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Drummond Company, Inc. v. Conrad & Scherer, LLP

885 F.3d 1324 (2018)

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Drummond Company, Inc. v. Conrad & Scherer, LLP

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

885 F.3d 1324 (2018)

Facts

Partner Terrence Collingsworth handled alien tort cases for the law firm Conrad & Sherer, LLP (collectively, defendants). Drummond Company, Inc. (plaintiff) sued, claiming Collingsworth and the law firm made defamatory statements about Drummond in connection with those cases. In discovery, Collingsworth and the firm asserted attorney-client privilege and work-product protections. Drummond countered that the crime-fraud exception to those protections applied because Collingsworth was allegedly engaged in a crime or fraud, and his criminal intent could be imputed to the firm under agency principles. Typically, the crime-fraud exception applies to overcome attorney-client privilege because the client—not the attorney or law firm—is engaged in a crime or fraud. The district court judge made a preliminary determination that the crime-fraud exception nonetheless applied and ordered review of work-product materials. However, the judge certified the order as immediately appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). Collingsworth and the firm appealed, raising two issues: (1) whether Collingsworth’s intent could be imputed to apply the crime-fraud exception to the firm using agency principles, and (2) whether the crime-fraud exception applies when an attorney or law firm, not a client, is engaged in a crime or fraud.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Pryor, J.)

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