Curto v. Medical World Communications, Inc., et al.
Decided May 15, 2006, E. District of New York, No. 03 CV 6327 (2006 WL 1318387)
Plaintiff, Lara Curto, has an ongoing EEOC complaint against the Defendants. While still employed, she used company-issued laptops in her home office to correspond with her attorneys. She was careful to use an outside mail service to make sure her memos was not transmitted over the company’s mail system. Also, the documents were deleted from the laptops prior to her return of the machines. Defendant Medical World Communications later hired a forensic consultant to examine and recover documents from both laptops. Plaintiff then asserted attorney-client privilege on these recovered documents. The magistrate judge agreed, and now Defendant appeals.
Defendants did have a computer usage policy which states that all computers can only be used for business purposes and there is no expectation of privacy for any personal data created, stored, sent or received on these work computers. However, Defendants only enforced this policy in limited circumstances which gave the employees a false sense of security in their data.
The magistrate judge applied a test with four factors to judge whether the disclosure of these privileged documents was inadvertent. The magistrate ruled that the balance of factors weighed in favor of the Plaintiff, ruling that the documents were still covered by privilege. Specifically, the Plaintiff did take reasonable precautions to keep the documents private, the volume disclosed was small, she promptly asserted the privilege upon notification of their recovery, and public policy of encouraging full disclosure with attorneys also weighed in her favor.
The appeal focused on whether the magistrate judge was correct in considering whether the Defendants enforced its computer policy. It was considered as part of the analysis of whether the Plaintiff acted reasonably in taking precautions to avoid disclosure. Defendants focused on the well-established body of law that establish that employees have no expectation of privacy on workplace computers where there is a company policy. However, these cases do not address the related question as to whether an attorney-client privilege could still remain in these materials even though there is no privacy right per se.
In other words, Plaintiff could not object to the forensic computer expert’s analysis and recovery of deleted files from the work computers on the basis of privacy. However, she still could assert attorney-client privilege in some of these deleted files.
Another factor found important by the court is that these were computers used in a home office. The court specifically does not address whether such a privilege could be asserted in a computer used in a corporate office environment, noting that these cases are so fact specific they must be analyzed on a case by case basis.
Holding: The magistrate judge’s order is affirmed.