Abbott Labs. V. Andrx Pharm., Inc., No. 05 C 1490, 2006 WL 2092377 (N.D. Ill. July 25, 2006) (Brown, Mag. J.).
Using nonprivileged documents that are connected to privileged documents, such as fax coversheets or cover emails used to send a privileged report, to question a witness regarding the related privileged documents can waive the privilege. Applying Seventh Circuit law (the privilege questions at issue are unrelated to substantive patent law, so Federal Circuit law does not apply), the Court held that plaintiff Abbott waived privilege with respect to an entire document where: 1) Abbott produced a fax coversheet from a document over which it had claimed attorney-client and work product privilege; and 2) used that cover sheet in a line of questioning regarding the underlying document, despite Abbott’s decision not to produce the underlying document.
There are several useful practice tips to draw from this case. First: fax cover sheets that do not contain separately privileged information are generally not privileged themselves. Of course, there are exceptions and nuances to this general rule, but I suspect that many litigators claim privilege over coversheets that have no more information on them than what must be included in the privilege log anyway. In this case, the remainder of the fax was a marked-up copy of a patent application at issue in the case, but the cover sheet made no mention of the substance or title of the included document and, therefore, the cover sheet itself was not privileged.
At the beginning of my career a wise attorney — David Callahan of Kirkland & Ellis — told me that privilege logs should be reviewed by at least two attorneys before they are finalized. He also drilled into me that you should never simply push the task of logging privileged documents to the youngest associate on a case. Privilege decisions are complicated and the ramifications from privilege log mistakes can be very serious. As the youngest associate on all of my cases at the time, I was thrilled by his sage advice, and I have become more convinced of it over time.
The final practice tip: you must make all of your arguments. Attorneys tend to focus their arguments only on either the attorney-client privilege or the work product privilege, excluding the other. In this case, Abbott alleged that the document was protected by both work product and attorney-client privilege, but did not bother proving that the document was work product. The Court noted that waiver of attorney-client privilege does not automatically waive work product protection, and did not address work product protection because Abbott had not made its case as to work product.