In healthcare, companies often hire consultants to review billing and coding, privacy and security and a host of other technical issues that regular staff does not have the time or expertise to pursue. A recent discovery ruling in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania holds that communications with such outside consultants are privileged from discovery if they are made for the purpose of assisting the company in securing legal advice or making legal decisions.
In Smith v. Unilife Corporation, a whistleblower brought an action under Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank alleging shareholder fraud and failure to comply with certain FDA requirements. The plaintiff sought discovery of two non-lawyer consultants regarding drafts of the company’s SEC Form 10-K filing. The Court’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s motion to compel was based on the “functional equivalent” doctrine, a principle already adopted in the 8th, 9th and D.C. Circuits, but not yet in the 3rd Circuit.