Attorney-Client Privilege Extends to Communications Between a Homeowner Association’s Counsel and Individual Homeowners at Litigation Update Meetings

SEAHAUS LA JOLLA OWNERS ASSN. v. SUPERIOR COURT (2014) 224 CAL. APP. 4TH 754.

Plaintiff Seahaus La Jolla Homeowners Association (“Association”) sued La Jolla View Ltd., LLC, et. al. and Webcor Construction L.P. , the developers and builders (collectively referred to as “Defendants”) of a common interest development, claiming construction defects alleging water and other damages to the common areas of the common interest development and individual units. At issue in this matter was whether the information provided to the individual homeowners was protected from disclosure under the Attorney-Client Privilege.

As part of the Association’s duty under the CC&Rs and Civil Code Section 6150; former Civil Code Section 1368.5, the Association was responsible for updating the individual homeowners as to the litigation process. In doing so, the Association held several informational litigation update meetings, conducted by the Association’s counsel, intended for only individual homeowners. Defendants in the construction defect action sought to inquire into the content and disclosures made at these informational meetings. The Associations’ counsel objected on the basis of the attorney-client privilege.

Defendants’ filed a Motion to Compel against the Association. The Association countered the information was protected from disclosure pursuant to the attorney-client privilege (Evidence Code Sections 952 & 912 (d)). The trial court overruled the Association’s claim of attorney-client privilege in the discovery dispute involving Defendants’ efforts to depose individual homeowners regarding disclosures made at informational litigation update meetings. The Association filed a Writ of Mandamus as to the trial court’s ruling contending the trial court abused its discretion in overruling the Association’s claim of attorney-client privilege.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal relied on the “common interest doctrine,” finding the content of the subject communications, as well as the circumstances, protected the confidentiality of these communications (Civil Code Sections 6150 (a) & 5980). The Court concluded the Association had the duty and power to communicate with individual homeowners as to the status of litigation, and did so in a manner to maintain confidentiality by restricting attendance and information dispensed at the meetings from going to third parties like tenants, realtors and prospective buyers, so as not to waive that privilege. Furthermore, the court found that such communications with the individual homeowners accomplished the purpose for which the Association’s counsel was retained. As a result, the court held that the communications at the informational litigation update meeting were protected by the attorney-client privilege.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Ramirez is a Senior Counsel at TYSON & MENDES, LLP, and primarily represents clients in complex litigation, including construction defect, insurance law, property disputes, and product liability. Mr. Ramirez was recently named as a “Top Lawyer” in California for “Litigation” in the June 2014 issue of American Lawyer Media.

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