The Supreme Court’s NOT Top 10: October 2013 Term Cases the Justices Wrongly Passed Over

supreme courtThe Supreme Court press and other court observers have spilled a lot of ink this past month discussing the cases the Supreme Court took and decided during October Term 2013. Relatively little was said about the cases the court chose not to decide—and it passed over some doozies. But as Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart put it so eloquently, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Pro-Business? Journalists like to portray the Roberts Court as particularly business friendly (see, e.g., here , here, and here; but see here), but businesses asked the Court to take plenty of cases this past term that it instead declined. When the Court denies cert in cases of such importance to business at the same time that it has a historically light docket, it can hardly be said to be pro-business. Companies crave legal certainty, so even if the Court took these cases and decided them against business interests, many times simply settling contested questions would be better than leaving them up in the air.

Wanted: More Business Cases. The Court needs to hear more business cases than it currently is, for at least two reasons. First, the unprecedented proliferation of new regulations by this administration has given rise to many more conflicts of the kind that produce Supreme Court cases. Second, to the extent the Clinton-and-Obama-appointee-dominated lower courts are predisposed against business litigants (or, more charitably, deciding close questions consistently against them), businesses will appeal more cases to the Supreme Court when they believe a lower court has denied them justice. Of course the Supreme Court justices take neither of these criteria into consideration when assessing individual cases, but surely these factors matter when assessing whether the Court leans in favor of business in forming its docket. Continue reading

Common Sense Prevails as D.C. Circuit Overturns Trial Court’s Denial of Attorney-Client Privilege Protection

829-Brower_GregjohnsonGuest Commentary

by Greg Brower and Brett W. Johnson, Snell & Wilmer LLP*

Government contractors and other companies subject to internal investigation requirements won some relief from the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week with a decision that firmly reiterated that Upjohn v. United States does indeed stand for the proposition that confidential employee communications made during a business’s internal investigation led by company lawyers are privileged.

In United States of America ex rel. Harry Barko v. Halliburton Company, et al, defendant Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking to reverse a district court’s order that KBR produce in discovery, certain reports created as part of internal investigations conducted at the direction of in-house counsel.   Over KBR’s objection, the district court had ordered production of the documents, reasoning that because the KBR investigators who prepared the reports were not lawyers, and because the subject investigations were done pursuant to legal requirements and corporate policy, and not solely for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, the reports were not privileged. For more on the trial court’s opinion, see our March 24 Legal Pulse commentary here.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit disagreed and vacated the district court’s order.  In so doing, the panel found that the privilege claim by KBR was “materially indistinguishable” from the assertion of the privilege in the seminal Upjohn case.  Specifically, the court of appeals found that because, as in Upjohn, KBR initiated an internal investigation to gather facts and ensure compliance with the law after being informed of potential misconduct, and because the investigation was conducted under the auspices of KBR’s in-house legal department, the privilege applied.  Continue reading

District Court’s Attorney-Client Privilege Ruling Counteracts Incentives to Perform Internal Investigations

829-Brower_GregjohnsonGuest Commentary

by Greg Brower and Brett W. Johnson, Snell & Wilmer LLP*

It has long been assumed that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Upjohn Co. v. United States, reports generated during an internal investigation undertaken at the direction, and under the supervision, of corporate attorneys are protected from discovery by the attorney-client privilege.  It came as a significant surprise then that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently held that the privilege does not apply when an investigation is conducted pursuant to a legal requirement, and not purely for the purpose of obtaining legal advice.  Unless reversed, this decision could pose a significant new dilemma for regulated companies, and especially for government contractors, that perform internal investigations to determine whether “credible evidence” of actual wrong-doing exists.

The decision in United States of America ex rel. Harry Barko v. Halliburton Company, et al. is the latest in a long-running False Claims Act (“FCA”) suit against Halliburton and its former subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root (“KBR”).  In the course of pre-trial discovery, the relator sought the production of reports created by KBR in the course of conducting internal investigations into alleged violations of the company’s Code of Business Conduct (“COBC”).  KBR objected to the production of the COBC reports, contending they were protected from discovery by the attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine.  On the relator’s motion to compel, the court rejected KBR’s argument that Upjohn was dispositive of the issue, and ordered that the reports be produced.  The court reasoned that because the KBR investigators who prepared the reports were not lawyers, and because the subject investigations were done pursuant to legal requirements and corporate policy, and not solely for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, the reports were not privileged.

