April 28, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: City Waived Immunity by Failing to Maintain Road

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dennis v. City & County of Denver on Thursday, September 22, 2016.

Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Deteriorated Roadway—Unreasonable Risk to Health or Safety of Public.

Heyboer sustained injuries as a passenger on a motorcycle that could not timely brake when a car unexpectedly turned left in front of it. Dennis, as conservator and guardian for Heyboer, brought this negligence and premises liability action against the City and County of Denver (City). The complaint alleged that (1) the City had a duty to maintain the roadway free from dangerous conditions that physically interfered with the movement of traffic, (2) it breached that duty by allowing the roadway to fall into disrepair, (3) it knew of the deteriorated state of the road from prior complaints, and (4) Heyboer’s injuries resulted from the City’s breach of its duty of care.

The City moved to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), asserting immunity and denying the allegations. The district court conducted a hearing and granted the City’s motion.

On appeal, Heyboer argued that she satisfied her burden of proving an unreasonable risk to the health or safety of the public; she contended that the court erred in finding no evidence of an unreasonable risk and, by doing so, erred as a matter of law in refusing to find a waiver of immunity. Both the record and the court’s factual findings demonstrated that the City failed to maintain the road as required by C.R.S. § 24-10-103(2.5), thereby creating an unreasonable risk to the health or safety of the public. The court of appeals concluded that the district court clearly erred in its factual finding that the record contained no evidence of an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of the public. This also leads to the conclusion that it was error to find, as a matter of law, that there was no waiver of immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for reinstatement of the complaint.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Possession of Stolen Property is Crime Involving Moral Turpitude

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Obregon de Leon v. Lynch on Tuesday, December 22, 2015.

Cristian Eduardo Obregon de Leon was a native citizen of Guatemala who entered the United States without inspection in September 1997. In 2007, he adjusted his status to that of a lawful permanent resident (LPR). In 2011, he was charged with and pleaded guilty to four offenses in Oklahoma state court: (1) one count of operation of a chop shop, (2) four counts of possession of vehicles with altered identification numbers, (3) four counts of possession of a stolen vehicle, and (4) two counts of receipt of stolen property.

In January 2013, the Department of Homeland Security filed a Notice to Appear, charging that Mr. Obregon was removable for committing a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). Mr. Obregon admitted the factual allegations at hearing but denied removability, arguing his crimes did not qualify as CIMTs. The Immigration Judge ultimately found that all four crimes counted as CIMTs and concluded he was not eligible for waiver relief. Mr. Obregon appealed, and a single BIA judge dismissed his appeal, concluding that the stolen property offenses counted as CIMTs because they required a mens rea of knowing the property was stolen.

Mr. Obregon appealed to the Tenth Circuit, arguing none of his convictions counted as CIMTs and that he should be eligible for waiver because he adjusted to LPR status after entering the United States. The Tenth Circuit first evaluated the term “crime involving moral turpitude,” and determined it was quintessentially ambiguous. However, following several other circuits and BIA precedent, the Tenth Circuit found that possession of stolen property satisfies the scienter element to create a CIMT. Mr. Obregon argued there must be intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the property, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding Mr. Obregon’s “application of legal imagination” did not suffice to show that the requisite scienter was permanent deprivation. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the BIA’s determination that Mr. Obregon’s possession of stolen property crimes were crimes involving moral turpitude.

However, as to Mr. Obregon’s argument that he was eligible for waiver because he adjusted his status to that of LPR after entering the United States, the Tenth Circuit agreed. Following recent Tenth Circuit and BIA precedent, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the plain language of the waiver statute barred application for waiver only for those who received LPR status before or upon entering the United States.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Must Personally Waive Presence During Crucial Times of Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Janis on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Erin Janis stabbed Farest Logan outside a bar on Colfax. Janis, who was quickly apprehended by police, admitted to stabbing Logan, but asserted she did it in self-defense because he had helped someone else rape her and had assaulted her previously that day. Logan said he was just standing outside the bar when Janis stabbed him. Janis was charged with first degree assault.

At trial, defense counsel approached the bench during Logan’s testimony and informed the court that Janis was suffering ill effects from her psychiatric diagnoses and needed to leave the courtroom. The court granted defense counsel’s request without questioning Janis. She was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison, and appealed her sentence and conviction.

The court of appeals addressed whether a defendant in custody can waive appearance through counsel, and determined that it could not. Janis was in custody during the trial and was available for the court to question her regarding whether waiving her right to confront Logan was voluntary. Because the right to confront adverse witnesses is grounded in the Sixth Amendment and is fundamental, Janis was deprived of her right to a fair trial by not personally waiving her appearance.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

The 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Part 3 of 3)

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series discussing the 2015 changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Part 1 discussed the changes to Rules 1, 4, and 16, and is available here. Part 2 discussed the changes to Rule 26, and is available here

Bill_GrohBy William C. Groh, III

Changes to Rules 30, 31, and 33

Rules 30 and 31, which govern depositions, have been amended to account for the changes to Rule 26. Both rules require that when the parties seek leave of court to conduct depositions, “the court must grant leave to the extent consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2).” Rule 33, governing interrogatories, has also been amended to reflect the proportionality requirements of Rule 26(b).

Rule 34

Like Rules 30, 31, and 33, the amendments to Rule 34 (governing requests for production) incorporate the changes to Rule 26. They also require greater specificity in objecting to discovery requests. New Rule 34(b)(2)(B) requires the responding party to “state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons.”

New Rule 34(b)(2)(C) further clarifies this requirement by requiring that “an objection must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection.” In practical terms, however, a party will not necessarily have detailed knowledge of withheld documents. This is especially so if a responding party has conducted a limited search for documents based on an objection: how can the party specify what has been “withheld” in these circumstances?

The Committee Notes address these questions, providing that in objecting to a request, “[t]he producing party does not need to provide a detailed description or log of all documents withheld, but does need to alert other parties to the fact that documents have been withheld and thereby facilitate an informed discussion of the objection.” [1]  The Committee Notes also address the issue of limited searches, providing that “an objection that states the limits that have controlled the search for responsive and relevant materials qualifies as a statement that the materials have been ‘withheld.’”[2]

Finally, Rule 34(b)(2)(B) has been amended to reflect the “common practice” of producing documents rather than permitting inspection.[3] The new rule provides that “[t]he responding party may state that it will produce copies of documents or of electronically stored information instead of permitting inspection. The production must then be completed no later than the time for inspection specified in the request or another reasonable time specified in the response.”[4]

Rule 37

The amendments to Rule 37(e) provide more guidance regarding the failure to preserve ESI. Prior Rule 37(e), adopted in 2006, provided that “[a]bsent 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 the rule implied authority to impose sanctions on a finding of bad faith, it provided no other specific criteria.

