Two Decisions Issued the Same Day Highlight Choice of Laws Issues: Part II

January 11, 2017

Last week’s Privilege Point described a Maine case applying the narrow pre-Upjohn “control group” standard for corporate communications. Harris Mgmt., Inc. v. Coulombe, 2016 ME 166, —A.3d—. Illinois is by far the largest state that still follows the worrisome “control group” standard. Illinois federal courts sitting in diversity frequently apply that state’s “control group” standard to strip away corporations’ privilege protection.

But sometimes Illinois federal courts look elsewhere for privilege law. In In re Fluidmaster, Inc., the court noted that “[t]he parties agree that California law governs the attorney-client privilege issues now before the Court.” Case No. 1:14-cv-05696, MDL 2585, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154618, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 8, 2016). The court therefore applied several favorable California statutory law principles to the defendant corporation’s privilege protection, including (1) communications “made in the course of an attorney-client relationship” are “presumed to have been made in confidence”; (2) the privilege’s opponent must carry the burden of proving that the privilege does not apply; (3) “the privilege may extend to ‘communications that merely transmit documents,’ even if those documents are publicly available”; and (4) “no heightened [privilege] scrutiny exception [for in-house lawyers] exists in California’s statutory regime.” Id. at *6, *12, *46 (citations omitted). All of these positions represent a much more corporate-friendly privilege approach than the majority of case law nationally – and obviously much more favorable than Illinois’ own harsh “control group” standard.

The Harris Management case should remind lawyers that pockets of unfavorable “control group” privilege law still exist, and the Fluidmaster case should prompt lawyers to look for ways to apply more favorable privilege law wherever they litigate.