Privilege

When Should a Party Inform its Adversary that it has Inadvertently Disclosed Privileged Information During Discovery in Order to maintain that Information’s Privileged Status? Certainly in Less Time than Three Months!

Please be very careful when turning over discovery to adversaries! Every reasonable precaution should be made to ensure that privileged information is not being turned over. Obviously, accidents do happen and no matter how careful a party may be, sometimes privileged information will slip by and be disclosed to the opposing party. However, in such an instance, do not wait three months to inform the opposing party about the error. Well, only if the disclosing party wants to keep the information privileged, of course! Franklin Square Associates has provided a blueprint for what not to do when privileged information has been inadvertently turned over. Suit has been brought against them by the Gloucester Township Housing Authority in a dispute over the availability of subsidized residential housing. Among the thousands of documents that Franklin Square turned over in discovery were two letters (amounting to three of the thirty-five hundred pages produced) between the Managing Agent of Franklin Square and his attorney. Defendant Shaun Donovan of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) brought a motion asking judge to declare that the letters were not covered by the attorney-client privilege, but that even if they were, the privilege has been waived due to their disclosure in discovery. Without question, the court said, the letters contained privileged information. They were communications between a lawyer and her client, in which legal advice was sought and offered. They represented the quintessential example of what is covered by the attorney-client privilege. So the issue here, then, was whether the privilege had been waived. To make this determination, the court analyzed the facts of the case through five factors the Third Circuit uses to decide whether a party’s disclosure has waived privilege: (1) the precautions taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure; (2) the quantity of inadvertent disclosures; (3) the extent of the disclosure; (4) the extent of any delay and the measures taken to rectify the disclosure; and (5) any overriding interests of justice. Regarding the first factor, the court noted that Franklin Square failed to set forth any precautions taken to avoid this inadvertent disclosure! They failed to produce a privilege log and failed to mark any documents as “confidential” or “privileged.” Franklin Square instead said that there were just too many documents to go through. If a party has resorted to using that as an excuse, it is very difficult to feel sympathy for them and the predicament they find themselves in. Parties must be more careful than this! The court found that this factor favored a finding of waiver. Regarding the second factor, the court noted that this current motion to declare the letters unprivileged concerns just three out of thirty-five hundred documents. Therefore, the inadvertent disclosure was de minimis in the grand scheme of things. This was another factor favoring waiver. Regarding the third factor, the court did not feel badly for Franklin Square in this situation because the production of these letters concerned clearly privileged information and yet Franklin Square did nothing to mark the documents as confidential or as communications between an attorney and her client. These letters warranted more scrutiny than that, and so due to the carelessness at play here, the court found this factor to be yet another in favor of a finding of waiver. Regarding the fourth factor, the court found that Franklin Square did not attempt to rectify the situation until more than three months after the inadvertent disclosure! Not only that, these same letters had been produced in a prior state court hearing, meaning these documents had now been disclosed twice! Clearly this favored a finding of waiver. Finally, regarding the fifth factor, the court did not find any overriding interests of justice here to warrant maintaining the privileged status of the documents despite the multiple errors committed by Franklin Square in this case. Therefore, the court held in favor of HUD, and declared that attorney-client privilege had been waived in regards to the letters. The takeaway here? Always, always, always take all reasonable precautions to ensure that privileged information is not being produced in discovery. Even if this information is somehow turned over, notify the opposing party right away to avoid waiving the privileged nature of those documents. Do not wait more than three months to do something about it! Logan Teisch received his B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. He is now a student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015), focusing his studies in the area of Criminal Law. Logan’s prior experiences include interning with the Honorable Verna G. Leath in Essex County Superior Court as well as interning with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Can Attorney-Client Privilege Be Used As Both A Sword And A Shield? No, Not When Attorney-Client Privilege Is Being Used As A Litigation Strategy