New Rule 37(e) provides a more comprehensive framework for courts to issue sanctions in the event of loss of ESI where “a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery.” As a preliminary matter, while New Rule 37(e)(1) requires a finding of prejudice resulting from a negligent failure to preserve ESI, it does not place a burden of proving or disproving prejudice on one party or the other. The Committee Notes indicate that under certain circumstances, it would be unfair for the party that did not lose the information to demonstrate prejudice. Under other circumstances, however, the content of the lost information might be “fairly evident” and perhaps unimportant in light of other available information; the Committee Notes suggest that the party seeking relief should be required to demonstrate prejudice under those circumstances.[5] In light of these considerations, the rule leaves the court with discretion as to how best to assess prejudice.[6]

Once prejudice has been found, New Rule 37(e)(1) states that the court “may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice.” The court is afforded wide discretion in fashioning appropriate remedies, depending on the circumstances. The Committee Notes caution, however, that “authority to order measures no greater than necessary to cure prejudice does not require the court to adopt measures to cure every possible prejudicial effect.”[7]

No finding of prejudice is required, however, to impose sanctions when a party has acted “with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation.”[8] Sanctions for the willful destruction of ESI include (1) presumptions that the lost information was unfavorable to the party, (2) adverse jury instructions, or (3) dismissal of the action or default judgment.[9] The Committee Notes caution that these more punitive remedies should not be confused with the “curative” remedies available under Rule 26(e)(1), noting that courts should:

ensure that curative measures under subdivision (e)(1) do not have the effect of measures that are permitted under subdivision (e)(2) only on a finding of intent to deprive another party of the lost information’s use in the litigation. An example of an inappropriate (e)(1) measure might be an order striking pleadings related to, or precluding a party from offering any evidence in support of, the central or only claim or defense in the case. On the other hand, it may be appropriate to exclude a specific item of evidence to offset prejudice caused by failure to preserve other evidence that might contradict the excluded item of evidence.[10]

Lastly, and while not incorporated into Rule 37(e) itself, the Committee Notes provide considerable analysis as to how courts should determine whether a party has taken reasonable steps to preserve ESI. The Committee Notes describe factors to address in considering when a duty to preserve may have arisen, as well as proportionality factors in evaluating what preservation measures may have been reasonable.[11] They also emphasize that Rule 37(e) does not apply when a party loses information despite reasonable preservation efforts.[12] Finally, the Committee Notes explore the distinction between independent common law or statutory duties to preserve information and the obligations triggered under New Rule 37(e).[13] Litigants attempting to evaluate the sufficiency of preservation efforts should reference these notes in addition to the existing case law.

Rules 55 and 84

Rule 55, governing default judgments, has also been amended to clarify the difference between entry of default and entry of a final judgment. An entry of default that does not dispose of all issues in the case may be set aside for good cause under New Rule 55. If, on the other hand, an entry of default results in a final judgment under Rule 54, such a judgment can be set aside only under the standards of Rule 60. Finally, Rule 84 has been amended to abrogate the appendix of forms.

Conclusion

The 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules may very well reinvigorate many preexisting standards for the conduct of discovery in federal courts. While many contend that the amendments to Rule 26 will spawn considerable motions practice, others argue that the amendments will ultimately help streamline the discovery process. Other developments, such as the new framework for sanctions under Rule 37(e), will provide the court with additional tools to deal appropriately with failure to preserve ESI.


[1] 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 34.

[2]. Id.

[3]. Id. at 38.

[4]. New Rule 34(b)(2)(B).

[5]. Id. at 43, 47.

[6]. Id.

[7]. Id. at 44.

[8]. New Rule 37(e)(2).

[9]. New Rule 37(e)(2)(A), (B), and (C).

[10]. 2015 Committee Notes, note 4 at 44.

[11]. Id. at 39-41.

[12]. Id. at 41.

[13]. Id. at 40 (“The fact that a party had an independent obligation to preserve information does not necessarily mean that it had such a duty with respect to the litigation, and the fact that the party failed to observe some other preservation obligation does not itself prove that its efforts to preserve were not reasonable with respect to a particular case.”).


Bill Groh is an experienced commercial litigator who has represented individuals and small businesses in a variety of fields since 2005. Mr. Groh frequently handles matters involving both intellectual property and commercial litigation issues, including trademark infringement, copyright infringement, trade secret infringement, civil disputes involving breach of contract, business partnerships, allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, civil theft, actions for dissolution of partnership interest, and other such disputes that are increasingly common in modern business.

The 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Part 2 of 3)

Bill_Groh

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series discussing the 2015 changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Part 1 discussed the changes to Rules 1, 4, and 16, and is available here. Part 3 will discuss the changes to Rules 30, 31, 33, 34, 37, 55, and 84. 

By William C. Groh, III

Rule 26

The changes to Rule 26(b)(1), which governs the scope of discovery, have generated considerable controversy and debate. The amended rule introduces two main changes. First, it does away with the “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” language while clarifying the definition of “relevant information” in relation to the proper scope of discovery.[1] Second, the amended rule emphasizes that discovery must be “proportional to the needs of the case,” introducing a six-factor test by which the courts must determine proportionality.[2]

Redefining “Relevance”

The “relevance” standard under New Rule 26(b)(1) is narrower and more streamlined than in the prior rule. While Prior Rule 26(b)(1) allowed for discovery relevant to any claim or defense,[3] it also allowed for discovery of “any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action” upon a showing of good cause. It provided that “relevant” information need not be admissible “if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”[4] New Rule 26(b)(1) is more restrictive. It does away with the “relevant to the subject matter” and “reasonably calculated” standards. The new rule requires that discovery be “relevant to any party’s claim or defense.” Discovery fitting this relevance criterion “need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.”[5]

The elimination of the “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” language is technically less substantive than it may seem. The Committee Notes point out that the wording of Prior Rule 26(b)(1) has caused practitioners to cite the “reasonably calculated” language as the general standard for the scope of discovery instead of the true “relevance” standard.[6] The Committee Notes emphasize that the appropriate scope is “relevance” to claims and defenses, and New Rule 26(b)(1) removes the “reasonably calculated” language to prevent further confusion.[7]

New Rule 26(b)(1) also no longer permits discovery that is merely “relevant to the subject matter involved in the action,” even on a showing of good cause.[8] Discovery under the new rule must be “relevant to any party’s claims or defense,” but what does that mean in practice? The Committee Notes cite illustrative examples including “other incidents of the same type, or involving the same product”; “information about organizational arrangements or filing systems”; and “information that could be used to impeach a likely witness.”[9] The Federal Rules Advisory Committee first introduced these examples in the Committee Notes to the 2000 amendments to Rule 26. The Committee Notes to the 2000 amendment acknowledge that a bright-line rule distinguishing “relevance to claims and defenses” from “relevance to subject matter” is not practical, given the case-specific nature of the criteria.[10]

New Rule 26(b)(1) also no longer expressly describes the scope of discovery as including “the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter.”[11] This change is cosmetic. As the Advisory Committee explains, “[d]iscovery of such matters is so deeply entrenched in practice that it is no longer necessary to clutter the long text of Rule 26 with these examples.”[12]

The above changes refocus the scope of discovery on relevance to claims and defenses. These changes make it more likely that courts will sustain objections to discovery of subject matter that is not in itself “relevant” to the parties’ claims and defenses as expressed in the pleadings.

