The new law should limit the overall tort liability confronted by all types of companies and individuals who find themselves facing a lawsuit in Florida. This update focuses on the changes for statutes of limitation, comparative negligence and the admissibility of evidence of medical charges at trial. Florida courts will undoubtedly see many challenges to the new law over the next few years.
For the first time in 25 years, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the scope of the attorney-client privilege in the case In re Grand Jury, No. 21-1397. The Court heard oral arguments earlier this week about when the attorney-client privilege protects communications involving both legal and nonlegal advice (dual-purpose communications).
In re Grand Jury
A grand jury subpoenaed documents from the petitioner, a tax law firm, related to a criminal investigation into the law firm’s client. In re Grand Jury, 23 F.4th 1088, 1090 (9th Cir. 2021). The law firm withheld documents that had dual-purpose communications based on the attorney-client privilege. After the government moved to compel, the district court used the “primary purpose test” to determine whether the dual-purpose communications were privileged. The court used the test to determine “whether the primary purpose of the communication [was] to give or receive legal advice, as opposed to business or tax advice.” Id. at 1091 (citation omitted). In the end, the district court ordered the law firm to produce documents to the government after redacting tax-related legal advice. When the law firm refused, the court held it in contempt, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the contempt order.
The District of Delaware is the latest in a series of courts to require disclosure of third-party funding arrangements, a subject we have previously explored. The Chief Judge in the District of Delaware now joins other courts like the District of New Jersey and the Northern District of California in requiring these disclosures.
On April 18, 2022, Chief District Judge Colm F. Connolly of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware issued a standing order requiring litigants to disclose whether their cases are being financed by third parties. The standing order requires that, “where a party has made arrangements to receive from a person or entity that is not a party (a ‘Third-Party Funder’) funding for some or all of the party’s attorney fees and/or expenses to litigate th[e] action on a non-recourse basis,” either for “a financial interest that is contingent upon the results of the litigation” or “a non-monetary result that is not in the nature of a personal loan, bank loan, or insurance,” the party must disclose certain details of the funding relationship within 45 days of the entry of the standing order (i.e., by June 2, 2022) for existing cases, or within 30 days of the filing of an initial pleading or transfer of a new matter into the District.
Last year, we explored the Federal Judiciary’s new safeguards and procedures to protect sensitive court records in light of the SolarWinds Orion cybersecurity breach. Now, as a result of increased hostilities between Russia and the United States, the New Jersey Judiciary is taking steps to ramp up cybersecurity by blocking web traffic from outside the United States.
We reported back in December [California Supreme Court Set to Decide How Defense Counsel Approach Defending Company Witness Depositions] on a case then pending before the California Supreme Court, Berroteran v. Superior Court. The case involves the former testimony exception to the hearsay rule, Evidence Code section 1291(a)(2), as applied to the deposition testimony of company witnesses taken in prior litigation. [Disclaimer: I wrote an amicus brief in support of the petition for review and another on the merits.]
Oral argument did not go well for the plaintiff. Consequently, it was not surprising that within a few days the parties notified the Court that they had reached a settlement. The Supreme Court could have dismissed the appeal at that point and left the issue unresolved. But because its core mission is “to secure uniformity of decision” and to settle important questions of law, Cal. Rule of Court 8.500(b), the Court went ahead and decided the appeal. 2022 WL 664719 (Cal. Mar. 7, 2022). And, as Larry David might say, the decision is pretty, pretty good.
For many litigators, sworn testimony today looks much different than it did two years ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic has required parties to limit travel and in-person proceedings, remote testimony for depositions, arbitrations and even trials has become the rule rather than the exception. With this transition, litigators have been confronted with unique circumstances and felt compelled to ask questions to confirm that the witness’s testimony is that of the witness, and only the witness. For example, is anyone else present in the room with the witness? Does the witness have any unauthorized lines of communication that could be used while the sworn testimony is proceeding? It has now become critical to ask a witness to swear under oath that there is no one else in the room with the witness and that no person is authorized to communicate with the witness during her or his testimony. Several recent decisions solidify this practice point and illustrate the consequences to litigants and lawyers when a witness surreptitiously communicates with others during the course of remote testimony.