District of Illinois Directs Insurer to Supplement Record to Support Privilege Based on “Common Interest Doctrine” | Carlton Fields

In Ansur America Insurance Co. v. Borland, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois addressed a discovery dispute involving claims brought by Ansur America Insurance Co. against the law firm Ansur retained to defend an insured in an underlying product liability action. Ansur alleged that the defendants failed to defend the case in a reasonable manner, which resulted in Ansur having to settle the case at a substantially increased amount. The defendants sought the production of several categories of documents from Ansur regarding its handling of the underlying claim. Ansur withheld or redacted numerous documents asserting the attorney-client and work product privileges. The defendants filed a motion to compel production disputing Ansur’s privilege assertions.

The court first addressed whether certain claims department and corporate officers listed on Ansur’s privilege log were control group members, which would support the application of the privileges to their communications. The court found Ansur established that some of the individuals were in fact members of the control group and that their communications were privileged. With regard to the other individuals who were not within the control group, the court directed Ansur to produce their communications.

The court then addressed the defendants’ arguments that Ansur should be required to produce documents Ansur shared with its reinsurers regarding the underlying product liability claim. Ansur opposed production, contending the common interest doctrine provides a basis for withholding the production of the reinsurance-related documents at issue. The common interest doctrine “extends a preexisting privilege to communications made in the presence of third parties for the purpose of coordinating a defense strategy or pooling information for common legal purpose.” Ansur argued the doctrine applied because it “shared an identical interest with its reinsurers and therefore, the privilege was not lost by their sharing of documents.” The court concluded that, based on the motion papers, it was unable to determine whether the common interest doctrine was applicable. The court noted it must first examine the communications at issue to determine whether the underlying privileges exist. Recognizing Ansur and its reinsurers do share a common legal interest, and that the common interest doctrine could apply to certain communications and documents, the court directed Ansur to review the documents and determine if they were “made in connection with the provision of legal services and was not just discussing the availability of reinsurance,” after which the court would conduct an in camera review of the documents.

Ansur America Insurance Co. v. Borland, No. 3:21-cv-00059 (S.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 2023).

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