The Six-Factor “Proportionality” Test

Possibly the flagship feature of the 2015 amendments to Rule 26, New Rule 26(b)(1) requires that, in addition to being relevant, discovery be “proportional to the needs of the case.” The New Rule also sets out six factors that guide the determination of “proportionality”:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Many public commentators have expressed both optimism and concern about the “new” requirements that the proportionality test would impose on litigants and the courts. Opponents argued that a formal proportionality test would make discovery more difficult by imposing a new layer of motions practice over “proportionality” in every case. As one commentator wrote:

I strongly oppose the amendment to Rule 26(b) injecting a proportionality test into the Rules. Under the current Rules, many of my adversaries routinely include boilerplate objections in to their responses to virtually every discovery request that I send. If this proposed change is adopted, I am confident that those boilerplate objections will be joined by an objection that the discovery requests are not proportional to the needs of the case. This, in turn, will generate unnecessary litigation over proportionality every time that a new discovery request is served.[13]

Other commentators expressed optimism about the changes. As one supporter wrote:

This change would provide a significant improvement compared to the overbroad scope of discovery defined by current Rule 26(b)(1) by reducing the costs and burdens in discovery practice. In addition, I support moving the proportionality language presently found in Rule 26(b)(2)(C)(iii) to 26(b)(1). This modification would remind parties that the principle of proportionality applies to all discovery and would encourage parties and judges to focus on what discovery should mean to each individual case.[14]

In addressing these and other comments, the Advisory Committee emphasized that Rule 26 already includes most of the above “proportionality” requirements.[15] Indeed, the only new factor is “the parties’ relative access to relevant information.” Other proportionality factors found in the old version of 26(b)(2)(C) include (1) analysis of the burden imposed by the discovery versus its likely benefit, (2) the importance of the issues at stake, (3) the amount in controversy, (4) the resources of the parties, and (5) the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues. In other words, the “proportionality” test does not introduce an altogether “new” standard so much as it re-emphasizes and re-prioritizes existing standards. The amended criteria are designed to refocus norms of discovery practice by giving existing proportionality requirements more conspicuous treatment in the rules.

The proportionality test found in New Rule 26(b)(1) borrows much of its language from Prior Rule 26(b)(2)(C), which allowed the courts to limit discovery upon a determination that “the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties’ resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.” Prior Rule 26(b)(1) subjected the scope of discovery to the “limitations imposed by 26(b)(2)(C)” but only incorporated the limiting language by reference. The new rule expressly imports this language from Prior Rule 26(b)(2)(C) and places it “front and center” in Rule 26(b)(1).

The Committee Notes describe the above changes as a re-emphasis of current standards, stating:

The present amendment restores the proportionality factors to their original place in defining the scope of discovery. This change reinforces the Rule 26(g) obligation of the parties to consider these factors in making discovery requests, responses, or objections. Restoring the proportionality calculation to Rule 26(b)(1) does not change the existing responsibilities of the court and the parties to consider proportionality, and the change does not place on the party seeking discovery the burden of addressing all proportionality considerations.[16]

Something old, something new. For better or for worse, commentators generally agree that, by putting the question of proportionality front and center, disputes over proportionality will likely increase motions practice as the new rule takes effect. The Tenth Circuit did not require courts to make formal findings applying the proportionality factors as they existed under the old rules.[17] Courts and litigants generally did not systematically apply these factors in discovery or related motions practice. As the District of Maryland observed:

Despite the obvious utility of the [Prior] Rule 26(b)(2) factors in tailoring discovery to accommodate fair disclosure without imposing undue burden or expense, they have tended largely to be ignored by litigants, and, less frequently than desirable, used by the courts, sua sponte, to manage discovery. Instead, particularly with respect to disputes involving Rule 33 and Rule 34 discovery, the focus of the litigants tends to be the party seeking discovery’s perceived “right” to all information relating to the broad “subject matter” of the litigation, without any reflection as to the real usefulness of the information sought, or the burden or expense required to produce it, countered by the party resisting the discovery’s unparticularized claims of burden, expense, irrelevance, and privilege.[18]

It is therefore important to consider how courts might formally apply the six criteria as a group in the context of determining whether challenged discovery meets the proportionality requirements of the new rule.

Factor 1: importance of the issues at stake. The Rules Committee deliberately chose “the importance of the issues” as the first of the six factors, placing it before even “the amount in controversy.” The Committee made this decision to emphasize that the amount in controversy does not trump issues of substantive justice.[19] What constitutes an “important issue,” however, remains open to question. The Advisory Committee cites the earlier 1983 Committee Note, which discussed this concept in terms of “vitally important personal or public values,” stating:

The 1983 Committee Note recognized “the significance of the substantive issues, as measured in philosophic, social, or institutional terms. Thus the rule recognizes that many cases in public policy spheres, such as employment practices, free speech, and other matters, may have importance far beyond the monetary amount involved.” Many other substantive areas also may involve litigation that seeks relatively small amounts of money, or no money at all, but that seeks to vindicate vitally important personal or public values.[20]

The placement of “importance of the issues” before “amount in controversy” was also in response to comments strongly objecting to a prior version of the amendment that placed “amount in controversy” first. As one attorney warned, “[f]ew of our cases are likely to garner in excess of six figures, so putting ‘the amount in controversy,’ before ‘the importance of the issues at stake,’ spells the death knell for employment litigation.”[21]

Other comments questioned the wisdom of requiring judges to evaluate the “importance” of some cases over others. As one commentator noted:

One judge will assess the “importance of the issues at stake” vastly differently from another or perhaps even differently than the judge himself might on another day (for reasons initially described in Judge Jerome Frank’s “Courts on Trial,” but that are becoming more well-documented through studies of decision-making based on “implicit biases” or “blind spots”). Judges—like all humans—are likely to value issues with which they have experience over issues with which they have little or no experience. Justice Thurgood Marshall presumably would place greater value on civil rights issues based on his legal background; Justice Tom Clark, who he replaced, presumably would place greater value on national security issues and corporate fraud or antitrust issues based on his experiences. . . .[22]

Nonetheless, New Rule 26(b)(1) provides potential ammunition for those seeking discovery in cases implicating important policy questions, even if the amount in controversy is relatively small. On the other hand, the “importance of the issues” criterion could pose an obstacle in cases involving small amounts in controversy, high discovery costs, and garden-variety legal issues.

