Doe et al v. Phillips Exeter Academy
ORDER denying 25 Motion for Protective Order. So Ordered by Chief Judge Joseph N. Laplante.(jb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Father Doe and Mother Doe as
Parents and next friends of
Civil No. 16-cv-396-JL
Opinion No. 2016 DNH 181
Phillips Exeter Academy
Resolution of Phillips Exeter Academy’s motion for a
protective order turns on whether reports prepared by an
investigator hired by PEA’s outside counsel enjoy the protection
of the attorney-client privilege and, if so, whether PEA has
waived that protection.
Concluding that the reports are likely
not privileged and that, even if they are, PEA waived the
privilege by putting the communications at issue in this
litigation and disclosing their contents, the court denies PEA’s
In February, two minor students at PEA engaged in a sexual
One of them -- Jane Roe1 -- later reported the
The parties have variously designated
Doe” and “Jane Roe” in their filings in
to avoid any confusion with plaintiffs’
Father Doe, and Mother Doe -- the court
the female student “Jane
this action. In order
family -- John Doe,
employs the pseudonym
encounter to a counselor, describing it as “uncomfortable” and
possibly a sexual assault.
PEA administrators, upon learning of
this report, contacted their retained outside counsel who, in
turn, retained attorney Kai McGintee of Bernstein Shur as an
“independent investigator . . . to perform an investigation into
Second Mischke Decl. (document no. 25-1) ¶ 4.
Attorney McGintee was not retained by PEA itself.
Id. ¶ 5.
Attorney McGintee reviewed documents, interviewed witnesses
-- including John Doe, Jane Roe, and one other student -- and
issued two reports to PEA and its outside counsel, recounting
her findings and conclusions.
no. 16-4) ¶¶ 15-19.
First Mischke Decl. (document
PEA placed John on Dean’s Leave for the
spring 2016 trimester and, ultimately, requested that he
withdraw from the school.
PEA cited Attorney McGintee’s
findings and her reports as, at least in part, the basis for its
decision to do so.2
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, “[p]arties may
obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is
The court understands that Attorney McGintee prepared two
reports -- one in March 2015, after her initial interviews with
the students, and a supplemental report over the summer, after
John Doe provided additional information about the encounter.
PEA does not argue that the reports should be treated
differently from one another, and so the court addresses them
relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the
needs of the case . . . .”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) (emphasis
The plaintiffs have requested that the defendants
produce Attorney McGintee’s reports.
The defendant here seeks a
protective order, see id. Rule 26(c)(1), to the effect that it
need not produce the reports on grounds that they contain
communications protected by the attorney-client privilege.
That “most venerable of the safeguards afforded to
confidential communications” attaches only:
(1) Where legal advice of any kind is sought (2) from
a professional legal adviser in [her] capacity as
such, (3) the communications relating to that purpose,
(4) made in confidence (5) by the client, (6) are at
his instance permanently protected (7) from disclosure
by himself or by the legal adviser, (8) except the
protection be waived.
In re Grand Jury Subpoena (Mr. S.), 662 F.3d 65, 71 (1st Cir.
2011) (quoting Cavallaro v. United States, 284 F.3d 236, 245
(1st Cir. 2002)).3
The defendant, as the party asserting the
privilege and seeking the protective order, “bears the burden of
the court’s federal question jurisdiction in light of
plaintiffs’ Title IX claim, the parties have briefed the
questions of privilege raised in defendant’s motion under
federal law. See Mot. for Protective Order (document no. 25) at
5; Obj. to Mot. for Protective Order (document no. 30) at 6
n. 4. The court invokes the same. See Lluberes v. Uncommon
Prods., LLC, 663 F.3d 6, 23 (1st Cir. 2011) (“When the parties
agree on the substantive law that should govern, ‘we may hold
the parties to their plausible choice of law, whether or not
that choice is correct.’” (quoting Perry v. Blum, 629 F.3d 1, 8
(1st Cir. 2010))).
establishing that [privilege] applies to the communications at
issue and that it has not been waived.”
In re Keeper of Records
(Grand Jury Subpoena Addressed to XYZ Corp.), 348 F.3d 16, 22
(1st Cir. 2003).
PEA has not done so.
The plaintiffs argue, as a threshold matter, that the
reports do not enjoy the protection of the attorney-client
communication privilege at all because PEA lacked an attorneyclient relationship with Attorney McGintee and that the reports
do not amount to legal advice.
Order (document no. 30) at 7.
See Obj. to Mot. for Protective
PEA contends that Attorney
McGintee communicated her reports to PEA and its outside counsel
as an agent of the latter and, thus, that her communications
come under the umbrella of PEA’s attorney-client relationship
with its outside counsel.
More specifically, defendants explain
that PEA’s outside counsel commissioned Attorney McGintee’s
reports “for the purpose of providing legal advice related to
the school’s handling of this student sexual misconduct matter.”
