Dennis Burke is the well-known surgeon who blew the whistle on a surgical practice at the Massachusetts General Hospital known as “concurrent surgery” or “double booking.” After Dr. Burke publicized that practice, MGH engaged attorney Donald Stern to investigate the matter, which led to the Stern Report. MGH also terminated Dr. Burke, who then sued the hospital, claiming that he was fired in retaliation for publicizing its concurrent surgery practices. As part of his discovery in that case, Dr. Burke sought the contents of the Stern Report, and the hospital resisted, claiming, among other things, that the Stern Report was protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. The Superior Court ultimately disagreed, however, and, although the case settled while that decision was on appeal, the Superior Court’s analysis (available at 2019 WL 6197040) provides a variety of points that should be of interest to any in-house counsel who is concerned about keeping internal investigations (and other communications) confidential.
First, while MGH asserted that the Stern Report was privileged, the Court focused on two factors to repudiate that assertion: (i) the engagement letter with Attorney Stern did not indicate that any report authored by Attorney Stern would be imbued with … Keep reading
Over the years, I have written a lot of blog posts on the attorney-client privilege, and they cover a wide variety of issues. One issue that comes up very frequently (whether in-house counsel realize it or not) is what happens when a communication with an attorney intertwines legal and business advice? As Marriott Vacations Worldwide found out last year, the answer is not always crystal clear and, more importantly, may create issues for in-house counsel and the client.
As part of Marriott’s discovery responses in RCHFU v. Marriott Vacations Worldwide, the company objected to producing a strategic plan memorandum to the Corporate Growth Committee (the “CGC”) based on the attorney-client privilege. The plaintiff challenged Marriott’s objection, which left Marriott with the burden of proving that the CGC memorandum was privileged. In analyzing the issue, the Court began by recounting a few overarching principles:
Business communications are not protected merely because they are directed to an attorney, and communications at meetings attended or directed by attorneys are not automatically privileged as a result of the attorney’s presence. The corporation must clearly demonstrate that the communication in question was made for the express purpose of securing legal not business
… Keep reading
While most parties and their counsel are vigilant in keeping their communications confidential, so as to avoid any chance that the attorney-client privilege can be invaded, there are some situations in which a party makes a tactical decision to waive that privilege. When this happens, courts generally agree that such a waiver will extend to all communications on the same “subject matter” as the disclosed communications. Having said that, however, there do not appear to be any general guidelines or bright-line tests to determine what is meant by the subject matter of a communication. Rather, such analyses are done on a case-by-case basis.
While trying to determine what a court will define as the scope of the subject matter of a particular communication can be a bit like reading tea leaves, a related area that is even more fraught with peril is where a party decides to have counsel undertake an investigation and then publicizes some or all of a report generated from that investigation. Indeed, this is the exact, and unfortunate, position in which the Hamilton County (Tennessee) Board of Education found itself earlier this year.
In 2015, three members of a high school basketball team located in … Keep reading
While Rules 4.1(a) and 8.4(c) of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from making false statements to third parties and/or engaging in conduct that is dishonest, fraudulent or involves misrepresentations, attorneys (and/or their agents) can use deception to act as “testers” to determine, for instance, if people are engaging in discriminatory or other illegal conduct. Nevertheless, as the plaintiff’s attorneys in Leysock v. Forest Laboratories, Inc. recently found out, getting creative in seeking to dupe people into providing information to bolster a claim can come back to bite you – hard.
In Leysock, the plaintiff’s attorneys at Milberg LLP “engaged in an elaborate scheme of deceptive conduct in order to obtain information from physicians about their prescribing practices.” They did this to garner evidence for a qui tam action they wanted to pursue. More specifically, the attorneys hired a doctor to pretend that he was conducting research through online surveys submitted to other physicians, without disclosing that the information gathered would be used to bolster the allegations in a complaint.
After the defendants learned about this, they moved for sanctions and sought dismissal because the allegations in the Complaint hinged on information that had been culled … Keep reading
In an earlier post, “Is Arbitration Quicker, Cheaper and Better for You?” I discussed why having a faster and less expensive dispute resolution mechanism may not be in your best interest. Make no mistake, however, the differences between traditional litigation and arbitration go well beyond the time and expense it takes to complete the respective processes. The following are a few of the more notable substantive distinctions between these two dispute resolution mechanisms:
- Litigation allows for extensive “discovery” (e.g., depositions, document requests and interrogatories) from parties and non-parties. Discovery in arbitration often is limited to document requests, but can be broadened by the arbitrator or agreement of the parties.
- Because arbitrators are not required to abide by any Federal or State Rules of Evidence, they routinely consider information that never would be admissible in court.
- A “bad” decision in a court of law almost always can be appealed. An arbitrator’s decision, on the other hand, rarely can be appealed – even if it obviously is contrary to the applicable law.
- Notwithstanding a lack of empirical data, most litigators agree that arbitrators are much more likely than a judge/jury to issue a compromise decision and/or one based on fairness principles
… Keep reading
As implied by my prior posting on trustee process attachments (“Gain Leverage By Freezing Bank Accounts – Part I, Offense“), the best way to avoid having your own bank account frozen is to make sure that you do not use a bank that has branches in Massachusetts. Even if your company does bank in Massachusetts, however, there are measures that can be taken to decrease the chances of having the company’s bank account frozen through a trustee process attachment.
An often overlooked fact about trustee process attachments is that payroll accounts are exempt from being attached. Thus, one prophylactic strategy you can employ is to fund your payroll account early and abundantly in order to shield as much money as possible from being attached. Be forewarned, however, that the payroll account exemption only applies if the account is used exclusively for payroll. Thus, if a company places money in its payroll account and later uses it for something other than payroll, the entire account can be attached – even those funds that are needed to comply with the company’s payroll obligation. Accordingly, and because there may be no better way to bring a company to its knees … Keep reading
As all good lawyers know, having leverage is everything, whether you are doing a transaction or trying to settle a dispute. And what could be better leverage than a court order directing your adversary’s bank to freeze the funds in an operating account? Obviously, such a potent weapon could, and often does, allow a plaintiff to dictate the terms of settlement to the defendant. While being able to do this might sound like a fantasy, Massachusetts courts routinely order a freeze on bank accounts through a mechanism called a “trustee process attachment.” Further, some judges even issue trustee process attachments ex parte, i.e., without the defendant having an opportunity to oppose the request for such relief.
If in-house counsel understand how trustee process attachments work, they can help position their companies to more easily (i) obtain trustee process attachments against future adversaries and (ii) avoid having their own bank accounts frozen.… Keep reading
While non-lawyers may not have heard of the term “spoliation,” most people intuitively know that destroying evidence related to an ongoing litigation is a bad thing to do. Conversely, even many lawyers do not know the breadth of a company’s obligation to preserve evidence, particularly electronically stored information (which is quaintly referred to as “ESI”). Further, knowing the basics of this obligation is critical because failing to preserve ESI can lead to monetary penalties, affirmative claims being dismissed and/or defenses being barred.
Perhaps the most common misconception about the obligation to preserve ESI is that a company runs no risk of punishment for having destroyed ESI pursuant to a document retention/destruction policy, as long as such policy (i) is objectively reasonable and (ii) was implemented at a time when no litigation could have been anticipated. Further, at first glance, Rule 37(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would appear to support this notion:
Absent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions under these rules on a party for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system.
While this rule seems simple enough, the … Keep reading