Thursday, September 3, 2015
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story about several cases in which U.S. courts refused to recognize the attorney-client privilege for communications between in-house counsel and overseas companies. The article focused on two cases in particular – Wultz et al. v. Bank of China Limited and Anwar et al. v. Fairfield Greenwich Limited.
Just recently, Janet Levine, Gail Zirkelbach, Derek Hahn, and Danielle Rowan wrote an article in the Summer 2015 edition of the ABA CJS Criminal Justice magazine on the topic of The Evolving Landscape of Legal Privilege in Internal Investigations. Along with the Bank of China case, the article provides summaries of three other cases involving the privilege issue during internal investigations – In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. (KBR) (previously discussed on this blog here and here), Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Ind. Elec. Workers Pension Trust Fund IBEW (previously discussed on this blog), and Paterno v. NCAA).
As an update to the above excellent reads, it is important to note that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently released another opinion in the KBR matter. This opinion vacated additional orders by the District Court that would have required KBR to turn over the materials at issue in the case. See In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., -- F.3d –, 2015 WL 4727411 (August 11, 2015).
According to the appellate court in the new KBR opinion:
More than three decades ago, the Supreme Court held that the attorney-client privilege protects confidential employee communications made during a business’s internal investigation led by company lawyers. See Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 101 S. Ct. 677, 66 L. Ed. 2d 584 (1981). In this case, the District Court denied the protection of the privilege to a company that had conducted just such an internal investigation. The District Court’s decision has generated substantial uncertainty about the scope of the attorney-client privilege in the business setting. We conclude that the District Court’s decision is irreconcilable with Upjohn. We therefore grant KBR's petition for a writ of mandamus and vacate the District Court's March 6 document production order.
The issue of attorney-client privilege in the internal investigation context is one that is growing in both complexity and significance. Keep an eye out for more court decisions on this issue in the future as companies, attorneys, and courts struggle to find a balance in today’s complex legal and business environment.