Attorneys Brad Robinson and Brandon Maxey, in the Dallas office of Hartline Barger LLP, submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a group law professors from across the country.
The case stems from a 9th Circuit decision that raises concerns regarding the application of federal vs. state privilege law in federal cases where the court’s personal jurisdiction is based solely on diversity of citizenship—as well as overarching issues of federalism. The issue on appeal is whether state privilege law governs a state law claim in federal court, where the court’s jurisdiction is based solely on diversity. Or, as the 9th Circuit held, would Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence regarding privilege govern?
In this breach of contract case, the application of state privilege law would have resulted in the exclusion of a key email from a pre-suit mediation—while the application of federal law, according to the 9th Circuit, would have allowed the email into evidence. The email was the crucial piece of evidence supporting a motion for summary judgment. As such, the application of state vs. federal law was dispositive on the state law claim.
In the trial court, the defendant-petitioner argued that state law should apply because the district court’s jurisdiction on this state-law claim arose solely out of diversity. On appeal, the 9th Circuit reversed, holding that federal privilege law should have governed because the pre-suit mediation implicated potential federal claims—although no federal claims were present at the time of the trial court’s decision.
The law professors’ brief supports the petitioner’s position. In short, issues of federalism and the underlying policy of the Erie Doctrine support the application of state law in this context. As discussed in the law professors’ brief, Congress debated this very issue while designing Rule 501. Specifically, Congress designed the rule to avoid overriding states’ policy choices when state-law governs the claims and defenses in a case.
The case is Hannstar Display Corp. v. Sony Electronics, Inc., et. al., No. 16-1457. The petition has been distributed for the Court’s Conference of September 25, 2017.
Alan Carrillo, a summer associate at Hartline Barger, also contributed to the work performed on this brief.