Attorney-client privilege is a complex and often misunderstood aspect of discovery. This privilege generally protects a party from being compelled to disclose confidential correspondence between the party and the party’s attorney. The traditional purpose of attorney-client privilege is to serve as a shield to prevent a party from being forced to turn over the strategies, opinions, and work product of an attorney. However, it is possible, under the right circumstances, for a party to waive the privilege in order to prove a fact vital to the party’s case. Such was the circumstances in Cormack v. United States. In this case, the plaintiff claimed that a mail-sorting system used by the United States Postal Service (USPS) is infringing on his patent for the device. The USPS and the manufacturer of the mail-sorting system, Northrop Grumman, claimed that the mail-sorting system utilized by the USPS is an independent creation. The issue in the case became the date on which the plaintiff conceived the invention and whether that date was earlier than the date on which the USPS’s manufacturer conceived the invention. The defendant was able to prove conception of the idea in July 2004. The plaintiff proceeded to waive attorney-client privilege and disclose correspondence with his attorney regarding applying for a patent for the mail-sorting device dated November 2003. After the disclosure by the plaintiff, the defendant submitted a motion to compel the plaintiff to turn over all other documents being withheld under the guise of attorney-client privilege. The court stated that the proper standard for compelling privileged information is “all other communications relating to the same subject matter.” The court was particularly concerned with the concept of fairness stating, “the aim is to prevent a party from disclosing communications supporting its position while simultaneously withholding communications that do not.” In this case, the subject matter was determined to be all documents regarding the date of plaintiff’s conception of his mail-sorter idea. The plaintiff sought to maintain privilege for numerous communications between himself and his attorney both before and after the date a patent was filed for. The court stated that the plaintiff must disclose any documents regarding conception of the mail-sorter regardless of the date on which the communications were created. The court specifically stated, “[the plaintiff’s] privilege waiver to apply to communications related to the date of conception, date of reduction to practice, and due diligence, generated both before and after the filing of the patent application.” The court did however create a distinction between communications regarding applying for the patent and emails regarding defending the patent. The court also held that the plaintiff has no obligation to produce documents and communications attendant to patent prosecutions relating to the other topics. Emails between the plaintiff and his attorney leading up to the prosecution of the patent were also deemed to be protected by privilege. It is imperative to consider the evidentiary value of all documents relating to the same subject matter before waiving attorney-client privilege. If you seek to admit certain documents regarding a certain subject matter covered by attorney-client privilege, all documents relating to the same subject matter must also be turned over to your opponent. Courts are concerned with notions of fairness and will generally not allow a party to selectively waive privilege in order to use it as a sword and a shield. Before waiving privilege, separate documents into distinctions of subject matter, do not make arbitrary distinctions between documents. Then weigh the potentially beneficial and potentially harmful value of all the documents relating to the subject matter in question. Once the value has been determined, only waive the privilege if, on the whole, the documents are clearly beneficial. Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently Daniel is serving as a legal intern in the Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

When Is An Employer Permitted To Monitor and Review An Employee’s Internet Activity and Usage?

On March 10, 20108, Marc Liebeskind began working at Rutgers Facilities Business Administration Department.  By March 28 of that year, Liebeskind was terminated for lacking the basic skill set needed to perform his job in addition to having a poor attitude while on the job. Liebeskind’s supervisors had suspected he was spending an unreasonable amount of time on non-work related activities on his work computer. Having doubts about Liebeskind’s work performance, his supervisors reviewed the browsing history on Liebeskind’s computer by using an application called IEHistoryView. It is important to note that this search only entailed browsing history, and there is no evidence that Liebeskind’s supervisors were granted any access to his personal or password-protected information and accounts. After his termination, Liebeskind filed suit against Rutgers University and his supervisors, claiming invasion of privacy, among other claims. On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, which ruling struck down all claims that Liebeskind’s privacy was violated as a result of his supervisors’ investigating the browser history on his computer. The appellate court referenced the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Stengart ruling, which had set the precedent for an employer’s right to monitor employee Internet activity and usage. Closely followed in previous eLessons Learned posts, the 2010 Stengart ruling held that an employee’s email communication with her attorney, using a company-issued computer, but via a personal, password-protected email account was held to be protected by the attorney-client privilege. However, the court’s decision to uphold Stengart’s privacy was not intended to forbid employers from monitoring employees’ actions on company-issued computers or devices in the future. In Stengart, New Jersey’s highest court stated: “Companies can adopt lawful policies relating to computer use to protect the assets, reputation, and productivity of a business and to ensure compliance with legitimate corporate policies.” As noted in Liebeskind, Rutgers’ “Acceptable Use Policy for Computing and Information Technology Resources” was in effect during the time of Liebeskind’s employment. This policy expressly stated that an employee’s privacy “may be superseded by the University’s requirement to protect the integrity of information technology resources, the rights of all users and the property of the University.” Additionally, Rutgers University “[r]eserve[d] the right to examine material stored on or transmitted through its facilities.” Unlike the findings in Stengart, the court established that Liebeskind did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In addition, the court agreed that Rutgers had a “legitimate interest in monitoring and regulating plaintiff’s workplace computer.” All companies can learn from this case and the policies in place at Rutgers that protected its right to monitor and search an employee’s computer. One of the most important lessons to be learned here is the need for a written internet usage policy. At the very least, these written policies should mandate that employees are expected to use the Internet and their work issued computers for work related activities only. Additionally, the possible disciplinary actions for any violation of this policy should be made available to employees. As seen in in this case, the existence of an internet usage policy and the reserved right of a company to monitor its employee’s Internet activity is the key to eliminate an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

