“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…

Touch Base–Court Applies U.S. Privilege Law to German Internal Investigation

Foreign corporations with a significant U.S. presence increasingly face this question—which country’s privilege law applies when their U.S. lawyers communicate with the companies’ foreign employees?  The SDNY confronted this choice-of-privilege-law issue where a “principally” U.S. law firm conducted an internal investigation for a German company. In re: Ex Parte Application of financialright GmbH, 2017 WL 2879696 (SDNY June 22, 2017).  You may read the decision here.  Let’s discuss. More…

Sweeping Privilege Loss—Baylor Must Produce Documents From Sexual-Assault Investigation

In a significant ruling that may exacerbate the continuing fallout from Baylor University’s sexual-assault scandal—and provide lessons for those conducting internal investigations—the USDC WDTX rejected Baylor’s “unsupported and unconvincing” privilege argument and ordered it to produce “all materials, communications, and information” provided to its investigating law firm.

The court held that Baylor’s intentional release of the law firm’s factual findings and recommendations necessarily disclosed attorney–client communications and constituted privilege waiver.  Doe v. Baylor Univ., No. 16–CV–173–RP (W.D. Tex. Aug. 11, 2017).  You may read the opinion here.

The Huddle

In an earlier post titled Baylor Univ. in Major Battle over Law Firm’s Investigation Documents, I set the stage for the Title IX plaintiffs’ motion to compel Baylor to produce documents provided to Pepper Hamilton, which it retained to conduct an “independent and external review of Baylor University’s institutional responses to Title IX and related compliance issues.” More…