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Securities Investor Protection Corporation v. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 17, 2017

BERNARD L. MADOFF INVESTMENT SECURITIES LLC, Defendant. In re: BERNARD L. MADOFF, Debtor. IRVING H. PICARD, Trustee for the Liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, Plaintiff,
JO ANN CRUPI and JUDITH BOWEN, Defendants. Adv. Pro. Nos. 08-01789 (SMB), 10-04216 (SMB)

         SIPA LIQUIDATION (Substantively Consolidated)


         The Trustee has moved to compel the production of documents in the possession of Guston & Guston, a law firm that previously represented defendants Jo Ann Crupi and Judith Bowen (the "Defendants") in connection with a real estate transaction and other matters. For the reasons set forth below, that application is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         By Decision and Order dated December 7, 2016, I directed that Guston & Guston submit to me, for in camera review, certain documents in its possession that the Defendants had withheld from production based on a claim of attorney-client privilege. (See ECF No. 92-2 ("Decision and Order") at 12). I did so after concluding that the Trustee had made an adequate preliminary showing that the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege might apply to those documents. (Id. at 8-9).

         My Decision and Order did not reach the Defendants' contention that Ms. Bowen, who was not implicated in the Madoff fraud, could shield the documents from disclosure even if Ms. Crupi had sought legal advice from Guston & Guston in furtherance of criminal activity. As I explained, there was no need to address that issue unless I determined, after my review, both that the withheld documents were privileged and that the communications at issue were made in furtherance of a scheme or fraud. (Id. at 11-12).

         The Defendants' counsel originally produced the Guston & Guston documents identified on the privilege log on December 15, 2016. Thereafter, by email dated January 4, 2017, I advised counsel of certain deficiencies in the Guston & Guston production, which counsel promptly agreed to address.[1] By letter dated January 17, 2017, counsel then produced (a) an annotated privilege log; (b) copies of the documents previously produced (now further identified by exhibit numbers); (c) an additional 43 emails that were not part of the Defendants' original production; and (d) a supplemental privilege log.[2]

         Having reviewed the Defendants' latest submission, I find that the Defendants have failed to meet their burden with respect to virtually all of the documents that they allege are privileged. In addition, certain of the documents that are privileged fall within the crime-fraud exception. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, the Defendants will be required to produce both these categories of documents to the Trustee.

         II. Discussion

         A. Attorney-Client Privilege

         As explained in the Decision and Order, because the complaint in this adversary proceeding alleges claims for relief under both state and federal law, the applicability of the privilege must be decided based upon the application of federal common law. (Id. at 7 (citing Fitzpatrick v. Am. Int'l Grp., Inc., 272 F.R.D. 100, 104 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)). "The burden of establishing the existence of an attorney-client privilege, in all of its elements, rests with the party asserting it." United States v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers of Am., AFL-CIO, 119 F.3d 210, 214 (2d Cir. 1997). Accordingly, the Defendants bear that burden here. To prevail on their privilege claim with respect to a particular document, the Defendants consequently must show that it constituted "(1) a communication between client and counsel, which (2) was intended to be and was in fact kept confidential, and (3) made for the purpose of obtaining or providing legal advice." United States v. Constr. Prods. Res., Inc., 73 F.3d 464, 473 (2d Cir. 1996).

         B. Non-Privileged Documents

         The non-privileged documents that the Defendants have improperly withheld from production fall into a number of broad categories.[3]

         First, many of the documents are merely transmittal letters or emails that enclose or attach other documents. These "cover" communications neither furnish nor request legal advice and do not reveal any privileged communications. These documents consequently cannot be withheld from discovery merely because they were sent to or from counsel. See, e.g., P&B Marina, Ltd. P'ship v. Logrande, 136 F.R.D. 50, 54 (E.D.N.Y. 1991) ("[T]ransmittal letters or acknowledgements of receipt that do not include legal advice []or disclose privileged matters are not subject to the attorney-client privilege.").

         Second, there are drafts (or portions of drafts) of documents intended to be shared with the seller's counsel and communications between Guston & Guston and the Defendants concerning those drafts. Although some of these draft documents may never have been revealed to the seller, it is clear that any advice from counsel that may have been sought or given with respect to these documents related to business strategy, rather than legal issues. These documents therefore also must be produced. See TVT Records v. Island Def Jam Music Grp., 214 F.R.D. 143, 144 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) ("[O]nly those communications related to legal, as contrasted with business, advice are protected.") (internal quotation marks omitted)

         Third, there are numerous documents related to the Defendants' desire to take possession of the Mantoloking house before the actual closing date pursuant to a use and occupancy agreement. Once again, these documents, which were ultimately intended for the seller's review and signature, were not intended to be confidential. Accordingly, these documents must be produced.

         Fourth, there are documents relating to such routine business issues as the progress of the transaction, the procurement of flood insurance, the escrowing of funds, and the proposed closing date. These business-oriented communications obviously were not intended to be kept confidential. Indeed, virtually by definition, they were meant to be conveyed to third parties, such as insurance brokers, the seller of the property, and the seller's counsel. The privilege is therefore inapplicable to these documents.

         Fifth, the materials include the first page of a draft "RESPA" statement. Congress enacted the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 in an effort to "protect consumers from 'abusive practices' that result in 'unnecessarily high settlement charges.'" Cohen v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., 498 F.3d 111, 122 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing 12 U.S.C. § 2601(a)). The furnishing of an estimate of the amount of cash required to close the transaction in no way conveys any legal advice, nor does it reveal any information that the Defendants have shown was intended to be kept confidential. Indeed, the Defendants themselves make the point that the monetary details of the transaction have been fully disclosed to the Trustee. (See letter to the Discovery Arbitrator from Eric R. Breslin, Esq., dated Nov. 18, 2016 ("Breslin Nov. Ltr."), at 3). There consequently is no basis for asserting privilege with respect to this document.

         Sixth, there are materials related to the legal fees that the Defendants' counsel charged for their services in connection with the acquisition of the Mantoloking house and an estate planning issue. It is, however, black letter law that "[a]ttorneys' bills and communications regarding retainer agreements are not privileged." Duttle v. Bandler & Kass, 127 ...

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