Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Superior Court, S163335 (Cal. Nov. 30, 2009)
In 2000, Costco hired outside counsel to provide legal advice regarding the applicability of certain wage and overtime laws to its warehouse managers. In furtherance of providing such advice, counsel spoke with two managers Costco had made available to her. Thereafter, she provided Costco with a 22-page opinion letter addressing the question at issue. Several years later, plaintiffs in a class action against Costco sought to compel production of the relevant opinion letter arguing that the letter contained unprivileged information and that Costco had placed the contents in issue thereby waiving the privilege.
To resolve the question, the court ordered the letter be reviewed by a discovery referee who subsequently recommended production of the letter with heavy redactions. The referee reasoned that the factual information therein was not privileged and that while interviewing the two managers, the attorney had acted not as an attorney but as a fact finder. The trial court adopted the recommendation and ordered the letter produced. On appeal (and without ruling on the merits of the trial court’s order or its decision to refer the letter to a discovery referee for review), the court affirmed the order reasoning that Costco had failed to establish that the production would cause irreparable harm. The issue was appealed to the Supreme Court of California.