During the oral argument, the justices seemed uninterested in the fact that the persons whose privacy rights were being asserted were putative class members, rather than merely non-party witnesses. The opinion, however, points out several times that the case is a putative class action. In fact, the decision recognizes that the interests of the putative class members are most likely aligned with those of the class representatives—who are, after all, seeking relief on their behalf. For example, the court observed:
[I]t seems unlikely that [Pioneer's complaining] customers, having already voluntarily disclosed their identifying information to that company in the hope of obtaining some form of relief, would have a reasonable expectation that such information would be kept private and withheld from a class action plaintiff who possibly seeks similar relief for other Pioneer customers, unless the customer expressly consented to such disclosure. If anything, these complainants might reasonably expect, and even hope, that their names and addresses would be given to any such class action plaintiff.
Pioneer Electronics, Inc. v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.4th ___ (Jan. 25, 2007) (slip op. at 13-14) (emphasis in original). The fact that the case was a putative class action was also a key factor in the court's analysis of whether it would be fair to allow the defendant unequal access to these witnesses:
From the standpoint of fairness to the litigants in prosecuting or defending the forthcoming class action, Pioneer would possess a significant advantage if it could retain for its own exclusive use and benefit the contact information of those customers who complained regarding its product. Were plaintiff also able to contact these customers and learn of their experiences, he could improve his chances of marshalling a successful class action against Pioneer, thus perhaps ultimately benefiting some, if not all, those customers. It makes little sense to make it more difficult for plaintiff to contact them by insisting they first affirmatively contact Pioneer as a condition to releasing the same contact information they already divulged long ago.
Id. (slip op. at 16). The court concluded its discussion of fairness by reaffirming the importance of consumer class actions in California:
Similarly, amicus curiae Consumer Attorneys of California notes that the Court of Appeal’s ruling, by preventing or substantially delaying identification of witnesses and potential class members, could make it more difficult to obtain class certification, thereby reducing the effectiveness of class actions as a means to provide relief in consumer protection cases.
Id. (slip op. at 17) (emphasis added). I would definitely call Pioneer Electronics a pro-class-action decision, one that effectively balances the putative class members' interest in privacy against their interest in obtaining classwide relief.