When are Details of an Expert Analysis NOT Compelled?

Dover v. British Airways, PLC, involves a class action lawsuit where the plaintiffs alleged the airliner unlawfully imposed fuel surcharges on its frequent flyer program rewards flights.  The plaintiffs supported their claims with a regression analysis.  This statistical study, also known as the r-squared analysis, estimates the relationship between two variables and allegedly shows fuel surcharges were mostly unrelated to the changes of fuel prices.  British Airways served the plaintiffs with a request for all documents relating to the r-squared analysis.  However, that request was denied by Magistrate Judge Go, whose order was affirmed on appeal by District Judge Dearie. While the overarching issue is under what circumstances the details of an expert analysis will not be compelled during discovery, this case brings to light several additional sub-issues.  The defendants argued that the information, produced by a non-testifying expert, was not protectable work product and that any protection that may have attached was forfeited through inadvertent disclosure on two occasions. Tackling the latter issue, the plaintiffs’ first inadvertent disclosure occurred during the course of a 137-page document production.  More notably, the second inadvertent disclosure occurred during the course of the plaintiffs’ documents submission complying with the defendant’s request for metadata.  The plaintiffs inadvertently reproduced the unredacted version of a particular spreadsheet that contained experts’ names and calculations.  As this was the second of the two inadvertent disclosures, the court expressly acknowledged that the “plaintiffs should have been on notice with the first inadvertent disclosure that the spreadsheets contained protected information and should have carefully reviewed the spreadsheets before providing them to their vendor and producing them to defendant.”  But, under the stipulated protective order signed by both parties, a claw back provision recited that the inadvertent disclosure of any material that qualifies as protected information does not waive the privilege on privileged information.  The law with respect to such a protective order invokes the waiver of privilege only if production was completely reckless, and the court did not find completely reckless behavior in this instance.  Rather, the court simply found the plaintiffs were careless in twice disclosing a few rows and columns on two pages of a 34-page spreadsheet. Addressing the issue of the fact that the r-squared analysis was performed at the pre-filing stage by a non-testifying expert, both Magistrate Judge Go and District Judge Dearie paid particularly close attention to the underlying fairness at stake and addressed the issue of whether it was fair for plaintiffs to submit an expert analysis in their complaint—that survived a motion to dismiss—and then disclaim the analysis in the future.  Because the plaintiffs disclaimed future reliance on the analysis conducted by their consulting expert, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(4)(D) is invoked for its protection of the disclosure of information from non-testifying, consulting experts.  Under this rule, discovery is only permitted upon a showing that it is impracticable for the party to obtain facts or opinions on the same subject by other means.  Since extraordinary circumstances were not found, details relating to the analysis were not compelled. Although it may seem unfair, the r-squared analysis was not the reason the complaint survived the motion to dismiss; the court was required to proceed on the assumption that factual allegations are true even if their truth seems doubtful, and consideration of the attacks on the consulting expert’s analysis would not factor into assessing the complaint’s plausibility. Samuel is in the Seton Hall University School of Law Class of 2015 pursuing the Intellectual Property concentration. He received his master’s from the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and became a registered patent agent prior to entering law school. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Colorado Supreme Court Remands Finding That Trial Court Didn’t Do Their Job By Failing To Actively Manage Discovery

