A/C Privilege - Common Interest Doctrine

In Seahaus La Jolla Owners Association v. Superior Court (224 Cal.App.4th 754), the California Court of Appeals explained the Common Interest Doctrine of the attorney-client privilege.  The defendant sought to obtain information disclosed by counsel of the HOA at pre-litigation meetings; the defendant claimed that the presence of homeowners (who were affiliated with the defendant) at the pre-litigation meetings waived the attorney-client privilege. The plaintiff claimed the disclosure was was protected under the Common Interest Doctrine and contested the defendant's request.

The Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and held the information privileged. As the Court explained, the Common Interest doctrine was a qualified privilege dependent on the content and circumstances of the communication sought to be privileged.  The qualification required that all parties (to the allegedly privileged communication) have (1) a common interest in securing legal advice related to the same matter, and (2) the communications are made to advance that common interest.  Since the homeowners were concerned with their respective property values in relation to the claim made by the HOA, they shared a common interest in the legal status of the HOA’s claim.  Since the disclosures were also made pursuant to the HOA’s claims, they were made to advance said common interest.  Because the HOA was required by law to notify all homeowners of upcoming litigation, its was required to disclose the information to homeowners affiliated with the defendant, and that did not destroy the privilege.

The court concluded that the decision did not expand the scope of the attorney-client privilege, but only applied recognized rules to an unusual set of facts.