eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Two Pages Inadvertently Disclosed Out of Two Million May Still Waive Privilege


In Jacob v. Duane Reade, Inc., 11 Civ. 0160 (JMO) (THK), Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York found that a privileged, two-page email that was inadvertently produced did not have to be returned and that the privilege had been waived because the producing party, Duane Reade, had failed to request its return in a timely manner.  According to Defendants' counsel, the ESI production involved the review of over two million documents in less than a month; that review was accomplished with the assistance of an outside vendor and document review team.

The Plaintiffs in this matter are Assistant Store Managers pursuing a collective action for overtime wages, under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), against the Defendant, Duane Reade.  The email that was inadvertently produced (on November 8, 2011 and subsequently used in deposition) related to a meeting among several individuals within Human Resources, including an in-house attorney at Duane Reade (assumed to be Julie Ko). The defendants discovered the inadvertent production on January 17 of this year when Duane Reade’s HR Manager (an attendee at the meeting) was noticed for deposition.  The defendants argued that the email was inadvertently produced because it was neither from nor to an attorney, and only included advice received at a meeting from an in-house attorney, identified in the email only by the first name “Julie.”

With regard to whether the email was privileged, the court examined the email and found that the first half, where Ko received information from business managers and, in her role as legal counsel, gave legal advice on the requirements of the FLSA, was privileged.  However, the second half of the email, consisting of proposals that came out of the meeting, to get the Store Managers and Assistant Store Managers to view and treat the ASM's as managers, contained no legal advice and, therefore, was not privileged.

As to whether the Defendant’s waived attorney-client privilege when inadvertently producing the email, the Court referenced a summary of the law in this subject provided by Judge Shira Scheindlin, as follows:

“Although the federal courts have differed as to the legal consequences of a party's inadvertent disclosure of privileged information, the general consensus in this district is that the disclosing party may demonstrate, in appropriate circumstances, that such production does not constitute a waiver of the privilege or work-product immunity and that it is entitled to the return of the mistakenly produced documents. In determining whether an inadvertent disclosure waives privilege, courts in the Second Circuit have adopted a middle of the road approach. Under this flexible test, courts are called on to balance the following factors: (1) the reasonableness of the precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosure; (2) the time taken to rectify the error; (3) "the scope of the discovery;" (4) the extent of the disclosure; and (5) an over[arching] issue of fairness.”

The Court ruled that the production of the email was inadvertent and that Duane Reade had employed reasonable precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures (such as drafting lists of attorney names, employing search filters and quality control reviews). However, given the over two month time frame for the Defendants to request return of the email, the Court determined that the privilege was waived because the Defendants did not act “promptly to rectify the disclosure of the privileged email.”

So, what do you think?  Was waiver of privilege fair for this document?  Or should the Defendants have been able to claw it back?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.