July 18, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Privilege Cannot Be Used as Both Sword and Shield

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Seneca Insurance Co., Inc. v. Western Claims, Inc. on Monday, December 22, 2014.

Seneca hired Western Claims to investigate an insured’s claim for wind and hail damage to buildings. Western’s adjuster investigated and found some damage but determined the buildings had not suffered hail damage to the roof. Later, the insured asked Seneca to reopen its claim based on an estimate from its roofing contractor that it had suffered hail damage to the roof. Eventually, the insured sued Seneca, Western, and the adjuster in Oklahoma state court, claiming all three had mishandled its claims, and sued Seneca for breach of insurance contract, bad faith, and fraud.

During the litigation, Seneca’s claims examiner prepared a large loss report and distributed it to several Seneca executives. Seneca also sought advice from two attorneys in separate firms regarding the lawsuit. The attorneys advised Seneca regarding its potential bad faith liability and recommended settling the lawsuit for $1 million and then suing Western and the adjuster to recover. Seneca followed this advice. In discovery, Seneca disclosed that it had settled the litigation “on advice of counsel.” Western Claims filed a motion to compel documents Seneca relied on in settling the litigation. Seneca objected to the motion and again at trial, claiming the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine, but the district court found Seneca had put the documents in issue. At trial, several Seneca executives testified that they agreed upon the $1 million settlement “on advice of counsel.”

At the close of Seneca’s case-in-chief, the district court granted Western Claims’s motion for judgment as a matter of law regarding Seneca’s equitable indemnity claim, but allowed the negligence claim to be submitted to the jury, where Western Claims ultimately prevailed. Seneca appealed the district court’s decision to allow Western Claims to discover the correspondence from its attorneys. Western Claims cross-appealed the district court’s denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law as to the negligence claim.

Seneca argued the district court erred in concluding it waived its right to claim attorney-client privilege and work product protection regarding the correspondence from its attorneys. The Tenth Circuit evaluated whether some “affirmative act” by Seneca waived the privilege. It found that, when Seneca claimed it relied on “advice of counsel” for the settlement amount, it put that advice at issue and thus waived privilege. Seneca claimed that the information was available in other sources, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that Seneca expressly relied on “advice of counsel” and could not use the advice both as a sword and a shield.

The district court’s judgment was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Disclosure of Material Considered by Expert Containing Factual Ingredients Required

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in In re Application of Republic of Ecuador on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Intervenor-Appellant Chevron Corporation appealed from a district court order granting a motion to compel production of documents pursuant to subpoenas issued under 28 U.S.C. § 1782. Section 1782 allows for discovery of documents to be used in a foreign proceeding. Petitioners-Appellees, the Republic of Ecuador and its Attorney General (collectively, “the Republic”) sought the discovery to defend an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron by an Ecuadorian court in Lago Agrio. Chevron sought relief from that judgment pursuant to investment treaty arbitration under United Nations’ rules.

Prior to the Lago Agrio judgment, in September 2009, Chevron commenced arbitration proceedings against the Republic under the U.S.–Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty. In February 2011, immediately following the Lago Agrio judgment, the arbitral tribunal ordered that the Republic stay all efforts to enforce the Lago Agrio judgment, pending further order of the tribunal.

In June 2011, the Republic filed a § 1782 application in the District of Colorado seeking “discovery from Bjorn Bjorkman to aid the Republic in defending the validity of the Lago Agrio judgment.” The Republic alleged that Mr. Bjorkman served as one of Chevron’s chief experts and that the Ecuadorian court explicitly relied on his opinions. In the instant action, Chevron argued before the magistrate judge that the 2010 revisions to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 brought materials prepared by or provided to Mr. Bjorkman under the protection of the work-product doctrine. The magistrate judge rejected this argument and ordered the production of all of the facts and data the expert considered in forming his opinion. The Republic filed two motions to compel after Chevron continued to improperly withhold documents. The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations that only documents protected by Rules 26(b)(4)(B) and (C) were privileged.

On appeal, Chevron made several arguments that the 2010 revisions to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 radically changed the discoverability of documents held by experts. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, holding that the underlying purpose of the 2010 revision was to return the work-product doctrine to its traditional understanding, that it protects only the inner workings of an attorney’s mind. The court affirmed.