Factor 2: the amount in controversy. This criterion is relatively straightforward, though not uncontroversial. Cases involving low amounts in controversy implicitly mandate a more streamlined approach to discovery, lest the parties spend more than the case’s monetary value on costly discovery issues.

Consideration of the amount in controversy invites analysis of the costs of the proposed discovery. An amount in controversy of $20,000 would theoretically weigh against allowing a discovery request that would cost $20,000 to comply with. On the other hand, what if the discovery costs are high because the responding party’s records are disorganized or difficult to search?

One may expect courts to tackle this problem by assessing whether the responding party’s asserted costs are reasonable under the circumstances. However, with information storage and retrieval technology rapidly changing even from year to year, it would be difficult for the courts to develop objective metrics that would keep pace with changing technology.

Factor 3: parties’ relative access to relevant information. As the “new factor” in the equation, the Advisory Committee Notes describe “Relative Access” as an attempt to address the problem of “information asymmetry.” As the Committee Notes point out:

One party—often an individual plaintiff—may have very little discoverable information. The other party may have vast amounts of information, including information that can be readily retrieved and information that is more difficult to retrieve. In practice these circumstances often mean that the burden of responding to discovery lies heavier on the party who has more information, and properly so.[23]

This factor therefore deals with whether the party seeking discovery has reasonable access to the information requested by other means. Even if the requesting party technically has other means of access, this factor may still favor discovery if the producing party can produce the requested information quickly and easily.

Factor 4: the parties’ resources. While New Rule 26(b)(1) requires consideration of the parties’ resources, the Advisory Committee has cautioned against an overuse of this factor in limiting or allowing discovery. Citing prior Committee Notes on the subject, the Committee Notes state:

[C]onsideration of the parties’ resources does not foreclose discovery requests addressed to an impecunious party, nor justify unlimited discovery requests addressed to a wealthy party. The 1983 Committee Note cautioned that “[t]he court must apply the standards in an even-handed manner that will prevent use of discovery to wage a war of attrition or as a device to coerce a party, whether financially weak or affluent.”[24]

Where the parties’ resources are a factor, a protective order under New Rule 26(c)(1)(B), which explicitly provides for the allocation of expenses, can also shift the costs of producing the discovery in appropriate cases.

Factor 5: the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues. The “importance” factor requires assessment of the degree to which the discovery is necessary to prove a claim or defense. Courts analyzing this factor may consider the discovery’s relevance to a claim or defense as well as whether the issues implicated are central to the case.[25]

Factor 6: whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. While much case law currently addresses the cost-benefit analysis of discovery, the Committee Notes also point out that this analysis should consider the ever-evolving capability of electronic search methods, stating:

The burden or expense of proposed discovery should be determined in a realistic way. This includes the burden or expense of producing electronically stored information. Computer-based methods of searching such information continue to develop, particularly for cases involving large volumes of electronically stored information. Courts and parties should be willing to consider the opportunities for reducing the burden or expense of discovery as reliable means of searching electronically stored information become available.[26]

These comments make clear that the relevance of today’s arguments about burden and expense may change significantly as new means of search and retrieval of ESI become commonplace.

This factor is also controversial. While it may limit unnecessarily burdensome discovery, commentators have expressed concern that “burdensomeness” arguments provide opportunities for gamesmanship. Comments submitted by the American Association for Justice cautioned that “this factor upends the incentives for defendants to preserve documents in an easily accessible format and encourages them to ensure that discovery will be too expensive or difficult to retrieve.”[27] On the other hand, the courts have been and remain equipped to compel important discovery if it finds a party’s alleged “burden” in producing the discovery appears to be self-inflicted.[28]

Other considerations regarding the proportionality test. Some public commentators have expressed concern that the “proportionality” test will burden the party seeking discovery with demonstrating proportionality.[29]

The Committee Notes imply a shared burden to demonstrate (or refute) proportionality, pointing out that the proportionality test “does not place on the party seeking discovery the burden of addressing all proportionality considerations,” and is not intended to “permit the opposing party to refuse discovery simply by making a boilerplate objection that it is not proportional. The parties and the court have a collective responsibility to consider the proportionality of all discovery and consider it in resolving discovery disputes.” [30]

While courts have not yet interpreted the “shared” burden to demonstrate proportionality, existing case law suggests that each party will be required to present facts within their possession in objecting to or compelling discovery.

As the District of Colorado has observed:

When the discovery sought appears relevant, the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevancy by demonstrating that the requested discovery (1) does not come within the scope of relevance as defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or (2) is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure. . . . However, when a request for discovery is overly broad on its face or when relevancy is not readily apparent, the party seeking the discovery has the burden to show the relevancy of the request.[31]

Shifting the cost of discovery. Rule 26(c)(1)(B) has also been amended to recognize expressly the court’s authority to allocate discovery costs as part of a protective order. Such orders may be especially useful in cases in which the parties cannot agree on proportionality. Depending on the circumstances, a party may seek a cost-shifting protective order as a way to resolve controversies over the burdensomeness of particular requests.

Early discovery requests and discovery sequencing. New Rule 26(d)(2) allows parties to deliver Rule 34 production requests ahead of the Rule 26(f) conference. Under the new rule, responses are not considered served until the conference occurs. Responses are due within 30 days (not 33)[32] after the conference. The new rule allows the parties to stipulate or move the court for longer deadlines. Finally, New Rule 26(d)(2) allows the parties to stipulate as to the sequence of discovery without requiring a motion or court order.


 

[1]. See New Rule 26(b)(1).

[2]. Id.

[3]. Prior Rule 26(b)(1).

[4]. See id.

[5]. See New Rule 26(b)(1).

[6]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 24.

[7]. Id.

[8]. See New Rule 26(b)(1).

[9]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 23.

[10]. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 at Committee Notes to 2000 Amendment. The 2000 Committee Notes emphasize that “[t]he dividing line between information relevant to the claims and defenses and that relevant only to the subject matter of the action cannot be defined with precision,” and caution that the relevance of particular information to the case “depends on the circumstances of the pending action.”

[11]. New Rule 26(b)(1).

[12]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 23.

[13]. Comment from Allan Karlin, www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USC-RULES-CV-2013-0002-2171.

[14]. Comment from Gregory Grisham, www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USC-RULES-CV-2013-0002-2218.

[15]. See 2015 Committee Notes,  supra note 4 at 19.