How involved does a district court have to be in discovery issues?  This is the main issue that the Colorado Supreme Court tackled in this case.  The Court drew a firm line and interpretation on one of the state’s discovery rules and remanded to the district dourt so they could follow it. The plaintiff, DCP Midstream, LP brought a case for eleven breach of contract (among other claims) against the defendant, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.   The two companies transport, gather, and process natural gas in Northeastern Colorado.  DCP Midstream transported the gas from wells and took them to be processed and sold.  DCP Midstream had contractual relationships, known as "gas purchase, gathering, and processing agreements" with a number of companies to carry this out. One of the companies that DCP Midstream did regular business with was Kerr-McGee Oil, which was acquired by Anadarko Petroleum.  It was then, according to the plaintiff, when the relationship soured.   DCP claims that Anadarko told Kerr-McGee to “transport and process natural gas in violation of DCP's contractual rights” and brought suit accordingly. DCP’s claims regarded eleven contracts specifically which covered about 900 wells.  DCP asked for document production using 58 requests.   These requests asked for Anadarko’s “complete contract file” for the thousands of wells that it operates as well as the title opinions for them.  Anadarko objected to many of these requests claiming that they were not relevant to the claims contained in the complaint and as such, outside the scope of discovery under Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1).  Further, Anadarko claimed that the opinions asked for were privileged attorney-client communications but that claim won’t be addressed here. The trial court did not hear argument regarding Anadarko’s objections and merely granted DCP’s motion to compel.  Their written order read, “DCP was entitled to discovery that is or may become relevant and, because DCP's "breach [of contract] claim may expand and may ultimately encompass thousands of wells," DCP was entitled to discovery that may lead to more specific allegations…”” Anadarko petitioned the Supreme Court of Colorado for review. The Supreme Court found jurisdiction to take the case and discussed extensively the state rules, how the scope of discovery should be determined, and the role of the Court in all of it.  Specifically, the Court talked about the above-cited 26(b)(1) which granted parties as a matter of right, the ability to ask for discovery for anything that is not privileged that is “relevant to the claim or defense of any party.”  For good cause, the rule allows the court to permit a party more expansive discovery rights into "any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action." The distinction between the discovery allowed as a matter of right and that to be allowed for good cause was troubling to the Court.  The Court said that there was no easily explainable difference between what a “claim or defense” is versus what is “subject matter.”  Instead, the Court pointed to the advisory committee notes on the rule which advocated looking at the rule more practically.  The notes suggested that the Courts, when there is a discovery objection, determine the scope of discovery and tailor it to the “reasonable needs of the action.”  It is this approach that the Court adopted for the state of Colorado. The Court (and the state rules that it pointed to) also made it inescapably clear how vital the role of the trial court is in the discovery process.  Active judicial management is needed to decide scope of discovery questions in light of the action calls for and what is reasonable.  The trial court, in this case, did not make any findings on that question and instead just put through an order without any tailoring at all. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court so they may make findings pursuant to their approach to the rule. Trial court judges of Colorado beware!  If you don’t take an active role in deciding discovery objections, the Supreme Court will just remand and you will have to look at it again, anyway.  Isn’t it just easier to manage your responsibility the first time? Julie will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law, where she is serving as President of the Family Law Society and was a Student Attorney for the Center for Social Justice’s Family Law Clinic, in 2014. Prior to law school, she was a 2008 magna cum laude graduate of Syracuse University, where she earned a B.A. in History and a minor in Religion and Society. After law school, Julie will serve as a law clerk to a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

Court Rules In Favor for Precision in Regards to Limited Search Terms Used for Screening Privileged Documents

