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Wilk v. American Medical Association

decided: December 22, 1980.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 76-C-3777 -- Nicholas J. Bua, Judge .

Before Sprecher, Circuit Judge, Wisdom, Senior Circuit Judge,*fn* and Bauer, Circuit Judge.

Author: Wisdom

The State of New York, intervenor in the present action, appeals the denial of its motion to modify a protective order that governs the plaintiffs' use of materials discovered from the defendants in this action. We hold that New York, as a bona fide litigant, has a right to use those materials already discovered by the plaintiffs in this action that are both relevant to New York's suit and not otherwise privileged, under the same restrictions as the plaintiffs. We therefore vacate and remand.


This action (Wilk v. American Medical Association ) pits five chiropractors, plaintiffs, against the American Medical Association (AMA), other national medical societies, and various individuals. Plaintiffs posit a nationwide conspiracy on the part of the defendants to eliminate the profession of chiropractic by restricting inter-professional relations between medical doctors and chiropractors and by exerting economic and political pressure on third parties who deal with chiropractors. They seek to bring this alleged conspiracy within the compass of the federal antitrust laws, and pray for treble damages and various forms of injunctive relief.

This action was filed in the Northern District of Illinois on October 12, 1976. Several similar actions have since been brought in various districts throughout the country. On July 5, 1979, New York State, intervenor in the present action, filed such a suit in the Eastern District of New York, acting both as parens patriae and in its proprietary capacity. New York v. American Medical Association, No. 79-C-1732. The New York complaint advances a group boycott theory under § 1 of the Sherman Act against many of the same medical associations named as defendants in Wilk.*fn1 The two complaints are not absolutely identical. Wilk advances a monopolization theory under § 2 of the Sherman Act, as well as the group boycott theory; moreover, New York does not seek treble damages. Nevertheless, the operative charges of wrongdoing in the two complaints are almost word for word the same.

Massive discovery had taken place in Wilk by the time New York had been filed. Upward of 100,000 documents had been filed and over 100 persons deposed. The bulk of these materials approximately 80-90 percent was not available to New York State or to anyone else, however, for they were covered by a protective order issued by the Wilk district court. This order, entered February 23, 1977, was issued on motion of the Wilk defendants and apparently was not opposed by plaintiffs. Among other things, it prohibits plaintiffs' counsel from revealing any document provided by defendants through discovery, forbids them to divulge even the content of discovery documents if stamped "confidential" by defendants, permits defendants to classify any deposition as "confidential," and provides a procedure for the sealing of documents and other materials.*fn2

On August 20, 1979, soon after New York had filed its independent action in the Eastern District of New York, it moved to intervene in Wilk for the limited purpose of applying for a modification of the February 1977 protective order. The State did not seek to dissolve the protective order entirely; rather, it sought access to the protected materials on the same terms as the Wilk plaintiffs. The motion to intervene itself was not opposed, but one of the defendants, the AMA, did oppose the request to modify the protective order. Shortly after that motion was filed, several Wilk defendants moved before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to transfer New York and two other chiropractic cases to the Northern District of Illinois for coordinated pre-trial proceedings, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407.*fn3 Consideration of New York's motion to modify the protective order was stayed pending the Multidistrict Panel's decision.

On January 22, 1980, the Panel issued an opinion denying transfer. In re Chiropractic Antitrust Litigation, 483 F. Supp. 811 (J.P.M.L.1980). The Panel recognized that there were indeed questions of fact common to all four cases: central to each action will be discovery concerning the alleged national conspiracy. The Panel, however, denied transfer primarily because discovery in Wilk was nearly completed and transfer of the later actions to the Illinois action would delay resolution of that litigation. Such delay was deemed unnecessary, for the Panel contemplated that the discovery completed in Wilk would be available for use in the other actions.*fn4 The Panel was aware of New York's pending motion in Wilk, 483 F. Supp. at 812, though it did not purport to consider its merits.

On March 12, 1980, well after the Multidistrict Panel's decision, the Wilk district court denied New York's request for modification of the protective order. Wilk v. American Medical Association, (1980-2) Trade Reg.Rep. (2 Trade Cas.) (CCH) P 63,348 (N.D.Ill.1980). From American Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. Grady, 594 F.2d 594 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 971, 99 S. Ct. 1533, 59 L. Ed. 2d 787 (1979), the court extracted the principle that protective orders may only be modified for the benefit of collateral litigants when "exceptional circumstances" are present. Giving great weight to the interests of the Wilk defendants in preserving the order but without specifying the nature of those interests the court discounted the recommendation of the Multidistrict Panel.*fn5 The court also found that much of the discovery material in Wilk did not appear to be relevant to the New York litigation. The motion was denied without prejudice to later motions for access to specific Wilk discovery relevant and otherwise discoverable in the New York action. Without making any such motion, New York appeals.


At the outset, the defendants challenge our jurisdiction over this appeal. The AMA correctly notes that since the order denying modification does not dispose of the entire controversy in the district court, the order cannot be "final" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291, unless it falls within the "collateral order" doctrine enunciated in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S. Ct. 1221, 93 L. Ed. 1528 (1949).

In American Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. Grady, this Court held that the grant of an intervening collateral litigant's motion to modify a similar protective order was an appealable "collateral order". In First Wisconsin Mortgage Trust v. First Wisconsin Corp., 571 F.2d 390 (7th Cir. 1978), adopted en banc on this point, 584 F.2d 201, we set forth four criteria, all of which must be ...

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