Hickman v. Taylor

Litigants=Hickman v. Taylor
ArgueDate=November 13
DecideDate=January 13
FullName=Hickman, Administrator v. Taylor, et al., trading as Taylor & Anderson Towing & Lighterage Company, et al.
Citation=67 S. Ct. 385; 91 L. Ed. 451; 1947 U.S. LEXIS 2966; 34 Ohio Op. 395
Prior=Cert. to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Holding=Discovery of written materials obtained or prepared by an adversary’s counsel with an eye toward litigation may not be had unless party seeking discovery can establish that relevant and non-privileged facts remain hidden in an attorney’s file and where production of those facts is essential to the preparation of one’s case.
JoinMajority=Vinson, Black, Reed, Douglas, Rutledge, Burton
LawsApplied=Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26

"Hickman v. Taylor", 329 U.S. 495 (1947), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court recognized the work-product doctrine, which holds that information obtained or produced by or for attorneys in anticipation of litigation may be protected from discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court's decision in the case was unanimous.


;Plaintiff/Petitioner:Hickman, representative of one of five deceased employees on the John M. Taylor tugboat, owned and operated by Defendant.:Abraham E. Freedman, attorney for Petitioner.;Defendant:Taylor & Anderson Towing & Lighterage Co., et al., company owning tugboat in question.;Respondent:Fortenbaugh, attorney for Defendant.


tate of law

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, a relatively recent innovation, granted mandatory discovery of certain documents and materials when requested. (The modern Rule 26(b)(3), protecting trial preparation materials, did not become effective until 1970.)

Facts of case

Defendant's tugboat sunk in Delaware River, killing five of nine crew members, including Petitioner's decedent.

Prior history

Public hearings were held in which the four survivors were examined, and testimony was recorded and made available to all involved. In contemplation of litigation, Defendant and underwriter employed Respondent, who privately interviewed survivors and others and took signed statements from them. In some cases, Respondent made memoranda summarizing the contents of interviews of non-survivor parties. Petitioner sought to compel production of signed statements and memoranda. Respondent granted names of those who had provided statements, but refused to produce documents. The court ordered his imprisonment, but stayed the order pending appeal. Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the production order was reversed.

Procedural posture

Petitioner seeks reinstatement of order to produce documents and order of imprisonment.

Legal analysis


Whether the district court erred in requiring the production of documents obtained or prepared by retained counsel in anticipation of litigation absent necessity or other circumstances.


;Respondent:Respondent refused to produce documents on the ground that they were not subject to discovery, and were protected as privileged matter obtained in preparation for litigation, and constituted "an attempt to obtain indirectly counsel's private files." Production of documents would amount to revealing litigation strategy of counsel. ;Petitioner:Petitioner argued that the deposition-discovery provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are designed to enable the parties to discover true facts and compel their disclosure wherever they may be found. Because discovery is to be granted liberally, the privilege limitation must be interpreted narrowly. To prohibit discovery in these circumstances would aid corporate defendants against individual plaintiffs: corporate defendants would retain a lawyer immediately, making all subsequently collected information unavailable to plaintiff, but individuals may wait for some time before retaining a lawyer, making information collected before the retention of counsel available to the corporate defendant.

Rule of law

Discovery of written materials obtained or prepared by an adversary's counsel with an eye toward litigation may not be had unless party seeking discovery can establish that relevant and non-privileged facts remain hidden in an attorney's file and where production of those facts is essential to the preparation of one's case. (The work-product doctrine.)


The district court erred in requiring the production of documents obtained or prepared by retained counsel in anticipation of litigation absent necessity or other circumstances.


(1) Petitioner's argument that protection of trial preparation materials unduly benefits corporate defendants against individual plaintiffs is not persuasive, as discovery may work to the disadvantage as well as to the advantage of individual plaintiffs. (2) While discovery should be granted liberally, there are limits, such as a prohibition on discovery of bad faith discovery requests or attempts to obtain privileged material. (3) Defendant's argument that such material is protected by attorney-client privilege is faulty because statements, memoranda, and mental impressions do not fall under such privilege, because those materials do not document interaction with the client. (4) Petitioner, having been granted the list of those interviewed, has full ability to consult those individuals itself, or to consult the public records available on the subject. Petitioner had not showed any prejudicial effect of denying discovery. (5) It is essential that counsel, historically officers of the court, be able to work with a certain degree of privacy, free from unnecessary intrusion by opposing parties and their counsel. The "work product" of the attorney inevitable reflects the mental impressions of the attorney. If discovery were granted, much less would be written, and much more would be forgotten. Inefficiency, unfairness, and sharp practices would inevitably develop in the giving of legal advice, damaging the legal profession and the interests of justice. (6) Discovery in cases of necessity may be permissible when information is embedded in the attorney work product, but only when alternate methods of acquiring the method are unavailable. In this case, there is no showing of necessity or unavailability of the information elsewhere.

Notable concurring and dissenting opinions

;Jackson, J., concurring.:Discovery rules may not be formulated in granting special privileges to one class of litigants, plaintiff or defendant, corporate or individual, or otherwise. Discovery is intended to afford fairness in access to information, not to make one's litigation strategy available to one's adversary. While a "battle of wits" results from confidential litigation strategies, litigation without strategy would be far more demeaning to the legal profession and would not work in the interest of justice.



Circuit court reversal of production order affirmed.

Legacy and other notes

The "trial preparations material"/work-product doctrine was later codified in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3). See [http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp/Rule26.htm Rule 26] .

ee also

* List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 329

External links

* [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=329&page=495 Full text opinion from Findlaw.com]

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