Arnold v. Cargill, Inc.
2004 WL 2203410 (D.Minn) (2004)

  • Arnold and other employees of Cargill were suing (as a class action) for racial discrimination.
    • Arnold et. al. was represented by the law firm of Sprenger & Lang, specifically by an attorney named Schaefer.
    • Sprenger & Lang had represented other plaintiffs suing Cargill in the past for similar discrimination complaints.
  • Douglas worked for Cargill as an EEO manager. In that position he was privy to a lot of EEO issues at Cargill. He retired and contacted Sprenger & Lang about a consulting job.
    • Douglas had signed an agreement with Cargill prohibiting him from bringing any administrative claims against them.
  • Two years later, Sprenger & Lang contacted Douglas as part of discovery and Douglas offered to provide a lot of inside information.
    • Douglas provided inside information and confidential documents to Sprenger & Lang.
      • Some of which was probably covered by attorney-client privilege or were general considered privileged information and should not have been available for discovery.
    • Douglas demanded that Sprenger & Lang not associate his name with any of the information he provided.
  • Schaefer testified that he told Douglas not to provide any privileged information and retuned documents to Douglas that were obviously off-limits.
    • Somehow, some of the privileged documents ended up getting copied and stored.
    • Cargill asked for documents as part of rediscovery, and found the privileged documents in Sprenger & Lang’s possession.
  • Douglas testified that Schaefer told him to destroy the records before Cargill’s attorneys subpoenaed them. Schaefer denied the allegation.
  • Cargill did extensive discovery and deposed Douglas about the documents. The reported their findings to the Court.
  • Cargill petitioned the Court to disqualify Sprenger & Lang, dismiss the charges, and impose sanctions.
    • They charged Sprenger & Lang with violating Rule 4.1, Rule 4.2, and Rule 4.4.
      • Rule 4.1(a) says that attorneys cannot make false statements, or fail to disclose material facts related to ongoing criminal or fraudulent acts by their client.
      • Rule 4.2 says that attorneys should not directly contact people involved in the matter who are represented by another attorney without first getting permission from that attorney.
      • Rule 4.4(b) says that if an attorney receives a document relating to the representation of the lawyer’s client and knows or reasonably should know that the document was inadvertently sent shall promptly notify the sender.
  • The Trial Court disqualified Sprenger & Lang from further representing their client in this matter.
    • The Trial Court found that Sprenger & Lang violated Rule 4.1 by making false statements to Douglas in order to obtain his cooperation.
      • They told him that he might be able to recover as part of the class action, when that was not true.
    • The Trial Court found that Sprenger & Lang violated Rule 4.2 by contacting Douglas directly, because he was the former employee of an adverse party.
      • Other Courts have ruled differently in similar situations.
      • Cargill’s attorneys could certainly have advised Douglas not to turn over privileged information.
    • The Trial Court found that Sprenger & Lang violated Rule 4.4 by actively pursuing documents known to be privileged, not adequately warning Douglas not to provide said documents, and not alerting the Court or Cargill when they came into possession of said documents.
    • The Trial Court declined to dismiss the lawsuit or impose sanctions, they simply told Arnold et. al. to get a new attorney.