Mot. for Protective Order (document no. 25) at 4.
statements concerning the purpose of Attorney McGintee’s
investigation, however, as well as its description of her as an
“independent investigator,” suggest otherwise.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals has acknowledged the
“possible extension of the privilege when a third party helps
the lawyer give legal advice.”
Lluberes, 663 F.3d at 24.
PEA contends that McGintee served as such a third party.
Whether the privilege extends to her communications with PEA or
its outside counsel
involves considering the source and nature of the
information contained in the documents. If the
communication contains only client confidences made in
pursuit of legal advice -- or legal advice based on
such client confidences -- that communication, if
intended to remain confidential, should be covered by
the privilege, regardless of whether it came from the
client, his attorney, or an agent of either one. If,
however, the transmitted information consists largely
of facts acquired from non-client sources, those facts
are not privileged.
Id. at 24–25.
The source and nature of the information
contained in Attorney McGintee’s reports, as described by both
parties, strongly suggest that Attorney McGintee’s reports fall
into the latter category.
As PEA has described the reports,
they consist of Attorney McGintee’s “factual findings,” as to
what occurred between John and Jane, “including credibility
determinations in instances where there were disputes of fact.”
First Mischke Decl. (document no. 16-4) ¶ 18.
that the reports consist largely of facts acquired from the
three minor witnesses.
Facts and statements by third parties do
not enjoy the protection of the attorney-client privilege.
Lluberes, 663 F.3d at 25.
There is also a question as to whether Attorney McGintee’s
reports amount to the provision of legal advice.
representations to the Doe plaintiffs and to this court suggest
that any advice provided in the reports advice is more akin to
advice rendered to assist in a business decision, which the
privilege does not protect, than legal advice, which it does.
See Texaco Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Dep't of Consumer Affairs, 60
F.3d 867, 884 (1st Cir. 1995) (“The attorney-client privilege
attaches only when the attorney acts in that capacity.”).
U.S. ex rel. Hamrick v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 814 F.3d 10, 17
(1st Cir. 2016) (nature of business decision at issue may blur
the line between business advice and legal advice).
described its process for handling cases of sexual misconduct as
In the reasonable exercise of its reserved discretion,
[PEA] has determined that the better process in [cases
such as this] is to employ an external investigator to
perform an independent investigation and issue a
report with factual findings and conclusions on
whether a PEA policy has been violated. The
investigator applies a preponderance of the evidence
standard. The Dean of Students and her team review
the report and make a recommendation to the Principal,
who makes the final determination on an appropriate
disposition, which is precisely how this case
Obj. to Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (document no. 16) at 10-11; see
MacFarlane Decl. (document no. 16-1) ¶ 8; First Mischke
Decl. (document no. 16-4) ¶ 14.
As it has been described to the
plaintiffs and the court, Attorney McGintee’s reports include
facts drawn from interviews with three minors who are not party
to the attorney-client relationship, as well as Attorney
McGintee’s conclusions as to their credibility and her ultimate
conclusion as to what happened during the encounter between John
Doe and Jane Roe.
See First Mischke Decl. (document no. 16-4)
PEA, by its own admission, and as discussed more
fully infra Part III.B, used this information to form its
decision on whether to suspend or expel John Doe.
Advice to a
school on whether to discipline a student seems, to this court,
to more closely resemble communications to facilitate a business
decision than pursuit of legal advice.
Finally, PEA’s Dean Mischke has consistently described
Attorney McGintee as an “independent investigator” or an
“external investigator” in her communications with the Does and
her statements in this court.
See First Mischke Decl. (document
no. 16-4) ¶¶ 12, 14; Second Mischke Decl. (document no. 25-1)
It seems difficult to reconcile such a description with
the argument that Attorney McGintee -- the reports of that
“independent” or “external” investigator -- acted as an agent of
PEA’s counsel made for the purposes of obtaining or providing
legal advice to PEA.
To the contrary, by describing Attorney
McGintee as “independent,” PEA appears to signal that Attorney
McGintee was not acting as its outside counsel’s agent.
Bearing in mind the admonition that “the attorney-client
privilege must be narrowly construed because it comes with
substantial costs and stands as an obstacle of sorts to the
search for truth,” In re Keeper of Records, 348 F.3d at 22, the
court is disinclined to conclude that the reports enjoyed the
privilege’s protection on this record.
But even assuming that
Attorney McGintee was employed to help PEA’s outside counsel
render legal advice, that she prepared and submitted the reports
for the purpose of providing legal advice, see Cavallaro, 284
F.3d at 248, and that the reports were privileged at some point,
as discussed below, PEA has waived that protection.
The protection afforded to communications between clients
and their attorneys “ceases, or is often said to be ‘waived,’
when otherwise privileged communications are disclosed to a
The rationale is that such disclosure destroys the
confidentiality upon which the privilege is premised.”
