Litigation usually involves complex issues related to technology, products, or business processes. In many cases, clients are the best subject-matter experts of their craft. Nevertheless, attorneys are sometimes hesitant to designate a client or a client’s employee as an expert witness for fear of waiving attorney-client privilege. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Texas addressed this very issue and held that the attorney-client privilege remains unscathed when a party (or its corporate representative) is designated as a testifying expert witness.

Background

City of Dickinson concerned whether a property insurer underpaid insurance benefits related to a Hurricane Ike claim made by the City of Dickinson. In responding to the City’s motion for summary judgment, the property insurer filed the affidavit of its corporate representative who was also a senior claims examiner. Unsurprisingly, the affidavit offered factual and expert testimony in opposition to the dispositive motion. The City later learned the corporate representative exchanged emails and drafts of the affidavit with defense counsel. The City then moved to compel the production of the emails and all other information “provided to, reviewed by, or prepared by or for” the corporate representative in anticipation of his expert testimony. Naturally, the property insurer claimed the documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The trial court, however, disagreed and granted the motion to compel. The intermediate appellate court reversed, finding the information sought was privileged.

The Supreme Court of Texas’s Decision

On appeal, the Court addressed whether Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 192.3 and 194.2 barred the property insurer from asserting attorney-client privilege. Rule 192.3 concerns the scope of discovery and provides that, with respect to a testifying expert, “[a] party may discover . . . all documents, tangible things, reports, models, or data compilations that have been provided to, reviewed by, or prepared by or for the expert in anticipation of a testifying expert’s testimony[.]” In construing Rule 192.3, the Court noted that the use of the word “may” merely meant that an opposing party could discover the information—not that it had an absolute right to discover it when a privilege applied. The Court also noted that another subpart of Rule 192.3 expressly precluded the discovery of privileged information.

Rule 194.2 concerns the content of a discovery tool called “requests for disclosure” and provides that, with respect to testifying expert, “[a] party may request disclosure of . . . all documents, tangible things, reports, models, or data compilations that have been provided to, reviewed by, or prepared by or for the expert in anticipation of the expert’s testimony[.]” As with Rule 192.3, the Court explained that the word “may” simply meant that a party could request the discovery. Another subpart of the rule expressly allowed the trial court to limit requests for disclosure, and the official comment to the rule made clear that “requests for disclosure under Rule 194 are subject to the attorney–client privilege just like the provisions of Rule 192.”

The Court also rejected the City’s argument that the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure should be interpreted the same as the pre-2010 Federal Rules of Civil Procedures because they were modeled after them. The Court summarily rejected the argument because the comments to the rules where substantively different.

The Court also distinguished its decision in In re Christus Spohn Hosp. Kleberg, 222 S.W.3d 434 (Tex. 2007). In that case, the Court held that a party was required to produce an investigator’s report provided to party’s expert. The Court explained that Christus Spohn only addressed the work-product privilege—not undisputed attorney-client communications. The Court explained that its holding was consistent with prior decisions, which “underscore the status of the attorney-client privilege as ‘quintessentially imperative’ to our legal system” and that “[w]ithout the privilege, attorneys would not be able to give their clients candid advice as is an attorney’s professional duty.”

Takeaway

City of Dickinson provides clarity in a previously unsettled area of Texas law. Further, it reinforces the importance of the attorney-client privilege and clarifies that a client does not have to choose between testifying as an expert at trial and invoking attorney-client privilege. Going forward, we expect the primary party-expert dispute to center on whether materials provided to the party-expert constitute discoverable work product under Christus Spohn or protected attorney-client privilege under City of Dickinson. Indeed, as the Court noted in its opinion, the two privileges are often conflated.