Wednesday, May 25, 2011

3d Circuit: For waiver of privilege, timing makes a difference

If a third party is present during an otherwise privileged communication, the privilege is waived, right? Not exactly, said the Third Circuit today. If a third party is present when the privileged communication is made, the privilege doesn’t attach at all. That’s different from a true waiver situation where a communication that is privileged when made is later disclosed to a third party.

This distinction makes a practical difference when the party asserting waiver wants to see documents beyond the initial communication(s) via a “scope of waiver” argument. If the initial communication(s) was not privileged when made, then there could be no waiver and consequently no opportunity to seek other privileged communications on the subject via a “scope of waiver” argument. The party asserting waiver gets only the initial communication(s).

The case is In re Application of Chevron Corp., No. 10-4699 (3d Cir. May 25, 2011), and the initial communications at issue were made in the presence of filmmakers who were—at the behest of the plaintiffs’ lawyers—shooting a movie of a notorious Ecuadorian environmental case against Chevron (while the case was going on).

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