creates an accountant-client privilege which prohibits an accountant from disclosing any information told to him while employed in a confidential relationship with a client. It would, therefore, be improper to permit the accountant to maintain a lawsuit which would inevitably require illegal disclosure of such confidences.
There is reason to question whether the privilege created by state law is applicable to a suit based on federal securities law. See United States v. Bowman, 358 F.2d 421 (3 Cir. 1966); United States v. Jaskiewicz, 278 F. Supp. 525 (E.D. Pa. 1968). It is not necessary to reach that issue, however, since the Pennsylvania statute does not cover the situation involved in this case.
Common law did not recognize an accountant-client privilege similar to the attorney-client privilege. Pennsylvania and a number of other states have adopted statutes which in some circumstances create a privilege analogous to the attorney-client privilege established at common law. Since the statute is in derogation of common law, it must be strictly construed, and any change in the common law effected by the statute must be clearly indicated. United States v. Bowman, supra at 423 of 358 F.2d.
The Third Circuit noted in Bowman that Pennsylvania alone among the fifteen states which had adopted accountant-client privilege statutes by 1966, had an exclusionary clause. This clause excludes from coverage by the privilege any information a certified public accountant might obtain relative to and in connection with ". . . the examination of audit of or report on any financial statements, books, records or accounts, which he may be engaged to make . . ." This type of information had been specifically included in the privilege in other states which adopted similar laws previous to Pennsylvania. United States v. Bowman, supra at 423. Thus, the information divulged in paragraph 36 is excluded from the privilege created by the statute. Sophian was examining the books of Container Leasing, Inc. when he asked what a $500 entry represented. He was told it represented 50% of the capital stock of Integrated Container Service. Although the information was not taken directly from the books, it was received in the answer to a question in connection with his examination of the books. A strict interpretation of the statute requires the conclusion that information obtained in this manner is excluded by the statute from the privilege.
The statute does not require that the suit be dismissed because of the possibility that Sophian will use information acquired in an accountant-client relationship. Defendants' attempt to draw an analogy to the broad, stringent protections of the attorney-client privilege as enforced in Richardson v. Hamilton Int'l. Corp., supra and John Doe v. A Corp., 330 F. Supp. 1352 (S.D.N.Y. 1971) cannot succeed. The Pennsylvania statute as described above was clearly intended to make a limited change in the law, and not to extend the common law attorney-client privilege to accountant-client relationships. Defendants have not shown that the prophylactic rule established by common law in the attorney-client relationship has now been extended to the accountant-client case.