[16]. Id.

[17]. In re Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 568 F.3d 1180, 1194 (10th Cir. 2009) (finding that Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii) does not require a formalistic and detailed balancing of the factors listed therein.).

[18]. Thompson v. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 199 F.R.D. 168, 171 (D.Md. 2001).

[19]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 17.

[20]. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 at 1983 Amendment Committee Notes.

[21]. Comment from Suzanne Tongring, www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USC-RULES-CV-2013-0002-1908.

[22]. Comment from J. Byran Wood, www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USC-RULES-CV-2013-0002-2112.

[23]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 20-21.

[24]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 22.

[25]. See, e.g., In re Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Antitrust Litigation, 301 F.R.D. 449, 455 (N.D.Cal., 2014.)

[26]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 22.

[27]. Comment from American Association for Justice President J. Burton LeBlanc (submitter Richard Williger), www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USC-RULES-CV-2013-0002-2046.

[28]. See, e.g., Foster v. Logan’s Roadhouse, Inc., 2013 WL 1498958, at *4 (N.D.Ala. 2013) (“Even so, plaintiff should not be prevented from obtaining necessary discovery simply because defendant has chosen to maintain its records in a manner that makes searches difficult and time-consuming. Overall, the importance of the discovery to plaintiff outweighs defendant’s burden in producing it.”).

[29]. See, e.g., Comment from John Vail, Center for Constitutional Litigation, www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USC-RULES-CV-2013-0002-0199 (“Instead of a requesting party being entitled to information unless the opposing party shows disproportionality, a requesting party now would be entitled to information only upon affirmatively demonstrating proportionality.”).

[30]. 2015 Committee Notes, supra note 4 at 43.

[31]. Bonanno v. Quizno’s Franchise Co., LLC, 255 F.R.D. 550, 552 (D.Colo. 2009).

[32]. Because New Rule 16 deems the Rule 26(f) conference to constitute “service” of a previously delivered Rule 34 request, the “service” was not accomplished by the prior delivery of the requests. As such, delivery of a Rule 34 Discovery Request by electronic means prior to the Rule 26(f) conference should not trigger the time extending provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(d) that would apply if the requests were electronically served after the Rule 26(f) conference.


Bill Groh is an experienced commercial litigator who has represented individuals and small businesses in a variety of fields since 2005. Mr. Groh frequently handles matters involving both intellectual property and commercial litigation issues, including trademark infringement, copyright infringement, trade secret infringement, civil disputes involving breach of contract, business partnerships, allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, civil theft, actions for dissolution of partnership interest, and other such disputes that are increasingly common in modern business.

The 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Part 1 of 3)

Bill_Groh

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series discussing the 2015 changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Part 2 will discuss the changes to Rule 26 and Part 3 will discuss the changes to Rules 30, 31, 33, 34, 37, 55, and 84. 

By William C. Groh, III

New and important changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Federal Rules) took effect on December 1, 2015 and apply to all newly filed cases as well as currently pending cases “insofar as just and practicable.”[1] The changes affect Rules 1, 4, 16, 26, 30, 31, 33, 34, 37, 55, and 84. They deal primarily with the scope of discovery, case management, and preservation of electronically stored information (ESI). The amendments generally reflect an effort to refocus litigants’ ongoing obligation to conduct discovery efficiently and in appropriate proportion to the needs of the case at issue. The redline version of the 2015 amendments, with committee notes, is available for download at www.uscourts.gov/file/18481/download.

Rule 1

Rule 1 previously was a rule of construction that required the courts to administer the Federal Rules to ensure “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination” of civil actions.[2] The wording placed responsibility on the courts. New Rule 1 expressly requires the courts and the parties to construe, administer and employ the Federal Rules to achieve these goals.[3]

Rule 4

Rule 4 has changed to provide a mandatory form to be used for requesting waiver of service. Prior Rule 4 contained an example waiver form but permitted other formats as long as they followed the rule’s substantive requirements. The waiver of service form provided with New Rule 4 is now mandatory. The Rule 4 form can be downloaded at www.cod.uscourts.gov/Portals/0/Documents/Forms/CivilForms/notice-n-waiver-of-serv-summons.pdf.

Rule 16

The amendments to Rule 16 are designed to encourage speedier scheduling and greater court involvement in ensuring the preservation of ESI. New Rule 16(b)(1)(B) does away with the provision allowing communication by “telephone, mail, or other means” to substitute for a Rule 16(b) scheduling conference. The parties and the court must engage in direct simultaneous communication, either in person, by telephone, or by other means.[4]

New Rule 16 shortens the deadline for the court to issue its scheduling order. While the deadline was 120 days under Prior Rule 16, New Rule 16 requires the court to issue the court scheduling order within 90 days after service of the complaint or 60 days after the appearance of any defendant. The court may extend this deadline upon a finding of good cause.

Prior Rule 16(b)(3)(B) included a list of items for consideration in entering the court scheduling order. New Rule 16(b)(3)(B) adds to this list, providing that the court may also include protocols for preservation of ESI. This change is apropos considering the changes to Rule 37 governing sanctions for failure to preserve ESI, discussed below. The new rule also permits the court to add agreed protocols for dealing with the disclosure of privileged information under FRE 502, and to require the parties to request a conference before the court before filing discovery motions. In light of these new items, Rule 26(f)(3) has also been changed to require the parties to address these issues at their Rule 26(f) conference.

 


[1]. See J. Roberts order adopting amendments subject to congressional approval at 15 (April 29, 2015), www.uscourts.gov/file/document/congress-materials,  P. 15 (“the foregoing amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure shall take effect on December 1, 2015, and shall govern in all proceedings in civil cases thereafter commenced and, insofar as just and practicable, all proceedings then pending.”).

[2]. See Prior Rule 1. The prior rule required that the federal rules “should be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”

[3]. New Rule 1.

[4]. Proposed Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (with Committee Notes) at 7, www.uscourts.gov/file/18481/download (2015 Committee Notes).


 

Bill Groh is an experienced commercial litigator who has represented individuals and small businesses in a variety of fields since 2005. Mr. Groh frequently handles matters involving both intellectual property and commercial litigation issues, including trademark infringement, copyright infringement, trade secret infringement, civil disputes involving breach of contract, business partnerships, allegations of breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, civil theft, actions for dissolution of partnership interest, and other such disputes that are increasingly common in modern business.

Tenth Circuit: Waiver of 11th Amendment Immunity Applies to All Divisions of State Department of Labor

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arbogast v. State of Kansas Department of Labor on Friday, June 19, 2015.

