Mardi Gras is Over: NOLA Court Rejects Privilege for GC’s Post-Accident Form

Mardi Gras ended early for one New Orleans agency.  Just days before Fat Tuesday, the USDC for EDLA ruled that the attorney–client privilege did not protect a public entity’s “Executive Summary” of a post-accident review.  The Court issued the ruling even though the entity’s GC created the Executive Summary form and the summary contained information to put the GC “on notice of a potential lawsuit and so that [she could] assess legal liability.”  O’Malley v. Public Belt RR Comm’n for the City of New Orleans, 2018 WL 814190 (ED LA Feb. 9, 2018).  You may read the decision here.

I [Can’t] Hear that Train a Comin’

Unlike the Folsom Prison inmate, Bryan O’Malley could not hear a moving locomotive and suffered injuries when it struck him while he was working for NOLA’s Public Belt Railroad Commission.  The Commission conducted a post-incident meeting and created an Executive Summary that included sections discussing the incident’s “primary cause” and “contributing cause.”

In a subsequent lawsuit, the Commission produced the Executive Summary with the “cause” sections redacted. O’Malley wanted an unredacted version, and moved to compel it.

A Good Deposition

O’Malley’s lawyer deposed the Commission’s Safety Manager, and gained valuable admissions.  Under direct questioning, the Manager effectively testified that the Commission managers’ “general procedure” is to meet after every accident and prepare an Executive Summary.  The Safety Manager never testified that the managers prepared the Summary so that lawyers can render legal advice to the Commission.  You may read the Manager’s testimony here.

GC Saves the Day?

Perhaps sensing trouble, the Commission’s General Counsel submitted a declaration stating that she prepared the Executive Summary form after becoming GC in 2014.  More…

“Pardon Me, Boy,” Does Release of Atty’s Investigation Report Waive the Privilege?

Chattanooga—home to beautiful scenery, Civil War battlefields, the Jimmy Hoffa trial, and the “Track 29” train’s destination in (“Pardon me, boy, is that the”) Chattanooga Choo Choo—is the setting for the latest judicial opinion on internal investigations and privilege waiver.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Station Platform

In a case involving a lawyer’s investigation into sexual-assault allegations involving a high-school basketball team, the USDC for EDTN held that the local school board’s publication of the lawyer’s report waived privilege and work-product protections for the lawyer’s underlying interviews and communications, including emails with another Board attorney.  Doe v. Hamilton County Board of Education, 2018 WL 542971 (ED Tenn. Jan. 24, 2018).  You may read the decision here.

The Investigation Report

Upon learning of sexual-assault allegations involving Ooltewah High School boys’ basketball team (Washington Post story available here), the Hamilton County (Chattanooga) Dep’t of Education retained Chattanooga attorney Courtney Bullard to independently investigate the OHS issue and provide legal advice to HCDE.  You may read the HCDE–Bullard engagement letter here.

HCDE, presumably for public-relations purposes, later released Bullard’s report for public consumption.  You may read the actual report here.

The alleged sexual-assault victims sued HCDE and moved to compel 130 of Bullard’s emails, including emails with another Board attorney, Scott Bennett.  HCDE claimed that the attorney–client privilege and work-product doctrine protected these communications from disclosure (privilege log available here).

Ruling

Magistrate Judge Chris Steger, correctly applying federal common law, held that parties may waive the attorney–client privilege upon disclosure of privileged information to third-parties, and that the waiver may extend “to all privileged communications on the same subject matter.”

But HCDE only released the report—not communications related to the report—so did waiver apply?  Finding the USDC’s decision in Doe v. Baylor Univ., 320 FRD 430 (W.D. Tex. 2017), “directly on point, well-reasoned and persuasive,” Judge Steger ruled that, when the Board released Bullard’s report, “it waived the attorney–client privilege as to the entire scope of the investigation, … and all materials, communications, and information” provided to Bullard during her investigation. More…

Penn State Loses Privilege Clash over Internal Investigation, and the Reason May Surprise You

In the continuing fallout from the reprehensible Jerry Sandusky scandal, a PA appellate court rejected Penn State’s attorney–client privilege claim over documents that Louis Freeh’s law firm generated during its internal investigation.  The reason?

The court found that there was no attorney–client relationship between Penn State and Freeh’s law firm, and, without this relationship, the privilege did not cover communications between Penn State Board of Trustees and Freeh’s firm.  The court made this finding even though the Board Chair signed the engagement letter and the Board paid Freeh’s fees.  Estate of Paterno v. NCAA, 168 A.3d 187 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017).  You may read the decision here.

The Forgotten Privilege Element

Regular readers of this blog know that the party asserting the attorney–client privilege must show three primary elements: a (1) confidential (2) communication made for (3) legal-advice purposes.  We too often, though, presume—and forget about—a threshold element: a lawyer–client relationship. More…