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In re Grand Jury Investigation New Jersey State Commission of Investigation

decided: September 19, 1980.



Before Seitz, Chief Judge and Adams, Circuit Judge and Kunzig, Judge.*fn*

Author: Adams


This is an appeal from the denial of a motion brought by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation (Commission) seeking access to records of Rittenhouse Consulting Enterprises, Ltd. (Rittenhouse) and Severance Administrators, Inc. (Severance) that are in the possession of a federal grand jury. The first issue we must address is whether the district court's order is a "final decision" reviewable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The second question raised by this appeal is whether the grand jury secrecy rule, F.R.Crim.P. 6(e), is applicable to the Commission's request for disclosure of documents that are in the custody of the grand jury.


The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, a legislative investigatory body created under N.J.S.A. 52:9M-1 et seq., is empowered to conduct inquiries in connection with the faithful execution and effective enforcement of the state's laws. In order to carry out its duties, the Commission is endowed with the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. N.J.S.A. 52:9M-12(c).

In the course of investigating New Jersey dental care plans, the Commission on July 27, 1979 subpoenaed the books and records of Rittenhouse and Severance for January 1, 1976 through June 30, 1979. The two companies partially complied with the subpoena by providing the Commission with records for the period January 1, 1978 to June 30, 1979. As for the remainder of the subpoenaed items, however, Rittenhouse and Severance informed the Commission that they could not comply because the records for January 1, 1976 through December 31, 1977 had previously been subpoenaed by and were in the custody of a federal grand jury empanelled in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Because documents in the possession of a grand jury are considered records of the court, it was necessary for the Commission to move before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to obtain access to the records. Although the motion for disclosure, filed September 11, 1979, was framed under F.R.Crim.P. 6(e),*fn1 it averred that the documents should be made available because they were not subject to the secrecy policy of the Rules. The United States Attorney supervising the grand jury did not oppose the motion. Rittenhouse and Severance, however, objected to the request for access,*fn2 and contended that the grand jury materials must be shrouded in secrecy because the request fits none of the exceptions to the general policy of nondisclosure set forth in Rule 6(e)(2).

On December 5, 1979, the district court denied the disclosure motion on the ground that the Commission had failed to make the showing of "particular need" or "compelling necessity" required to overcome the policy of secrecy encompassed by Rule 6(e). Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. v. United States, 360 U.S. 395, 400, 79 S. Ct. 1237, 1241, 3 L. Ed. 2d 1323 (1959); United States v. Procter & Gamble Co., 356 U.S. 677, 682, 78 S. Ct. 983, 986, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1077 (1958).

The Commission contends that the district judge erred in basing the denial of the motion on Rule 6(e) because the documents are not "matters occurring before the grand jury" within the meaning of the Rule. In defending the decision by the district court, Rittenhouse and Severance first challenge our jurisdiction over the appeal. They urge that the order is neither final under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 nor an appealable collateral order under the exception to § 1291 recognized in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S. Ct. 1221, 93 L. Ed. 1528 (1949). Appellees find support for their position in In Re Grand Jury Proceedings, 580 F.2d 13 (1st Cir. 1978), where the court found an order denying disclosure of grand jury material to a state investigator to be analogous to a discovery ruling, and thus interlocutory and nonappealable. On the merits, appellees argue that Rule 6(e) is indeed applicable, and that the policy of grand jury secrecy thus precludes disclosure of their records to the Commission.


A. Appealability

We first hold that we have jurisdiction to entertain this appeal because the district court's order was entered in an independent, plenary proceeding that conclusively resolved the only controversy between the parties.*fn3 Accordingly, it is a final order appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. In Matter of Grand Jury Empanelled Feb. 14, 1978, 597 F.2d 851, 857-58 (3d Cir. 1979); Gibson v. United States, 131 U.S. App. D.C. 143, 403 F.2d 166 (D.C. Cir. 1968).

The motion for disclosure was the sole matter affecting the Commission's rights before the district court; it was not in any way part of or connected with the grand jury proceeding. The grand jury simply happened to have possession of records also subpoenaed by the Commission, a separate authority pursuing a distinct inquiry. The Commission's reasons for seeking access are unrelated to the substance of the grand jury's investigation, and it has no interest in the grand jury proceedings except for the somewhat fortuitous occurrence that that body had, for a different purpose, previously acquired custody over the records that it now seeks. For these reasons, the Commission's motion was independent of the grand jury proceedings, and it is therefore irrelevant to the finality of the order of the district court that the grand jury's deliberations are ongoing.*fn4

Illustrative of the discrete, and thus final, nature of the district court's order is the fact that an immediate appeal poses no danger of delaying or disrupting the grand jury proceedings. See Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. 323, 60 S. Ct. 540, 84 L. Ed. 783 (1940). The grand jury need not SUSPEND ITS INVESTIGATION WHILE A RECALCITRAnt witness seeks to appeal an order compelling the production of documents, for the Commission merely requests an opportunity to examine and copy the records.*fn5 The ...

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