Special Master Paul M. Lukoff recently ruled on a dispute “over so-called third party consultants and the impact of their presence on what might otherwise be privileged communications.” Robocast, Inc. v. Apple, Inc., C.A. No. 11-235-RGA; Robocast, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation, C.A. No. 10-1055-RGA, slip. op. at 2 (D. Del. Jul. 19, 2013). Special Master Lukoff addressed the issue on a document-by-document basis and ordered that some of the documents on plaintiff’s log were to be produced, as the presence of third parties had waived attorney-client privilege. Id. at 13-14.
As a preliminary matter, the Special Master examined, on a document-by-document basis, whether plaintiff complied with FRCP 26(b)(5)(A), which obligates a party claiming privilege to describe the withheld documents with sufficient detail, or whether noncompliance with this rule resulted in waiver. While the Special Master disagreed with plaintiff’s argument that some Delaware cases “stand for the proposition that the privilege proponent must always be given further opportunity, in the face of a Rule 26(b)(5)(A) challenge, to take another stab at an adequate description” (and in this case the plaintiff had already amended its log several times, id. at 3-5) the Special Master found “very few” Rule 26(b)(5)(A) issues in plaintiff’s current log. Id. at 4 n.5.
Turning to the specific issue in dispute, the Special Master observed that there was a “possibly irreconcilable split” between Third Circuit (non-Delaware) district courts as to the proper test for whether a non-employee was the “functional equivalent” of an employee for purposes of attorney-client privilege. Id. at 6-7. Additionally, there was no Third Circuit case “explicitly adopt[ing] the functional equivalent concept in any form.” Id. However, this issue “pose[d] no obstacle” to resolving this dispute because: (i) the Special Master was “comfortable with the notion that some functions of a relatively small company like [plaintiff] might be best or necessarily accomplished through independent contractors and/or non-employee consultants;” (ii) Third Circuit precedent made clear that “there is no discernible bright line to be followed when the privilege is assessed;” and (iii) “even if one adopts and then adheres to one interpretation of the functional equivalent test or the other, each individual document must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if it was created for the purpose of providing or obtaining legal advice.” Id. at 7 (internal citations omitted).
With these principles in mind, the Special Master examined the duties of various non-employees and discussed how their duties may or may not waive privilege when they were privy to communications. Id. at 7-11. The Special Master further explained that his “rationale for making any such determination [of waiver] will not be founded on [the third party’s] status as an ‘outsider’ or the ‘functional equivalent’ of a [plaintiff] employee, but rather on the individual’s relative position with respect to obtaining legal advice.” Id. at 13.
Special Master Lukoff mapped out his Rule 26(b)(5)(A) and privilege conclusions in a “lengthy chart,” and ordered plaintiff to produce copies of all documents in the log that the Special Master had concluded were not privileged based on waiver. Id. at 13-14.