Kathleen Arbogast worked for the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) in the Workers’ Compensation Division and suffers from asthma. She complained that her co-workers’ perfumes were triggering asthma attacks, so the Division moved her to an office in the basement in September 2010, but she continued to have asthma attacks when co-workers would visit her office. In August 2011, Ms. Arbogast was terminated by her supervisor, Karin Brownlee. Ms. Arbogast filed suit in January 2013, asserting claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, and named as defendants KDOL and Brownlee in her individual capacity. KDOL sought to dismiss the Rehabilitation Act claims, arguing KDOL lacks the capacity to sue or be sued and Kansas has not waived its judicial immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The district court denied KDOL’s motion to dismiss and KDOL brought an interlocutory appeal.

The Tenth Circuit first examined its appellate jurisdiction to consider KDOL’s claim that it lacked capacity to be sued. KDOL argued that under state law, as a mere agency of the state, it lacked capacity to sue or be sued, and the collateral order doctrine conferred immediate jurisdiction on the Tenth Circuit to hear the issue. However, at oral argument, KDOL’s counsel conceded that the collateral order doctrine may not permit interlocutory review of the capacity argument. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the concession. Citing three requirements to invoke jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, i.e., (1) the district court’s order conclusively resolved the disputed issue, (2) the order resolved an issue separate from the merits of the case, and (3) the order is effectively unreviewable on order from final judgment, the Tenth Circuit found KDOL’s argument failed at the first prong because the district court did not conclusively determine KDOL’s capacity to sue or be sued. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the issue on appeal.

Next, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether KDOL waived Eleventh Amendment immunity by accepting funds for the Unemployment Insurance Division housed within the Department of Labor. KDOL contended that because Ms. Arbogast worked for the Workers’ Compensation Division, not the Unemployment Insurance Division, there was no waiver of immunity. Looking at the Rehabilitation Act, the Tenth Circuit found the plain language included in the waiver of immunity “all the operations of . . . a department . . . of a State.” Since the Workers’ Compensation Division and Unemployment Insurance Division were both housed in the Kansas Department of Labor, the acceptance of funds for the Unemployment Insurance Division constituted a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity for the entire Department of Labor. Kansas argued that extending the waiver of immunity to the Workers’ Compensation Division when it received no federal funds would violate the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Tenth Circuit found the first Dole factor was satisfied because allowing those who suffer discrimination to bring private causes of action is “reasonably calculated” to achieve Congress’s goal of combating discrimination. KDOL also argued it did not have notice of its waiver, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the plain language of the Rehabilitation Act provided sufficient notice that the waiver extended to all the operations of the department. KDOL also argued that the waiver of immunity is unrelated to the federal interest justifying expenditure of the funds, but the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding that Congress’s intent to eliminate discrimination based on disability was reasonably related to its distribution of federal funds.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction KDOL’s argument that it lacked capacity to be sued. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding of a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Tenth Circuit: Federal Court Must Defer to State Court Findings of Knowing and Intelligent Miranda Waiver

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Al-Yousif v. Trani on Friday, March 6, 2015.

Naif Al-Yousif, a native of Saudi Arabia who studied English in the United States for several months, participated with his two roommates to rob and murder a friend who was visiting from Saudi Arabia and dispose of his body in a dumpster. After the killing, Al-Yousif fled to California, but his brother convinced him to return to Colorado. Upon his return, Detective Guigli arrested him and took him to the police station and questioned him with another officer, Detective Martinez, while videotaping the interview. Detective Martinez read a Miranda advisement, and Al-Yousif nodded while the advisement was being read. Martinez asked Al-Yousif if he understood and Al-Yousif said he did. He also signed the advisement form. He spoke to the detectives and made several inculpatory statements, then led them to the dumpster where they had disposed of the body. After that, the detectives returned with Al-Yousif to the police station and again advised him of his rights, at which point he requested an attorney.

Before trial, Al-Yousif moved to suppress the video of the police interrogation, asserting he had not knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. The trial court heard testimony and reviewed the video, and ultimately ruled to suppress the video despite its impression that Al-Yousif responded appropriately to questions and understood the questions posed to him, finding that the State failed to show a knowing and intelligent waiver. On interlocutory appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, ruling that Defendant sufficiently understood his rights and the waiver was therefore valid. The video of the interrogation was admitted at trial, and the jury ultimately convicted him. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. On direct appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals vacated his conviction for theft by receiving, merged the robbery and felony murder convictions, and otherwise affirmed the trial court. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari but then denied it as improvidently granted. The court denied a petition for rehearing. Al-Yousif filed an unsuccessful petition for post-conviction relief and the Colorado Supreme Court denied review.

Al-Yousif then petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado for habeas corpus relief. Although the habeas petition was not timely filed, the district court granted equitable tolling and ruled on the merits, finding that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was contrary to and an unreasonable application of Miranda. The State of Colorado appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first analyzed the district court’s grant of equitable tolling under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Ordinarily, habeas petitions must be filed no later than one year after the state judgment becomes final. In this case, the petition was filed three days late. Defendant asserted his petition was timely because the Colorado Supreme Court denied the motion for rehearing on April 10, 2008, according to a printout he received from the federal district court. However, the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion was actually issued on April 7, 2008, and received by the federal court on April 10. When the state pointed out Defendant’s error, he asserted that he should be afforded the opportunity to assert equitable tolling. The district court applied equitable tolling without allowing the state to argue in response or make a record.

The Tenth Circuit held that this was error. Quoting prior case law, the Tenth Circuit held that equitable tolling is a rare remedy and should only be applied in unusual circumstances. Plaintiff’s error in this case could have been prevented if his counsel had spoken to defense counsel from the prior state court case, or had requested the opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court instead of relying on the information in the federal district court’s system. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of equitable tolling.

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed Al-Yousif’s Miranda claim, and found that it owed little deference to the federal district court’s decision. In contrast, the Tenth Circuit found it owed great deference to the Colorado state court decision denying suppression of Al-Yousif’s videotaped interrogation. Under AEDPA, the federal court cannot grant habeas relief to a prisoner with respect to a claim the state court rejected on the merits unless the state court’s decision was contrary to clearly established federal law.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed the Colorado Supreme Court’s denial of suppression of Defendant’s statements, and found it applied a “totality of the circumstances” test and held that the circumstances surrounding the waiver showed that Defendant sufficiently understood his rights. Defendant asked for clarification when he did not understand a question or word during the interrogation, but did not ask for clarification during his Miranda advisement. The court further stated that a defendant need not understand the tactical implication of Miranda rights in order to waive them.

The Tenth Circuit noted that a defendant’s understanding of his Miranda rights is a question of fact entitled to deference under AEDPA. The Tenth Circuit averred it must defer to that finding unless the defendant shows clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, which the instant defendant did not do. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of habeas relief.

