Disclosure of Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) has become a staple in commercial cases.  Of course, with the vast number of documents and ESI being reviewed and the increased complexity in the review process, the risk of inadvertent production of privileged information is at its highest.  The inadvertent production of privileged material often leads to lengthy, costly litigation, the consequences of which can be disastrous to litigants.

While the most efficacious approach for addressing privilege waiver as a result of inadvertent disclosure would be an amendment to the CPLR, there’s no telling whether the Legislature will pass such an amendment, or when.  Accordingly, the subcommittee of the Commercial Division Advisory Council (the “Subcommittee”) has proposed an “interim measure” to address these concerns.  Specifically, the Subcommittee proposed a new amendment to Commercial Division Rule 11-g (which addresses confidentiality orders in the Commercial Division) to incorporate specific “privilege claw-back” language into the confidentiality order.  Parties employing the language would agree to:

  • Implement and adhere to reasonable procedures to prevent the disclosure of privileged information;
  • Take reasonable steps to correct errors when protected information is inadvertently produced;
  • Return or destroy copies of inadvertently produced protected information upon request of the producing party;
  • Neither challenge the producing party’s document review procedure or its efforts to rectify the production error, nor claim that the return of the protected information has caused the receiving party to suffer prejudice.

This language is consistent with existing New York case law regarding inadvertent privilege waiver, which provides that the inadvertent production of documents does not constitute a waiver if: (i) the producing party had no intention of producing the document; (ii) the producing party took reasonable steps to ensure that the document was not disclosed; (iii) the producing party took prompt action to rectify the inadvertent production; and (iv) the party receiving the inadvertently produced document would not suffer prejudice by having to return the document.  See, e.g., AFA Protective Sys., Inc., v City of New York, 13 AD3d 564, 565 [2d Dept 2004].

The proposed amendment seeks to protect litigants from the inadvertent disclosure of protected information and reduce the number of disputes arising from inadvertent productions.  And, by incorporating language consistent with New York case law, the proposed amendment ensures that the parties take steps necessary under New York law to avoid an inadvertent waiver and take prompt action to rectify the inadvertent production if it occurs.

There’s a little over a month left to chime in on this important proposed amendment.  Persons wishing to comment on the proposal should e-mail their submissions to rulecomments@nycourts.gov or write to: John W. McConnell, Esq., Counsel, Office of Court Administration, 25 Beaver Street, 11th Floor, New York, New York 10004.  Comments must be received no later than January 16, 2018.