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United States ex rel. Rembert v. Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

July 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. FRANK M. REMBERT AND MICHAEL R. PARADISE, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOZEMAN HEALTH DEACONESS HOSPITAL D/B/A BOZEMAN HEALTH, and DEACONESS-INTERCITY IMAGING, LLC D/B/A ADVANCED MEDICAL IMAGING, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SAM E. HADDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending are: (1) Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital's ("BDH") Renewed Motion to Quash Subpoena and for Protective Order;[1] and (2) Relators' Motion for Sanctions.[2] Both are ripe for resolution.

         Background

         BDH filed its original motion to Quash Subpoena and for Protective Order on January 1, 2018, asserting that documents and testimony regarding BDH's 2014 engagement (the "2014 Engagement") of Value Management Group ("VMG") were protected by attorney client privilege and the work product doctrine.[3]

         The Court ordered the deposition of VMG to proceed, upon condition that counsel not ask questions about work performed by VMG in 2014[4] and that "[i]f the Court determines that work performed by VMG in 2014 is not privileged, the VMG deposition may be reopened to allow the parties to question VMG on that topic only."[5]

         On May 22, 2018, the Court ruled that BDH had failed to meet its burden of establishing that the documents and testimony regarding BDH's 2014 engagement of VMG were protected by attorney client privilege or work product protection.[6]BDH's motion was denied "without prejudice to renewal," if BDH filed, "m camera, the specific communications it [sought] to protect as privileged."[7] The specific communications were filed as ordered.[8]

         Discussion

         I. BDH's renewed motion to quash and for protective order.

         "The attorney-client privilege protects confidential communications between attorneys and clients, which are made for the purpose of giving legal advice."[9] The standard for establishing the privilege, as stated by the Ninth Circuit is:

"(1) [] legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from a professional legal adviser in his capacity as such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose, (4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are at his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure by himself or by the legal adviser, (8) unless the protection be waived."[10]

         "The . . . privilege may extend to communications with third parties who have been engaged to assist the attorney in providing legal advice. If the advice sought is not legal advice, but, for example, accounting advice from an accountant, then the privilege does not exist."[11] Business matter communications are not privileged.[12] Attorney work product protection applies to "documents and tangible things that are prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for another party or its representative."[13] The protection is available only if "the 'document was created because of anticipated litigation, and would not have been created in substantially similar form but for the prospect of litigation.'"[14]

         BDH has renewed its blanket assertion that "the 2014 Engagement was privileged and work product protected."[15] The specific documents for which protection was sought were submitted to the Court in camera[16]A privilege log identifying protected documents, documents produced for which protection was not sought, and certain documents already ruled to be unprotected, was provided.[17]

         Specific grounds for each item BDH sought to protect, beyond a basic assertion of "attorney client," "work product," or "common interest" were not stated.[18] Rather, BDH relies upon: (1) the contents of YMG's January 31, 2014 letter ("Engagement Letter") to TJ. Sullivan ("Sullivan"), BDH's counsel from the law firm Drinker Biddle and Reath ("DBR"), [19] and (2) affidavits of Sullivan and Elizabeth Lewis ("Lewis"), BDH's chief operating officer, attesting to BDH's expectation of the 2014 Engagement's protected status (the "Affidavits").[20] A separately stated reason for protection against production was that Relators' state court suit against BDH was ongoing at the time of the 2014 Engagement.[21]

         BDH has failed to establish that blanket protection, as requested, is warranted. The Engagement Letter and the two Affidavits relied upon were --- already before the Court when it determined earlier that BDH failed to meet its burden. The existence of ongoing state court litigation does not change that assessment.

         Neither the Engagement Letter nor the Affidavits specifically connect the 2014 Engagement to legal representation by Sullivan in the state court proceedings. However, both the Affidavits and Engagement Letter make clear the advice BDH sought from Sullivan pertaining to the 2014 Engagement was advice on a "potential transaction," not the state court litigation.[22]

         Employees of VMG, during the 2014 Engagement, have not been shown to be agents "engaged to assist" Sullivan or DBR in the provision of legal advice to BDH.[23] The 2014 Engagement materials are not entitled to blanket attorney-client protection.

         BDH has likewise failed to establish that work product protection applies to any part of the 2014 Engagement materials. Although it did not previously assert a specific reason for work product protection, it now raises the state court litigation in 2014 as a possible basis.

         No connection between the state court litigation and the 2014 Engagement has been demonstrated. It has not been shown that the documents related to the 2014 Engagement "would not have been created in substantially similar form but for the prospect of litigation."[24]

         As ordered, BDH filed the specific communications it sought to protect as privileged.[25] The documents, identified on the privilege log as "Work Product" or "Work Product/Common Interest, "[26] and identified by the bates number listed in footnote 27 below, are not entitled to protection.[27]

         In addition, certain other documents identified as "Attorney Client" are not entitled to protection. The employees of VMG were not employed by Sullivan or DBR to assist in rendering legal advice. Documents that did not involve Sullivan or DBR are not protected by attorney-client privilege. Moreover, the attorney- client privilege protects only communications related to the provision of legal advice. Documents that are not communications are not protected.[28] Any document attached to an email that did not involve BDH's counsel cannot be considered a communication protected by attorney-client privilege. Documents not attached to an email are not entitled to attorney-client privilege. Accordingly, the documents, identified in the privilege log[29] and submitted in camera and identified by the bates number listed in footnote 30 below, are not entitled to attorney client privilege.[30]

         Defendants also submitted:

(1) an email from VMG's Nick Taglioli ("Taglioli") to Sullivan and VMG's Aaron Murski ("Murski").[31]
(2) an email from Murski to Sullivan.[32]
(3) an unsigned copy of the Engagement Letter.[33]
(4) emails involving Murski and Sullivan, together with an attached executed version of the Engagement Letter.[34]
(5) emails among Taglioli, Sullivan, and Murski.[35]
(6) emails between Murski and Sullivan, two of which are contained in VMG-PRTV0001055.[36]
(7) emails between BDH's Lewis, Sullivan, Murski, and AMI's Courtney Funk ("Funk").[37]
(8) emails between BDH's Lewis, Sullivan, Murski, and AMI's Funk, [38]which are identical to those found in VMG-PRIV0001068.

         The claimed privilege of each is addressed separately below.

(1) is not a communication between a "client" and lawyer, nor is it, under Richey, a communication between a lawyer and a third party engaged to assist in the provision of ...

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