Federal common law governs federal question case privilege issues. Federal
courts sitting in diversity should look to their host jurisdiction’s choice
of law rules when deciding which state’s privilege law applies. But what
about privilege issues involved in pendent state law claims in federal
In Williams & Cochrane, LLP v. Rosette, the court conceded
“federal courts have split in their approach.” Case No. 17cv1436-GPC-DEB,
2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109750, at *11 (S.D. Cal. June 23, 2020). First, “[a]
majority of federal courts have applied federal privilege law to claims of
privilege in federal question actions with pendent state law claims.” Id. Second, some courts “have held that both federal and state
privilege law should apply in a federal question action with pendent state
claims.” Id. Third, “[s]till others have applied state privilege
law in federal question actions with pendent state claims where the
predominant nature of all the claims are based on state law.” Id.
at *12. The court linguistically threw up its hands, noting that “frankly,
the law in this context is unclear and courts have adopted a multiplicity
of approaches.” Id. at *13. The court ultimately
concluded that the magistrate judge had not erred in applying California
privilege law – “given that this litigation is mostly centered on
California based contract claims.” Id. at *13-14.
Although this state law pendent claim privilege issue may arise only
rarely, courts’ surprising lack of consensus highlights lawyers’ obligation
to first conduct a privilege choice of law analysis.