eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Court Rules Against Exclusion of Privileged Email

“Clawback” of inadvertently produced privileged documents is a hot topic these days, with J-M Manufacturing’s recent clawback request in their case one of the latest examples.  For more information on mechanisms for “clawback”, check out our blog posts of the last two days.

A District of Columbia court has ruled against exclusion of a privileged email that was inadvertently produced by the defendant, ruling that the defendant’s actions before and after the discovery of the email’s production pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)(B) were not sufficient to ensure protections under Federal Rule of Exclusion (FRE) 502(b)(3), in a case involving alleged violations of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Act.

In Williams v. District of Columbia, No. 06-02076 (CKK), 2011 WL 3659308 (D.D.C. Aug. 17, 2011), the court ruled that the burden of preventing disclosure was on the defendant, and that its insufficient follow up showed “indifference,” and has thus denied the defendant’s Motion to Exclude the inadvertently produced email from evidence.

  • As part of a “recommendation to terminate packet” produced by the defendant, the District of Columbia, in the course of this case, a privileged email was inadvertently included. This email is described as being included in the first ten pages of the packet.
  • Defendant’s counsel sent an email to plaintiff’s counsel five months later, requesting the return of the email and its exclusion under Rule 26(b)(5)(B). There was neither any form of response from the plaintiff nor follow up from the defendant. Only when the email was introduced as an exhibit, more than two years later, did the defendant file its Motion to Exclude.
  • The court considered whether the defendant had met the conditions of Rule 26(b)(5)(B) that a party must “discharge its obligations under Rule 502(b)(3),” and concluded that the defense was negligent in not taking enough steps promptly to remedy the mistake. The defendant’s inability to accurately portray its document review methodology or the number and type of documents produced were also cited as reasons that the defense was itself responsible for the waiver of privilege associated with the email in question.
  • The court found that the defense’s single email request, with no follow up, was inadequate to protect its interest in the privilege of the inadvertently produced email, especially when considered in light of “the approximately two years and eight months before it filed a motion seeking the court’s intervention.”
  • Accordingly, the court ruled against exclusion of the email under FRE 502(b)(3), stating that, “the only ‘injustice’ in this matter is that done by the defendant to itself…. The District’s failure to make reasonable efforts to guard against the disclosure in the first place and to rectify its error once discovered is fatal to its reliance on Rule 502(b).”

So, what do you think? Was the court fair in assigning fault to the defense, or should the benefit of protection under FRE 502(b)(3) have been accorded the District of Columbia in this case? Have you been involved in a similar case or situation? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.