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Robe v. Allender

February 1, 2010

GLENFORD YELLOW ROBE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEVE ALLENDER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey L. VIKEN United States District Judge

ORDER

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff's verified complaint asserts claims of racial discrimination/ hostile work environment under Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.), retaliation under Title VII, and corresponding claims under South Dakota law. (Docket 1). Defendants' answer specifically denies plaintiff's claims and asserts that "Plaintiff was apprised that in the event Plaintiff's spouse obtained an off-sale liquor license, the same would constitute a conflict of interest and as such, Plaintiff would be terminated from his employment." (Docket 12, ¶ 65).

On December 9, 2009, during the plaintiff's deposition of defendant Craig Tieszen, a former Rapid City Chief of Police, the parties placed a call to the court seeking a ruling on whether the witness should be allowed to answer a question about legal advice he may have received from City Attorney Jason Green. Defendants' counsel had instructed Mr. Tieszen not to answer the question as an assertion of the attorney-client privilege between Tieszen and Attorney Green. Because the parties were not under a significant time constraint, the court asked the parties to file simultaneous briefs on the issue. The defendants subsequently filed a motion for assertion of attorney-client privilege. (Docket 29). A hearing was held on January 14, 2010, and counsel for the parties were given an opportunity to argue all matters pertinent to the attorney-client privilege issues.

At the motion hearing, plaintiff's counsel made it clear that he seeks to depose former Chief of Police Tieszen about all matters concerning Tieszen's contact with City Attorney Green on the conflict of interest issue. Plaintiff asserts that Tieszen waived the attorney-client privilege because he authored and gave to plaintiff certain documents addressing plaintiff Yellow Robe's alleged conflict of interest. The documents underlying plaintiff's claim of waiver are in the record as Exhibits RCPD 0470, 0471, and 0472. (Docket 28-3). Defendant Tieszen used City Attorney Green's legal conclusion as grounds to terminate plaintiff Yellow Robe from his position as compliance officer with the Rapid City Police Department. (Docket 12, ¶¶ 64 and 65). The defendants assert that the opinions and conclusions of Attorney Green as well as any conversations with Mr. Tieszen are confidential communications protected under the attorney-client privilege. (Docket 29).

ANALYSIS

This action arises under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 et seq. The court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and § 1343.

In federal question cases, "[t]he privilege of a witness . . . [is] governed by the principles of the common law as they may be interpreted by the courts of the United States in the light of reason and experience." Fed. R. Evid. 501. Accordingly, the court "must . . . apply the federal common law of attorney-client privilege to the situation presented by this case." In re Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum, 112 F.3d 910, 915 (8th Cir.1997); see, e.g., In re Bieter Co., 16 F.3d 929, 935-36 (8th Cir.1994); United States v. Calvert, 523 F.2d 895, 909 (8th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 911 (1976). This is true even where the complaint alleges pendent state claims. Memorial Hosp. v. Shadur, 664 F.2d 1058, 1061 n.3 (7th Cir. 1981). Fed. R. Evid. 502 specifically addresses the manner in which an attorney-client privilege is waived:

(a) Disclosure made in a Federal proceeding or to a Federal office or agency; scope of waiver. -- When the disclosure is made in a Federal proceeding . . . and waives the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection, the waiver extends to an undisclosed communication or information . . . only if:

(1) the waiver was intentional;

(2) the disclosed and undisclosed communications or information concern the same subject matter; and

(3) they ought in fairness to be considered together.

(b) Inadvertent disclosure. -- When made in a Federal proceeding . . . the disclosure does not ...


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