Tuesday, September 25, 2007

S.D. Indiana Withholds Documents From Disclosure Under Rule 26(b)(c) Based on Work Product Doctrine

Per Estate of Williams v. Iowa Pipeline Associates, Inc., --- F.R.D. ----, 2007 WL 2114404 (S.D.Ind., July 19, 2007) (NO. 306-CV-48-SEB-WGH):

Iowa Pipeline also argues that the attorney work product doctrine applies and should result in a decision to withhold this document from disclosure. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3) governs this issue.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3), Vectren may obtain discovery of a document otherwise discoverable and prepared in anticipation of litigation by or for another party only upon a showing that the party seeking the discovery has substantial need of the materials in preparation of its case and that Vectren is unable to-without undue hardship-obtain the substantial equivalent of the materials by other means. Under this rule, "the court shall protect against disclosure of the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney or other representative of a party concerning the litigation."

The first issue to be discussed is whether the July 29 letter directing Mr. Rudisill to enter an appearance in the Hydromax litigation on behalf of Iowa Pipeline and Vectren is a document prepared "in anticipation of litigation."

The Magistrate Judge notes that Mr. Krohn's letter was prepared in anticipation of the Hydromax litigation, but not in anticipation of the case at bar. Although we find no definitive Seventh Circuit precedent, most cases indicate that materials prepared in anticipation of one piece of litigation retain the protection of the work product rule in subsequent litigation. See Jumper v. Yellow Corp., 176 F.R.D. 282 (D.C.Ill.1997).

It is also clear that the materials enclosed in the letter and the letter itself are materials and information clearly produced in anticipation of the Hydromax litigation-indeed that suit had been filed when the letter was written.

Therefore, the letter at issue falls within the rule's definition of work product produced in anticipation of litigation, and the burden then shifts to Vectren to show that it has substantial need for the materials and that it cannot, without undue expense, obtain the substantial equivalent of the materials.

Has Vectren shown that it has a substantial need for this information? This Magistrate Judge concludes that the opinion of Iowa Pipeline's outside counsel about the effect of indemnification language in this case, and his action in conformance with that understanding, certainly could be evidence of the parties' intent on entering into the contract and the course of performance under the contract. Should this court find the indemnity language to be ambiguous and require extrinsic evidence to be produced, Vectren could be expected to have some need for this information. However, Vectren can certainly establish the course of dealings of the parties by reference to other documents in the public record. Specifically, all of the steps taken by Mr. Rudisill in the Hydromax litigation establish that on at least this prior occasion Iowa Pipeline did provide Vectren with indemnity and defense. The Magistrate Judge concludes that while a showing of some need has been made here, the need is not "substantial" as the rule requires.

If the Magistrate Judge should have concluded that Vectren's need was substantial in this case, has Vectren shown that it will be unable to obtain the substantial equivalent of this evidence without undue expense? Certainly the alternative to production of this document would require Vectren to attempt to depose Mr. Krohn-although that procedure may only serve to cast this dispute over the disclosure of his opinions in a slightly different context. Vectren might also seek the opinion on the meaning of the language from some other attorney who frequently deals with this issue as expert testimony. However, that is also a considerable expense.

However, in the end, even if this court could conclude that Vectren has a substantial need and cannot obtain the equivalent evidence without substantial additional cost, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3) requires that this court protect the "mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney"-and that is precisely what Vectren seeks here. Vectren seeks the opinion of Mr. Krohn as to the legal effect of the contract between Iowa Pipeline and Vectren on the issue of indemnity. The rule requires protection of that opinion, and that protection is appropriate for this document.


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