Readers know that courts will sometimes, perhaps often, bifurcate discovery in a proposed class action between the discovery needed to assess certification issues and that related to merits issues. This procedural tool can save the parties costs, and expedite the crucial decision on class status, which needs to be made as soon as practicable.
Sometimes that class discovery can shed light on summary judgement issues as well. In a recent case, the Eighth Circuit held that a class plaintiff was not entitled to merits discovery before the court considered summary judgment based solely on the class certification discovery. See Toben v. Bridgestone Retail Operations, LLC, No. 13-3329 (8th Cir. 5/13/14).
Patricia Toben filed a putative class action alleging a violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA). Plaintiff alleged on behalf of the proposed class that defendant's service shop improperly charged 6 percent of labor charges as a shop supply fee. Defendant responded that the supply fee covered a wide array of essential stuff, such as cleaners and rags. Specifically, Bridgestone identified over 70 examples of shop supplies covered by the fee.
After limited discovery, Toben moved for class certification. Bridgestone moved for summary judgment. Toben moved to stay summary judgment pending merits discovery. The district court denied the stay and granted summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed.
The court of appeals noted that plaintiff had set forth some kinds of facts she hoped to elicit from further discovery, but had not shown that the facts sought exist. It is well settled that Rule 56 does not condone a fishing expedition where a plaintiff merely hopes to uncover some possible evidence. Mere speculation that there is some relevant evidence not yet discovered will never suffice. Here, class discovery revealed relevant information about the shop supply fee, and plaintiff identified no documents or specific facts she believed would contradict that.
If all one had to do to obtain a grant of a Rule 56d motion were to allege possession by movant of certain information, every summary judgment decision would have to be delayed while the non-movant goes fishing in the movant's files. Plaintiff's motion for a stay provided only "speculative hope" of finding evidence to support her claim.
Thus, the court could not conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying it. Summary judgment affirmed.