Entirely Too Far—No Privilege between Company and its “Agent”

It often happens that a company obtains information critical to its claim or defense from an entity with which it has a close business relationship. The question arises whether the attorney–client privilege protects the communications. Sure, some courts extend the privilege to a client or lawyer’s agent in various, restrictive situations.

But when a Texas company claimed privilege over its non-lawyer communications with its sole-source supplier, the court rejected the privilege, ruling that the company took this agency principle “entirely too far.” LL’s Magnetic Clay, Inc. v. Safer Med. of Montana, Inc., 2018 WL 5733178 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 2, 2018). You may read the decision here.

Background

LL’s Magnetic Clay, Inc. sued Safer Medical for federal false advertising and various related state-law claims. Safer Medical’s employee—either before or during the lawsuit (it’s unclear)—contacted Tainio Biologicals, it sole source of product ingredients, to gather “technical documents” and “confirm key technical facts.”

Magnetic Clay subpoenaed—and Tainio produced—documents that included communications between Safer and Tainio regarding the relevant, technical information. Safer Medical saw these documents, and immediately sent a claw-back letter, claiming the privilege protected the documents from discovery because Tainio, its sole-source supplier, was functioning as its agent “whose assistance [was] necessary to enable the client’s attorneys to provide legal advice.”

Law and Ruling

The court correctly cited the privilege’s foundational elements—confidential communications for legal-advice purposes—but then said this:  More…

The Privilege When Your Attorney is the Best (or Only) 30(b)(6) Witness

Upon receipt of a notice to depose your corporate client’s representative(s) under FRCP 30(b)(6) or state-rule equivalent, the entity’s lawyers scramble to identify the right employees or agents to handle the job. From time-to-time, the identification process boomerangs to the entity’s lawyer because he or she is the only remaining corporate representative with the requisite knowledge.

So, what to do? Put the lawyer up for deposition? Assert a blanket objection on attorney–client privilege grounds? Object question-by-question?

One court faced with a motion to quash a 30(b)(6) notice held that the privilege does not automatically protect the corporate attorney’s knowledge from discovery, stating that a blanket objection produces “an unworkable circumstance.” But the court offered the corporate party some relief, which serves as guidance for the rest of us. United States v. Stabl Inc., 2018 WL 3758204 (D. Neb. Aug. 8, 2018). You may read the decision here.

“The first thing we do, let’s [depose] all the lawyers.” More…

No Half Measures: Privilege Waiver for Garden-Variety Emotional-Distress Claims

You remember the scene. You know, the scene in Season 3, Episode 12 of Breaking Bad, where Mike Ehrmantraut, the do-it-all cleaner, hitman, and investigator, gives his “half-measures” speech to Walter White, artfully imploring White to eliminate co-meth-dealer Jesse Pinkman. Ehrmantraut concludes his riveting personal anecdote by saying: “Moral of the story is I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way.”

Judge Iain D. Johnston, unafraid to employ full measures when addressing thorny privilege issues, as evidenced in my post, Monty Python, Sinatra, and Rejection of the Self-Critical Analysis Privilege, adhered to Ehrmantraut’s directive by ruling that a plaintiff completely waives the federal common-law psychotherapist–patient privilege when he seeks damages for mental-health injuries. This is true even where the plaintiff limits damages to so-called “garden-variety” emotional injuries. Laudicina v. City of Crystal Lake, 2018 WL 5389844 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 29, 2018). You may read the thorough opinion here.

What is “Garden Variety”?

When City of Crystal Lake (Ill.) Police Officer Krzysztof Krol responded to domestic-violence report, Joseph Laudicina, armed with a knife, reportedly lunged at Officer Krol in a threatening manner. Office Krol shot Laudicina, More…