Hickman v. Taylor
SCOTUS - 1947 (329 U.S. 495)
- A tugboat sank, killing 5 of the 9 crewmembers on board.
- The tug owners employed a law firm to represent them against potential suits. An attorney from the firm interviewed the 4 surviving crew members.
- One of the dead crewmembers' family filed suit against the tug owners and asked opposing counsel to turn over the content of the interviews with the surviving crew members as well as any notes or memos about the case made by counsel.
- The district court held that the requested information was not privileged.
- Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, found it was work product of the lawyer, and privileged from discovery.
- SCOTUS affirmed, found that work product was privileged.
- To what extent to may a party inquire into oral and written statements of witnesses, or other information, secured by an adverse party's counsel in the course of preparation for possible litigation?
- Discovery of written materials obtained or prepared by an adversary's counsel with an eye toward litigation may not be had unless party seeking discovery can establish that relevant and non-privileged facts remain hidden in an attorney's file and where production of those facts is essential to the preparation of one's case.
- Discovery, like all matters of procedure, has ultimate and necessary boundaries.
- The information sought is for oral and written statements of witnesses whose identities are well-known and whose availability to the other side is unimpaired.
- If such materials were open to opposing counsel on mere demand, much of what is now put down in writing would remain unwritten and be forgotten, contributing to inefficiency and unfairness in the legal world.
- Such statements or documents might be discoverable for purposes of impeachment or corroboration or when witnesses are no longer available or can be reached only with difficulty.
- This case created the doctrine of work product. Eventually, it was written in to Rule 26(b).