Continue reading

High Court Fails To Act On Major Business Case Cert Petitions

supreme courtCross-posted at Forbes.com’s WLF contributor page

Washington Legal Foundation, along with other organizations, business, and individuals with an interest in the Supreme Court and free enterprise cases before it, watched with great anticipation this morning as the justices issued their first new list of certiorari grants since the Court adjourned last June (the so-called Long Conference). We came away from the big cert grant morning, as likely did many other interested parties, wanting more.

The orders list is here. The grants include a tax case, United States v. Quality Stores  addressing whether severance payments made to employees whose employment was involuntarily terminated are taxable. Two other grants relate to the standard of review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit uses when assessing a district court’s determination that a case is “exceptional” for purposes of imposing attorneys’ fees and other sanctions. Those cases are Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness and Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Management Systems Inc.

The final cert grant impacting free enterprise is Petrella v. MGM, which involves the movie Raging Bull and the defense of laches against claims of copyright infringement. Marcia Coyle at National Law Journal discussed the interesting facts of the case in a September 16 story.

The bigger story from the big cert grant morning was which petitions the Court did not act on. WLF filed amicus briefs in support of review in a number of the cases, which we’ll indicate below (all noted on SCOTUSblog’s “Petitions we Are Watching” page).

Failure to act on these and other petitions does not mean that the Court cannot reconsider them in a future “conference,” and it does not mean that they have been denied. The Court will be issuing an order list on First Monday, October 7, but that order traditionally has only contained cert denials.

Finger on the Pulse: From Our Blogroll and Beyond

  • Supreme Court’s Already ruling has ramifications for standing to sue (On the Case) (More info: WLF’s On the Merits on Already)
  • The highest punitive damage awards in 2013 in California and nationally (California Punitive Damages)
  • What can be concluded from EPA’s 2012 enforcement statistics? (Corruption, Crime & Compliance)
  • Second Circuit agrees with the 4th, 7th, and 9th, and disagrees with 5th, on whether state attorney general suits are removable to federal court under CAFA (Drug & Device Law) (Legal Pulse blog on 5th Cir. ruling)
  • 9th Circuit finds no federal preemption for state medical device liability suit (The Recorder) (More info: WLF Legal Backgrounder)
  • Manufacturer of texting system for truckers not liable for auto accident injuries for failure to make an “accident free” system (Mass Tort Defense)
  • The fascinating story behind the Standard Fire v. Knowles class action case argued in the Supreme Court last Monday (CNN Money/Forbes)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issues important en banc ruling on patent trolls and the International Trade Commission (Patently-O)

Finger on the Pulse: From Our Blogroll and Beyond

  • Supreme Court denial of cert in “reverse payment” patent settlement case injects twist into pending “no authorized generics” lawsuit in New Jersey (On the Case)
  • Federal government False Claims Act enforcement hauls in nearly $5 billion in 2012 (Corruption, Crime & Compliance)
  • Great roundup on Caronia off-label speech decision by Jim Beck (Drug & Device Law)
  • SEC and DOJ statements about only pursuing “important” Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases aren’t in line with their past actions (FCPA Professor)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejects constitutional challenge to law that put bounty-hunter “patent marking” lawsuits out of business (Patently-O)
  • The latest developments in the six-year-and-still-going Florida tobacco litigation known as “Engle” (Point of Law)

State Attorneys General Step to the Fore on Off-Label Drug “Promotion”

Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com Contributor blog

With their law enforcement counterparts at the federal level raking in prodigious financial settlements, it’s no surprise that state attorneys general (“state AGs”) want a bigger piece of the action on off-label drug “promotion” regulation. The $181 million settlement reached August 29 between 36 attorneys general and a drug maker confirmed that state AGs must indeed be reckoned with on off-label issues. What will get medical product companies’ attention is not the financial settlement, though. The real eye-opener was the precision of the settlement’s conduct requirements, most notably one restraint on speech which goes beyond the dictates of federal law.

The settlement arose from “deceptive marketing” suits filed by state AGs throughout the country involving Ripersdal. Some of those suits resulted in verdicts imposing six- or seven-figure damages on the defendant, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Janssen and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), had appealed those verdicts, but the cost-benefit calculus of fighting vs. settling likely led the companies to resolve the claims on a global basis (much like the tobacco companies did with the state AGs).

In addition to the monetary settlement, Janssen and J&J agreed to conditions and limitations on how they share information about Ripersdal with medical professionals. As noted above and emphasized by former FDA associate chief counsel Arnie Fried in a Pharmalot interview, such behavior-changing dictates were what the AGs were really after here. Continue reading