Brief Fact Summary. In anticipation of litigation, the attorney for John M. Taylor, Fortenbaugh (Respondent), interviewed the survivors. Hickman (Petitioner) representing the deceased, brought an action and tried by means of discovery to obtain copies of statements from Respondent’s attorneys, which were obtained from the survivors.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Materials prepared and information developed by a party or an attorney that is prepared in anticipation of trial is subject to discovery only if the discovering party can show substantial need and an inability to obtain the material by other means.
The general policy against invading the privacy of an attorney's course of preparation is so well recognized and so essential to an orderly working of our system of legal procedure that a burden rests on the one who would invade that privacy to establish adequate reasons to justify production through a subpoena or court order.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether a party may inquire into oral and written statements of witnesses obtained by an adverse party’s counsel in preparation of trial after the claim has arisen?
Held. No. Judgment of the court of appeals is affirmed. A party may not seek information, which is produced by the adversary party’s attorney in preparation of litigation without a showing of necessity and the inability to gain access to the documents. Petitioner is attempting to secure the production of written statements and mental impressions contained in the attorney’s files without the showing of necessity, and without any indication that the inability to obtain this information will prejudice the preparation of their case. If such materials were open to opposing counsel, an attorney’s trial strategy and his thoughts would not be his own. However, discovery may be allowed where relevant and non- privileged facts remain hidden in an attorney’s file, and are necessary to the preparation of one’s case. Petitioner did not demonstrate any of these exceptions and thus the statements are protected as work product of Respondent’s attorney. Concurrence. The primary effect of the production of the requested information would be on the legal profession. The purpose of discovery was not to enable a learned profession to perform its function without wits. It is demoralizing to the bar to require a lawyer to write out and deliver to his adversary statements that a witness told him. The practice advocated by the Petitioner would force the attorney to become a witness.
Discussion. According to Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, in order to obtain information that would be covered by the work product doctrine, the moving party must show substantial need and the inability to obtain the information without undue hardship.