The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the attorney-client privilege was not waived by the appellants’ affirmative defense because the privileged material will not be used to prove the defense. The facts are not described but the lawsuit concerns the purchase of a building and the rent and regulatory status of plaintiffs’ apartments:
An “at issue” waiver of privilege occurs where a party affirmatively places the subject matter of its own privileged communication at issue in the litigation so that invasion of the privilege is required to determine the validity of a claim or defense of the party asserting the privilege and application of the privilege would deprive the adversary of vital information. However, the fact that a privileged communication contains information relevant to the issues the parties are litigating does not, without more, place the contents of the privileged communication “at issue” in the lawsuit … . An “at issue” waiver occurs when a party has asserted a claim or defense that it intends to prove by the use of the privileged material … .
Here, appellants represent that they will not use the due diligence report to prove their claim of lack of willfulness and/or knowledge of the rent regulatory status of plaintiffs’ apartments. In this situation, appellants’ willfulness is presumed; and plaintiffs and seller defendants have adequate other sources of evidence to demonstrate whether or not appellants’ affirmative defense and cross claims have merit. Alekna v 207-217 W. 110 Portfolio Owner LLC, 2020 NY Slip Op 06841, First Dept 11-19-20