Lluberes, 663 F.3d at 24 (internal quotations and citations
Waiver can be express or implied.
In the manifest
absence of any express waiver, the plaintiffs argue that PEA
waived the privilege by implication.
See Obj. to Mot. for
Protective Order (document no. 30) at 11.
“Claims of implied
waiver must be evaluated in light of principles of logic and
That evaluation demands a fastidious sifting of the
facts and a careful weighing of the circumstances.”
Keeper of Records, 348 F.3d at 23 (internal citations omitted).
PEA bears the burden of demonstrating that it has not waived the
Id. at 22.
After weighing the facts and circumstances of this case,
the court concludes that PEA has waived any privilege that may
have attached to Attorney McGintee’s reports.
First, a party
who puts the subject matter of attorney-client communications at
issue in litigation waives the privilege by implication.
(quoting 3 Jack B. Weinstein & Margaret A. Berger, Weinstein's
Federal Evidence § 503.41 (Joseph M. McLaughlin ed. 1997)).
PEA has done so here by asserting its reliance on the reports
as, at least in part, its basis for disciplining John Doe.
According to Dean Mischke, PEA placed John on Dean’s Leave
based, at least in part, “on the findings of the investigation”
and PEA’s review thereof.4
Amended Compl. Ex. D (27-4) at 1.
Upon receiving the deans’ recommendations, Principal MacFarlane
“determined that it would be in the best interest of all parties
PEA itself proposed that the court find that “the deans
recommended to Principal MacFarlane that John Doe not be allowed
to return to PEA” at least in part “based on . . .
Ms. McGintee’s findings” and John Doe’s admissions to Attorney
McGintee. See Def. Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of
Law (document no. 17) ¶ 47.
involved for John Doe to be withdrawn from PEA” after reviewing,
and on the basis of, among other considerations, Attorney
Id. ¶¶ 49-50; see also MacFarlane Decl.
(document no. 16-1) ¶¶ 11, 18.
The reports are thus, if not
central, certainly relevant to one of the issues raised in this
whether PEA violated a contractual agreement
through its decision-making process with respect to John Doe’s
Having injected the reports’ contents into the
litigation, PEA waived the privilege.
348 F.3d at 24.
In re Keeper of Records,
And because this waiver involves “a disclosure
made in the course of a judicial proceeding,” it extends to the
subject matter of the reports, not merely the documents
Even had PEA not put the reports into issue in this
litigation, PEA waived any privilege by disclosing their
contents to third parties -- specifically, the Does -- and in
filings with this court.
In re Keeper of Records, 348 F.3d at
22 (“When otherwise privileged communications are disclosed to a
third party, the disclosure destroys the confidentiality upon
which the privilege is premised.”).
Dean Mischke disclosed
portions of the reports to John Doe’s parents before this
On March 3, 2016, Dean Mischke emailed Father
Doe to set up a phone call “to review the general findings of
Ms. McGintee’s investigation . . . .”
Amended Compl. Ex. B
(document no. 27-2).
Not “want[ing] to be cagey about the
conclusion” of Attorney McGintee’s report, Dean Mischke
disclosed Attorney McGintee’s conclusion that “while she has
concerns about [John Doe], his attitude and his lack of reading
the situation as well as not obtaining expressed consent early
on, concludes no malice and no forcible action.”
the ensuing phone call, plaintiffs allege, Dean Mischke also
disclosed certain of Jane’s allegations.
(document no. 27) ¶ 44.
PEA further described the reports’
contents -- including Attorney McGintee’s conclusions -- in
several filings with this court, including Dean Mischke’s
declaration and its proposed findings of fact and conclusions of
law filed in advance of a subsequently-cancelled hearing on the
plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.
Mischke Decl. (document no. 16-4) ¶¶ 18-19, 26; Defendant’s
Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (document
no. 17) ¶¶ 33-34.
Defendant PEA has not borne its burden of demonstrating
that the reports prepared by Attorney McGintee, an independent
investigator, enjoy the protections of the attorney-client
Even had it done so, the court finds that PEA waived
that privilege by placing the content of the reports at issue in
this litigation and through disclosure to third parties.
Accordingly, PEA’s motion for a protective order5 is DENIED.6
Joseph N. Laplante
United States District Judge
October 13, 2016
Max D. Stern, Esq.
Megan C. Deluhery, Esq.
Samantha Dowd Elliott, Esq.
W. Daniel Deane, Esq.
Steven M. Richard, Esq.
Joel Rosen, Esq.
Stephen J. Judge, Esq.
Document no. 25.
Upon learning that PEA must disclose the reports in discovery,
Jane Roe’s father requested an opportunity for his objection to
the disclosure to be heard. The court held a conference on
October 11, 2016, attended by counsel for all parties and for
the Roes. The court understands that a stipulation covering
treatment of Jane Roe’s statements in publicly filed documents
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