Whoever thinks that the legal world does not involve math is proven wrong through the Special Master’s analysis in Dornoch Holdings Int’l, LLC v. Conagra Foods, Lamb Weston, Inc. The heart of the opinion involves a percentage breakdown of search terms and their correlation of precision in regard to privileged documents. In Dornoch, the defendants objected to the privilege log of documents for three reasons: 1) the documents on the privilege log, except for communications between the plaintiffs and their outside litigation counsel dated after March 22, 2010, have not been established by the plaintiffs to be privileged; 2) The privilege log was created using overly broad search terms and has not been substantively reviewed, thus, the log contains numerous non-privileged documents; and 3) Non-correspondence documents listed on the privilege log are not privileged. In response to this objection, the court allowed the Special Master to make a recommendation on these objections, specifically allowing the Special Master to review “a statistically significant number of randomly selected documents to confirm the accuracy of the screening method.” The privilege documents log was assembled using search terms created and limited by plaintiff’s counsels and an eDiscovery technology consulting firm. And so, the Special Master did as the Court requested and took a sampling from the log to determine the effectiveness of the screen’s search terms. The consulting firm determined that “1,740 documents would need to be human reviewed” to determine whether the log was effectively precise. The Special Master decided to review 1,813 documents just to ensure it was an effective review. After explaining that Idaho law regarding attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine apply, the Special Master reviewed the documents and determined that 1,249 were not privileged documents and 564 were privileged. The Special Master also went into much detail about the effectiveness of the specific search terms that were used. Specifically, the Special Master determined that 73 percent of the search terms were highly correlated to actual privileged documents. Additionally, the Special Master determined that “those terms which identified a correlation with actual privilege of 59 percent or greater, showed a strong correlation with privilege.” Once the Special Master completed this analysis, the Special Master recommended that the documents that fall below that 59 percent correlation should be released and not kept private. Then, the plaintiffs could also decide to conduct another review of the remaining privileged documents to figure out if more should be released. Finally, the Special Master noted that it does not matter whether documents are listed as “correspondence” or “non-correspondence” for them to be determined to be privilege or not. These documents should be reviewed just as the others. Overall, the Special Master recommended that the court sustain the first objection, and overrule the third objection. As to the second objection, the court recommended the following: “(1) Concur with the selection of a 59% or greater correlation of search term precision for a document to remain withheld as privileged; (2) Allow Defendants the opportunity to further challenge the assertion of privilege above that 59% threshold, if they so choose, by requesting that the Special Master conduct a further targeted review for privilege and release any non-privileged documents discovered. The Defendants will be responsible for cost of this further analysis, if requested; (3) Release the documents associated with the less precise terms that fall beneath the 59% correlation threshold and remove them from the privilege log; (4) Prior to that release, allow Plaintiffs the opportunity to conduct a privilege review of all or a portion of the population to be released and create a supplemental privilege log. The Plaintiffs will be responsible for cost of this further analysis, if Plaintiffs chose to conduct it.”

Want to Claim the Producing Party is Tardy? First, Agree on Protocol for Production of ESI.

The producing party in a discovery request can be tardy producing documents, while making numerous generalized objections in a response, and still not have waived the party’s right to valid objections under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 or Fed. R. Civ. P. 34.

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Fishin’ on Facebook: The Discoverability of Private Facebook Information

There is no question we live in a world consumed by social media where “Tweeting,” “Instagramming,” and “Facebooking” are commonplace. More specifically, people feel compelled to share intimate details, photographs and video of their lives with their “friends” on social media sites, such as Facebook. In the world of litigation, the question becomes “how should courts treat Facebook accounts for the purpose of discovery”?

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ATTENTION! Reporter’s Privilege is NOT a Laughing Matter

Discovery rules are very important in litigation, but in specific circumstances they do not apply. A reporter has the right and discretion to keep information private that was given to them in confidence. The court decision in Hatfill took this privilege very seriously and did not allow the plaintiff access to the privileged information.

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Filing a Personal Injury Claim? Get Ready to Produce Your Private Facebook Profile

The scope of relevant discovery for social networking sites (SNS) is like Goldilocks – it can’t be too broad or too narrow, it has to be just right for the courts to allow it. This is especially true when the case involves emotional and mental health claims.

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