X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
This article is devoted to the not-so-uncommon situation in which a party to a specific litigation seeks the work-product of an attorney representing a party in a different but closely allied litigation. To highlight the issue, a short background is necessary. The work-product privilege began with the 1947 Supreme Court decision in Hickman v. Taylor, where the court ruled the requested discovery for statements taken by opposing counsel was “an attempt to secure written statements, private memoranda and personal recollections prepared or formed by an adverse party’s counsel in the course of his legal duties.” The court held that absent a showing that the material was “essential to the preparation of one’s case,” the request would be denied. The court stated that where the requested product disclosed an attorney’s mental impressions, there was serious doubt whether this work-product would ever be produced. In 1970, the Hickman decision was codified in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3). Rule 26(b)(3) permits discovery of documents and tangible things prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by another party only upon a showing that the seeking party has substantial need of the materials in preparation of that party’s case and is unable to obtain the materials without undue hardship. The rule protects against disclosure of “opinion work-product,” which is the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney or other representative of a party concerning the litigation. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of appeals has never addressed the issue of whether a third party can assert the work-product privilege in response to a subpoena issued in a separate litigation. The 9th Circuit has held that Rule 26(b)(3) was the sole source of work-product protection and courts were not free to suspend the requirement to protect third parties. Some courts follow this line of reasoning even where the ruling would cause inequity and hardship. For example, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Hunter v. Heffernan court stated in dicta that “documents prepared by nonparties to the present litigation are unprotected.” In a recent Eastern District case, Judge Mary A. McLaughlin found alternatives to a strict application of Rule 26(b)(6) regarding the assertion of the work-product privilege by a third party. In Stanziale v. Career Path Training (In re Student Fin. Corp.), the defendant in a District of Delaware Bankruptcy Court adversary proceeding served a subpoena issued in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on a private investigation firm. The Career Path Training subpoena sought documents the James Mintz Group prepared for Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, a Chicago law firm that had retained the Mintz Group in a related bankruptcy proceeding in Delaware District Court. Sonnenschein Nath represented Royal Indemnity Co., the largest creditor in that bankruptcy proceeding. Although the situs of the litigation was the bankruptcy court in Delaware, the enforcement proceeding for the subpoena was adjudicated in the Eastern District where the subpoena was served. Sonnenschein Nath objected to the subpoena contending that the Mintz Group’s documents consisted of Sonnenschein Nath’s work-product prepared for the bankruptcy litigation. Career Path argued that Sonnenschein Nath’s client, Royal Indemnity, was not a party to the specific suit between the Bankruptcy Trustee and Career Path, and thus the work-product privilege was unavailable to Sonnenschein Nath. Although Royal Indemnity was involved in various aspects of the bankruptcy litigation, McLaughlin held that Royal Indemnity was not a party to the case at bar for purposes of Rule 26(b)(3). Concluding that Rule 26(b)(3) is not the only means for asserting work-product protection, McLaughlin held that the rule permits room for the privilege to be asserted by third parties in appropriate cases. McLaughlin noted that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(c)(3)(A)(iii) permits a court to quash or modify a subpoena if it requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matters and no exception or waiver applies. She also relied upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), which authorizes a court to issue a protective order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or undue burden or expense. As a practical matter, strict enforcement of Rule 26(b)(3) could lead to absurd results. Wright and Miller describe the following circumstances that could result from a strict reading of Rule 26(b)(3): “Thus suppose A and B are bringing independent antitrust actions against the same defendant based on the same charges. Documents that A has prepared in anticipation of litigation would be within the qualified immunity in his own suit but would be freely discoverable by defendant on a subpoena duces tecum issued in connection with the suit brought by B. Such a result would be intolerable.” The court’s decision in Student Finance Corp. opens the door to a more realistic appraisal of situations where work-product is not prepared for a party involved in a particular matter, but for closely allied litigation, and a strict reading of Rule 26(b)(3) would require disclosure of material the work-product privilege was designed to protect. The subpoena in Student Finance Corp. also raised issues of what constitutes opinion work-product. The Mintz Group, acting on behalf of the Sonnenschein Nath attorneys, conducted a series of interviews of potential witnesses. The work-product privilege extends to material prepared in anticipation of litigation by investigators employed by the attorneys. McLaughlin held that the majority of the work-product of the Mintz Group qualified for protection as it consisted mostly of reports of witnesses’ interviews. The writer offers the following caution regarding treatment of interviews of witnesses by lawyers and nonlawyers employed by the lawyer. Generally, a report of interview is regarded as opinion work-product and given the highest form of protection because it usually invokes the thought processes of the attorneys or the investigators. The privilege also applies to oral recollection of attorneys. If, however, the report of the witness interview is simply a verbatim recitation of the witness’ oral statement, a court may deny the interview report the high degree of protection of opinion work-product. In today’s computer-driven society, for instance, there are often situations where a partner questions a witness and an associate or paralegal transcribes the interview on a laptop. Those notes may not qualify as opinion work-product because they may be construed as a verbatim transcript of the interview. While these cases may be examples of a very strict interpretation, they point out the possible ramifications of a “laptop” interview work-product. As a practical matter, the interviewer should take handwritten notes, transcribing them later if necessary, but maintaining the handwritten original. Experienced interviewers will intersperse the notes with observations or strategic evaluations. One of my former associates, of Greek descent, often made editorial comments within the report in Greek. In the event of a motion for a protective order asserting the work-product privilege, the handwritten notes should be presented to the court for an in-camera inspection. The interspersed comments will demonstrate that the report of interview certainly reflects the attorneys’ thought processes. PETER F. VAIRA is a principal shareholder in the Philadelphia law firm of Vaira & Riley. He is the author of Eastern District Federal Practice Rules, Annotated (Gann Law Books). He may be contacted concerning issues of Eastern District practice at [email protected].

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.