The Colorado Lawyer: Effective Conflict Waivers

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.

By J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, and Lino S. LipinskyEvans-Klevens-Lipinsky


Authors’ Note:
The references to “safest courses to proceed,” “safest course,” or “best practices” in this series of articles in the “Whoops—Legal Malpractice Prevention” department are not intended to suggest that the Colorado Rules require such actions. Rather, these references reflect actual experience and results from defending legal malpractice claims, where attorneys are often best served if they follow the best practice rather than simply complying with the bare minimum that the Rules of Professional Conduct require.

For example, as explained in this article on “Effective Conflict Waivers,” a client’s oral consent to a conflict waiver should always be confirmed in writing for an obvious reason—to avoid factual disputes that may result from differing recollections or testimony. Hence, the best practice is to obtain a written confirmation signed by the client. This protects both the attorney and the client because it reduces the risk that the client will later disclaim having provided the consent. The Colorado Rules, however, also permit the attorney to document the client’s consent to the waiver in a writing provided to the client, although experience suggests that this is not a best practice. In any event, as stated in the article, the writing, whether obtained by or transmitted to the client, must be created within a reasonable time of obtaining the client’s oral consent to the conflict waiver. The authors welcome and comments and feedback on these articles and are happy to discuss them.


By performing fast and broad computer searches, attorneys and law firms are able to identify potential conflicts of interest. But, like the dog that catches the bus, many attorneys encountering a potential conflict invariably face the important question of “What now?”

Identifying potential conflicts of interest is only half the battle. The other half requires attorneys to seek and obtain the client’s written consent to the representation after obtaining informed consent. After all, a potential conflict of interest that has not been resolved in accordance with the applicable ethical rules is still a conflict.

Informed Consent for Purposes of Resolving Potential Conflicts

Informed consent is required to enable a client to make an educated decision regarding whether to agree or object to a representation. For a former client, it involves accepting the risk that the attorney could use confidential information against the former client on behalf of a new client. For current clients who share an attorney, it involves waiving the right to insist that the attorney protect only their interests, as opposed to protecting their collective interests with the other clients.

According to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules), to obtain informed consent, an attorney must provide a full disclosure that demonstrates he or she has made reasonable efforts to ensure that the client or other person has obtained information reasonably adequate to make an informed decision.[1] Comment 6 to Rule 1 explains, in relevant part:

Ordinarily, this will require communication that includes a disclosure of the facts and circumstances giving rise to the situation, any explanation reasonably necessary to inform the client or other person of the material advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of conduct and a discussion of the client’s or other person’s options and alternatives. . . . [A] lawyer who does not personally inform the client or other person assumes the risk that the client or other person is inadequately informed and the consent is invalid.

For the disclosure to be effective, it must enable a former or existing client to fully appreciate the risks of granting consent. It is not sufficient for an attorney to simply advise a client that there is a potential conflict of interest and to ask for consent without providing an explanation and additional information.

A Simple Waiver Isn’t Enough

Similarly, it is not sufficient merely to confirm a client’s waiver of the conflict and consent to the representation. An effective disclosure requires more. The Rules require that an attorney

propose a course of conduct to [the client or other person] with adequate information and explanation about the material risks of [giving consent] and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct.[2]

In general terms, this means that an attorney should disclose whatever information a reasonable person would expect and need before waiving an important right.

There are topics that every attorney should include when seeking a client’s consent or waiver. However, there is no template that attorneys can use as a form for full disclosure when seeking a client’s consent to a representation, because the type and content of a disclosure required for effective consent varies depending on the facts and circumstances of the specific representation. For example, the scope and content of full disclosure will often depend on the sophistication of the client, the nature of the representation, prior representations, and the length of the relationship.[3]

Written Consent

Does the client’s consent have to be in writing? Under the Rules, the answer is yes. Rules 1.7(b)(4) and 1.9(a) require that informed consent be “confirmed in writing.” Comment 20 of Rule 1.7 further requires that the writing be obtained or transmitted within a “reasonable time” after receipt of oral consent. Additionally, Comment 20 emphasizes the importance of written consent:

[T]he writing is required in order to impress upon clients the seriousness of the decision the client is being asked to make and to avoid disputes or ambiguities that might later occur in the absence of a writing.

Invariably, once problems arise, clients have different recollections about the extent of the disclosure, their understanding of the risks, and whether they consented to the representation. That is why the safest way to proceed is to require that all clients consent in writing to a multiple or successive representation.

The easiest course is to include a signature line on the full disclosure letter and have the client return an executed copy. This simple measure serves to protect both the client (by making sure the client receives full disclosure in writing) and the attorney.

Client Consultation: Next Steps

Now that you have a client in your office, what steps should you take? First, identify the proposed representation and then state what consent the attorney seeks. General waivers involve a different kind of disclosure than a limited waiver for a specific representation. Hence, tailoring the full disclosure necessarily involves clarifying exactly which type of waiver the attorney seeks.

In the multiple representation context, this means advising the client that the attorney is requesting permission to jointly represent the client along with others. In the successive representations context, this means advising a former client that the attorney is requesting permission to represent a new client in a matter involving the former client.[4]

Second, identify the risks. There should be no mincing of words when disclosing the potential risks to a client. Subtle implication and suggestion do little when an attorney is attempting later to prove that a client consented to a representation after full disclosure. To be effective, the disclosure should clearly and plainly articulate the risks so that, if necessary, a court can determine that the client understood and accepted the risks by providing consent to the representation.

In the multiple representation context, this means identifying the kinds of things that an attorney cannot and will not do because the representation involves more than one client. For example, the attorney will not explore or pursue claims by one client against another client, such as opposing parties in the same transaction, a testator and beneficiary of a will, or spouses in a dissolution of marriage proceeding. Similarly, a lawyer who prosecuted a case could not subsequently represent the accused in a civil action against the government involving the same facts.[5] In addition, information communicated by one client may be disclosed to the other clients. Other limitations on the attorney’s ability to act may also need to be disclosed, depending on the context.

The important point is to ensure that the consenting clients understand the limitations that arise from a joint representation, as opposed to the representation of a single client. In the successive representation context, this means explaining the risk that the attorney may have learned confidential information that may be used on behalf of a new client. The standard is not whether an attorney actually did learn confidential information in the prior representation that can be used against a former client. Instead, to trigger an attorney’s obligation to obtain a former client’s consent, all that is required is that the new representation be “substantially related” to the former representation.[6] The existence of confidential information is presumed.

Third, advise the clients of their right to consult with independent counsel in deciding whether to agree to the multiple or successive representation. The safest course is to encourage independent counsel on all issues arising out of the potential conflict of interest.

Importantly, an attorney seeking a client’s consent should not advise a client on whether to give consent. Instead, the attorney’s role should be limited to fully disclosing the risks without actually advising the client about whether to give consent.

