U.S. Supreme Court

Attorney-client privilege case dismissed by Supreme Court

  • Print

dismissal notice on paper

Image from Shutterstock.

The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed an attorney-client privilege case two weeks after hearing oral arguments.

The high court dismissed In Re Grand Jury as improvidently granted Monday, SCOTUSblog reports.

At issue was what test courts should apply when considering whether to protect “dual-purpose” documents that contain legal and nonlegal advice. An unnamed law firm specializing in international tax law was fighting disclosure of dual-purpose documents sought by the government in an investigation of a client.

A judge held the law firm in contempt for failing to turn over disputed documents, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco affirmed in 2021.

The 9th Circuit ruled that courts should look to the “primary purpose” of a communication when it involves legal and nonlegal analysis. Documents may be privileged when the primary purpose was to obtain legal advice.

The 9th Circuit rejected a more expansive test advanced by the firm that protects documents if obtaining legal advice was one of the “significant purposes” of the communication.

The ABA had supported the firm in an amicus brief. The federal government backed the “primary purpose” test.

During oral arguments Jan. 9, Justice Neil Gorsuch said the test backed by the government sounded a lot like the firm’s test.

“What is the disagreement?” Gorsuch had asked.

According to SCOTUSblog, cases are usually dismissed as improvidently granted in three circumstances. They are:

    • The Supreme Court discovers after the cert grant that the case is a poor vehicle for resolving the issue before the court. “For example, the facts may not actually present the question, there may be a jurisdictional problem or it may come to light that an argument wasn’t properly preserved,” SCOTUSblog said. This is the most common reason for dismissing a case as improvidently granted, which is known as a “DIG.”

    • The Supreme Court perceives a “bait-and-switch,” which happens when petitioners rely on a different argument in briefing than they did in the cert petition.

    • The court is unable to reach a consensus and apparently thinks that a DIG is preferable to fractured opinions with no controlling rationale.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.