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WSSA, LLC v. Safran

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 30, 2019

WSSA, LLC., Plaintiff

          Jones, Judge.


          Martin C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge.


         This breach of contract lawsuit comes before us for resolution of a discovery dispute. Briefly, the plaintiff, WSSA, is suing the defendant, Safran, alleging that Safran, acting through its agent Rock Commercial Real Estate, LLC, violated an exclusive agreement between the parties under which WSSA would market Safran's properties to the General Services Administration (GSA). (Doc. 1). Safran responded to this complaint, in part, by lodging a third-party joinder complaint against Rock. (Doc.14). Rock was later dismissed by the court as a third-party defendant in this case. (Doc.38).

         WSSA then subpoenaed Rock, seeking records relating to this transaction. Rock produced some information but withheld approximately 198 pages of material asserting attorney-client and work product privileges. WSSA challenged these privilege assertions, (Doc. 41), and this discovery dispute was referred to the undersigned. (Docs. 42, 43). We then convened a conference call with counsel where we informed the parties that we would decline to adopt any categorical approach to these privilege claims, but instead would conduct an in-camera review of these documents. (Doc. 45). We have now completed this review and for the reasons set forth below, conclude that the withheld documents are embraced by the privileges cited by Rock.


         Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery are matters consigned to the court's discretion and judgment. A court's decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be disturbed only upon a showing of abuse of that discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). This far-reaching discretion also extends to rulings by United States Magistrate Judges on discovery matters. In this regard:

District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J. 1997). When a magistrate judge's decision involves a discretionary [discovery] matter . . ., “courts in this district have determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly becomes an abuse of discretion standard.” Saldi v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224 F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United States, 943 F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D. Pa. 1996)). Under the standard, a magistrate judge's discovery ruling “is entitled to great deference and is reversible only for abuse of discretion.” Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns and Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J. 1996); see also Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42, 44-45 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (holding that discovery rulings are reviewed under abuse of discretion standard rather than de novo standard); EEOC v. Mr. Gold, Inc., 223 F.R.D. 100, 102 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (holding that a magistrate judge's resolution of discovery disputes deserves substantial deference and should be reversed only if there is an abuse of discretion).

Halsey v. Pfeiffer, No. 09-1138, 2010 WL 2735702, at *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 27, 2010).

         In addressing the privilege claims made here by Rock we note that the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has summarized the purposes of, and distinctions between, the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine, and the importance of limiting recognition of evidentiary privileges when necessary to achieve their purposes, as follows:

Though they operate to protect information from discovery, the work-product doctrine and the attorney-client privilege serve different purposes. The purpose behind the attorney-client privilege is “‘to encourage clients to make full disclosure of facts to counsel so that he may properly, competently, and ethically carry out his representation. The ultimate aim is to promote the proper administration of justice.'” In re Impounded, 241 F.3d 308, 316 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 604 F.2d 798, 802 (3d Cir. 1979)). The work-product doctrine, by contrast, “promotes the adversary system directly by protecting the confidentiality of papers prepared by or on behalf of attorneys in anticipation of litigation. Protecting attorneys' work product promotes the adversary system by enabling attorneys to prepare cases without fear that their work product will be used against their clients.” Westinghouse Elec. Corp. v. Republic of the Phil., 951 F.2d 1414, 1428 (3d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted).
Though evidentiary privileges have important purposes, their recognition may result in the withholding of relevant information and so may obstruct the search for truth. Indeed, the protections are effective only if they shield relevant evidence and thus they necessarily obstruct the search for the truth at a trial at which they are recognized either implicitly or explicitly. Consequently, privileges should be recognized only when necessary to achieve their respective purposes. See Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, 403 (1976).

In re Chevron Corp., 633 F.3d 153, 164 (3d Cir. 2011).

         The attorney-client privilege is meant to facilitate “full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients.” Wachtel v. Health Net, Inc., 482 F.3d 225, 231 (3d Cir. 2007). The privilege “recognizes that sound legal advice or advocacy serves public ends and that such advice or advocacy depends upon the lawyer's being fully informed by the client.” Upjohn v. United States449 U.S. 383, 389 (1981). The privilege “applies to any communication that satisfies the following elements: it must be ‘(1) a communication (2) made between [the client and the attorney or his agents] (3) in confidence (4) for the purpose of obtaining or providing legal assistance for the client.'” In re Teleglobe Communications Corp., 493 F.3d 345, 359 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers § 68 (2000)). Thus, the privilege reaches “[c]onfidential disclosures by a client to an attorney made in order to obtain legal assistance.” Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, ...

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