Fourth, confirm what will happen if an actual conflict develops that precludes the continued representation. Clients may agree, for example, that the attorney may continue to represent one of the clients if an actual conflict develops. Alternatively, the clients may insist that, under such circumstances, an attorney withdraw from the entire representation. In either case, it is important that the clients agree before the representation begins.

Both the multiple and successive representation rules require a consultation with the attorney for the client to consent. In most cases, the consultation will be in person. Unfortunately, although it is important to answer any questions a client may have, the consultation actually does little to protect an attorney from a later allegation challenging the client’s consent to the representation.

In addition to the consultation, there must be a written component. The most important document for effective consent is a writing, typically a letter. The letter should be jointly addressed to all of the clients (for a multiple representation), or to the former client (for successive representations), and should include a discussion of all the material risks of the representation.

Conclusion

Effective conflict waivers require a writing confirming the affected clients’ informed consent. There is no checklist or formula that an attorney can use in discussing conflict waivers with a client, or in drafting a written waiver for the client’s execution. These must be tailored to the unique circumstances of each situation. The four steps above, however, provide a helpful starting point for the attorney.


Notes

[1] See, e.g., Colo. RPC 1, cmt. [6].

[2] Colo. RPC 1.0(e).

[3] See Colo. RPC 1.7, cmt. [22] for additional information on how the effectiveness of informed consent will be evaluated.

[4] See Colo. RPC 1.9, cmt. [1]. A client transitions from a current client to a former client when the attorney–client relationship is terminated, such as when the attorney or the client provides the other with a writing confirming that the relationship has concluded.

[5] See Colo. RPC 1.9, cmt. [1].

[6] See Colo. RPC 1.9(a).

Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer’s law. He has authored and co-authored eight books, including: The Lawyer’s Handbook; Georgia Legal Malpractice Law; Climate Change And Insurance; Georgia Property and Liability Insurance Law; Appraisal In Property Damage Insurance Disputes; and California Legal Malpractice Law. He writes newspaper columns (the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Recorder, and the Daily Report) and lectures around the world. He served as counsel to the Speakers of the 104th – 109th Congresses of the United States. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. He handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has been consistently rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyer (District of Columbia and Georgia), Georgia’s Most Influential Attorneys, and Georgia’s Top Lawyers for Legal Leaders. Along with numerous other awards he has been named the “Complex Litigation Attorney of the Year in Georgia” by Corporate International Magazine, and Lawyer of the Year for Legal Malpractice Defense in Atlanta. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubble.

Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Shari represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and advises and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. In addition, Shari is the Chair of the McKenna’s Law Firm Defense and Risk Management Practice and is a frequent writer and lecturer on issues related to legal malpractice and ethics. Shari co-authored Georgia Legal Malpractice Law and California Legal Malpractice Law, which address the intricacies and nuances of Legal Malpractice law and issues that confront the new millennium lawyer. She also co-authored The Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics Compliance and Claim Avoidance, which is an easy-to-use desk reference offering practical solutions to real problems in the modern law practice for every attorney throughout the United States.

Lino Lipinsky de Orlov is a litigation partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, LLP.  He represents clients in all aspects of commercial litigation, mediation, arbitration, and appeals.  He has developed particular experience in complex business cases, particularly those involving creditor’s rights, real estate, trade secrets, and employment disputes.  Mr. Lipinsky also frequently speaks and writes on legal issues relating to technology, employment law, and ethics.   He is a member of the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute.  He is a former President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates.  Among his honors, Chambers USA has recognized Mr. Lipinsky as one of Colorado’s leading general commercial litigators, and he has been included in The Best Lawyers in America.  He received his A.B. degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and his J.D. degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the New York University Law Review.

 

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Colorado Supreme Court: Totality of Circumstances Illustrates Miranda Waiver Knowing and Intelligent

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Thames on Monday, March 23, 2015.

Suppression Order—Knowing and Intelligent Waiver of Miranda rights—Totality of the Circumstances.

This interlocutory appeal challenged the trial court’s order suppressing statements defendant made during custodial interrogation. Investigators gave defendant an oral Miranda advisement during the interrogation. Defendant confirmed that he understood his Miranda rights and signed a written waiver form before making certain statements that the prosecution wanted to use in its case-in-chief. The trial court concluded that defendant did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights after a speech language pathologist and audiologist testified that defendant had trouble understanding spoken paragraphs regarding abstract concepts. Under the totality of the circumstances, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order, holding that defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Due Process Requirement for Crim. P. 11 Advisement When Defendant Statutorily Waives Right to Advisement

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Finney v. People on Tuesday, May 27, 2014.

Criminal Law—Sentencing and Punishment—Alternative Dispositions—Pre-Sentence Penalty Advisements at Revocation Hearings.

CRS § 16-11-206 requires a court to advise a probationer, at or before a hearing on a revocation complaint, of the possible penalties he or she may face. Here, the Supreme Court considered whether, to satisfy due process, Crim.P. 11(b) independently requires such an advisement. The record demonstrates that defendant waived his statutory right to a penalty advisement under CRS § 16-11-206. The Court concluded that, even if defendant had not waived his statutory right to an advisement, the requirement of CRS § 16-11-206 was met here because defendant was advised on several occasions of the potential penalties he faced. The Court further held that CRS § 16-11-206 does not incorporate Crim.P. 11(b) or otherwise embody a constitutional right to be advised of the possible penalties when a defendant admits to a violation of a deferred judgment agreement. Thus, where, as here, a defendant waives his or her statutory right under CRS § 16-11-206 to a penalty advisement at a revocation hearing, neither Crim.P. 11(b) nor constitutional due process independently requires such an advisement. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision upholding the trial court’s denial of post-conviction relief.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Waiver in Plea Agreement was Knowing and Voluntary

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Rollings on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

Terry Jo Rollings pled guilty to one count of possessing stolen goods and waived his right to appeal any part of the conviction as part of the plea agreement. After the court ordered significant restitution, Rollings appealed despite the waiver in the plea agreement, claiming that the guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because he was not advised of the court’s authority to order restitution and because he was not aware of all of the elements of the crime charged.

The Tenth Circuit considered the entire plea agreement to determine if Rollings’ waiver was knowing and voluntary. The government argued that the Tenth Circuit should limit its review to the waiver portion of the plea agreement, since Rollings agreed not to appeal, but the Tenth Circuit reviewed the entire agreement as a whole. After a review of the entire plea and the court transcripts, the Tenth Circuit decided that Rollings had sufficient knowledge of the terms of the plea and granted the government’s motion to dismiss the appeal and deny as moot Rollings’ motion for release pending appeal.