Failing to take prompt reasonable steps once notified of an inadvertent production results in privilege waiver – you’ve now entered the Twilight ZoneSeptember 30th, 2009 | By Steve Puiszis
United States v. Sensient Colors, Inc., 2009 WL 2905474 (D.N.J. Sept. 9, 2009)
“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination – Next stop, the Twilight Zone.”
Any lawyer who inadvertently produces privileged information steps into a legal twilight zone. However, that legal twilight zone is not a “wondrous land,” but one filled with sleepless nights and many questions. How did it happen? When and how do I tell the client? How do I get the materials back? Will I lose the client, my job, my career? With ediscovery, the risk that privileged or confidential information will be inadvertently produced geometrically increases. While the use of clawback or nonwaiver agreements and FRE 502(b) lessen that risk, they do not eliminate it. Sensient Colors establishes that point.
Sensient Colors involved the electronic production of 45,000 documents totaling 135,000 pages or 450 boxes of records by the United States (“government”). Several months after that production was completed, the defendant initially returned a group of documents that were privileged. Over the ensuing months, the defendant continued to identify additional documents that the government had produced but were privileged. Ultimately, the defendant sought a ruling that the government had waived its right to assert privilege over the documents it had produced.
The court in Sensient Colors concluded the privileged documents were inadvertently produced by the government and that the requirements of FRE 502(b) were met as to the first group of documents the defendant returned. However, as to the subsequently identified privileged documents, the court ruled that the government waived its right to assert privilege under Rule 502(b) as to those documents because it had failed to promptly take reasonable steps to rectify its error after being notified of the initial inadvertent production.
The explanatory note to FRE 502 provides: “The Rule does not require the producing party to engage in a post-production review to determine whether any protected communication or information has been produced by mistake.” However, the court in Sensient Colors concluded that once a party has been put on notice that privileged information has been inadvertently produced, Rule 502(b)(3) requires the producing party take “prompt and reasonable steps to reassess its document production.” The court in Sensient Colors concluded the government failed to act reasonably and diligently to correct its error and waived its privilege and work-product protection as a result.2 Comments »