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…

Does Advice-of-Counsel Defense Waive Privilege for In-House Lawyers?

Aa a general rule, clients waive the attorney–client privilege when they assert an advice-of-counsel defense and, consequently, must produce their lawyer’s advice-related communications.  The waiver’s scope, however, is not as well-known.  Does the waiver apply to communications with outside counsel and in-house lawyers?

The Utah federal court faced this specific question and narrowly construed the scope of waiver.  The court held that a client’s advice-of-counsel defense waived the privilege over its communications with outside counsel, but that the waiver did not extend to its communications with in-house counsel.  Hoopes v. Owners Ins. Co., 2018 WL 1183374 (D. Utah Mar. 6, 2018).  You may read the decision here.

Bad-Faith Claim

A Geico insured struck an 11-year-old pedestrian on Main Street in Heber City, causing severe injuries to the minor. Geico paid its insurance limits, but the minor’s mother filed breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims against her uninsured-motorist carrier when it failed to promptly settle that matter.

The UIM carrier had retained outside counsel to investigate and opine on coverage and payment issues.  The carrier asserted the advice-of-counsel defense and agreed that the defense waived the privilege over its communications with outside counsel.  The carrier, however, refused to produce communications between its claims adjuster and in-house lawyer.

Sword and Shield

The mother moved to compel the claims-adjuster–in-house lawyer communications, essentially arguing that waiver is a broad concept and must include all advice-related communications, including those with in-house counsel. More…

Single Depo-Prep Meeting with Multiple Employees—Privilege Waiver? 1

It’s no secret.  Corporate trial lawyers often hold a group meeting of several employees to prepare them for upcoming depositions. The idea, of course, is one of efficiency—the lawyer may provide an overview of the case, discuss the relevance of the employees’ testimony, and give deposition instructions in one meeting rather than multiple preparation sessions.

The question may arise whether the attorney–client privilege protects these group discussions from disclosure. And here is a twist—even if the privilege protects the employees’ individual conversations with the lawyer, does it also protect conversations within the group meeting between two employees?

The court’s decision in Pallies v. The Boeing Co., 2017 WL 3895614 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 6, 2017), provides guidance.  You may read it here.

In this disability-discrimination case against The Boeing Company, Boeing’s lawyer met with several Boeing employees in a group setting to prepare them for upcoming depositions.  Boeing’s counsel did so “in an effort to comply with an aggressive discovery schedule” that included 8 employee depositions over 3 days. More…