commerce and increasing protections for the instrumentalities of interstate commerce. Pp.146 –148.

Certiorari dismissed in part; 144 Wash.2d 696, 31 P.3d 628, reversed and remanded.

Page 132

Daniel R. Hamilton argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs Was Susan P. Jensen.

Deputy Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for the United States as intervenor. On the briefs were Solicitor General Olson, Assistant Attorney General McCallum, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Malcolm L: Stewart, Paul R. Q. Wolfson, Mark B. Stern, Alisa B. Klein, Kirk K. Van Tine, Paul M. Geier, Dale C. Andrews, Laura C. Fentonmiller, arid Edward V. A. Kussy.

Salvador A. Mungia argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Darrell L. Cochran and J. Bradley Buckhalter.[*]

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We address in this case whether 23 U.S.C. § 409, which protects information "compiled or collected" in connection

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with certain federal highway safety programs from being discovered or admitted in certain federal or state trials, is a valid exercise of Congress' authority under the Constitution.

I

A

Beginning with the Highway Safety Act of 1966, Congress has endeavored to improve the safety of our Nation's highways by encouraging closer federal and state cooperation with respect to road improvement projects. To that end, Congress has adopted several programs to assist the States in identifying highways in need of improvements and in funding those improvements. See, e.g., 23 U.S.C. §§ 130 (Railway-Highway Crossings), 144 (Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program), and 152 (Hazard Elimination Program). Of relevance to this...

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144 practice notes
  • 193 So.3d 1192 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2016), 15-372, Renfro v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • May 11, 2016
    ...has recognized that Section 409 establishes a privilege. As stated in Pierce County, Washington v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 130, 123 S.Ct. 720, 723, 154 L.Ed.2d 610 (2003), " [e]videntiary privileges, such as § 409, must be construed narrowly because they impede the s......
  • 21 So.3d 320 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2009), 2008 CA 0086, Goza v. Parish of West Baton Rouge
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • May 5, 2009
    ...scope and application of 23 U.S.C. § 409 is found in the United States Supreme Court's opinion of Pierce County, Washington v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610 (2003). In that case, the United States Supreme Court declared: § 409 protects not just the information an age......
  • 50 A.D.3d 55, 2008-00958, Graham v. Dunkley
    • United States
    • New York New York Supreme Court Appelate Division Second Department
    • February 1, 2008
    ...that substantially affect interstate commerce" (United States v Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-559). In Pierce County, Wash. v Guillen (537 U.S. 129), the United States Supreme Court addressed the first two of these categories - the channels and instrumentalities of, and persons or things in......
  • 110 P.3d 1184 (Wash.App. Div. 2 2005), 31258-1, Guillen v. Pierce County
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals of Washington
    • April 27, 2005
    ...See Guillen v. Pierce County, 96 Wash.App. 862, 865, 982 P.2d 123 (1999), vacated by 144 Wash.2d 696, 31 P.3d 628 (2001), rev'd in part by 537 U.S. 129, 123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610 (2002). ¶ 3 After the County denied the request, Ignacio sought judicial review under the Public Disclosure......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
129 cases
  • 252 F.Supp.3d 237 (S.D.N.Y. 2017), 15-CR-611 (AJN), United States v. Wey
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Southern District of New York
    • May 1, 2017
    ...privileges must be construed narrowly because [they] impede the search for truth." Pierce C'ty., Wash. v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 144-45, 123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610 (2003); see also Nixon, 418 U.S. at 709-10 (" privileges against forced disclosure,"......
  • 193 So.3d 1192 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2016), 15-372, Renfro v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • May 11, 2016
    ...has recognized that Section 409 establishes a privilege. As stated in Pierce County, Washington v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 130, 123 S.Ct. 720, 723, 154 L.Ed.2d 610 (2003), " [e]videntiary privileges, such as § 409, must be construed narrowly because they impede the s......
  • 21 So.3d 320 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2009), 2008 CA 0086, Goza v. Parish of West Baton Rouge
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • May 5, 2009
    ...scope and application of 23 U.S.C. § 409 is found in the United States Supreme Court's opinion of Pierce County, Washington v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 123 S.Ct. 720, 154 L.Ed.2d 610 (2003). In that case, the United States Supreme Court declared: § 409 protects not just the information an age......
  • 50 A.D.3d 55, 2008-00958, Graham v. Dunkley
    • United States
    • New York New York Supreme Court Appelate Division Second Department
    • February 1, 2008
    ...that substantially affect interstate commerce" (United States v Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-559). In Pierce County, Wash. v Guillen (537 U.S. 129), the United States Supreme Court addressed the first two of these categories - the channels and instrumentalities of, and persons or things in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 books & journal articles
  • Regulating litigation under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act: economic activity or regulatory nullity?
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 70 Nbr. 2, March 2007
    • March 22, 2007
    ...practices). (147) See, e.g., Brief of Robert & Luann Whitmer as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents at 8, Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129 (2003) (No. 01-1229), 2002 WL 1964100 [hereinafter Whitmer Brief]. According to the authors of this brief: The administration of justice has n......
  • The search for a constitutional justification for the noncommercial prong of 18 U.S.C. [section] 2423(C).
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 103 Nbr. 3, June 2013
    • June 22, 2013
    ...United States v. Ballinger, 395 F.3d 1218, 1225-26 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Morrison, 529 U.S. at 613); see also Pierce Cnty. v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 147 (2003) (upholding legislation "aimed at improving safety in the channels of commerce," including streets, roads, and federal......
  • The continuing drift of federal sovereign immunity jurisprudence.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 50 Nbr. 2, November 2008
    • November 1, 2008
    ...the specific reference to [section] 2501 as an "unexceptional" statute of limitations in Franconia Associates v. United States, 537 U.S. 129, 145 (2002), saying that this statement was made in the context of rejecting a special accrual rule for the government and thus added little......
  • Facial Challenges, Legislative Purpose, and the Commerce Clause
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review Nbr. 92-1, November 2006
    • November 1, 2006
    ...entirety."). Another seemingly facial holding-though this time a validation rather than an invalidation-is Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129 (2003) (upholding, against a Commerce Clause challenge, a federal statute providing evidentiary and discovery privilege in state court for r......
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4 provisions
  • Risk Reduction Program
    • United States
    • Federal Railroad Administration
    • Invalid date
    ...the statute FRA used as a model for the proposed information protections, or the Supreme Court's decision in Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129 (2003) (which upheld the validity and constitutionality of section 409),\11\ limits the information protections to documents submitted to the F......
  • System Safety Program
    • United States
    • Federal Register August 12, 2016
    • August 12, 2016
    ...to the information because the Hazard Elimination Program required compiling or collection of that information. Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 146 (2003). In the case of the SSP, the railroads are required by statute to compile and collect information for a SSP, so, like section 40......
  • Risk Reduction Program
    • United States
    • Federal Register February 27, 2015
    • February 27, 2015
    ...the risk of liability for accidents that took place at hazardous locations before improvements could be made.'' Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 133-34 (2003) (citing H.R. Doc. No. 94-366, p. 36 In Guillen, the Court considered the application of sec. 409 to documents created pursuan......
  • System Safety Program
    • United States
    • Federal Register September 07, 2012
    • September 7, 2012
    ...the risk of liability for accidents that took place at hazardous locations before improvements could be made.'' Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129, 133-34 (2003) (citing H.R. Doc. No. 94-366, p. 36 The constitutionality and validity of section 409 has been affirmed by the Supreme Court ......