Photo of Nicole Owren-WiestPhoto of Stephen M. ByersPhoto of Skye MathiesonPhoto of Michelle ColemanPhoto of Charles BaekPhoto of John Nakoneczy

In Ingham Regional Medical Center v. U.S. (Jan. 6, 2020), the Court of Federal Claims compelled production of certain government investigatory documents that the Court found were not privileged work product prepared “in anticipation of litigation.” The Medical Center sued to recover payments for outpatient healthcare services performed in connection with DoD’s TRICARE program after initial settlement discussions had failed. During discovery, the government inadvertently produced several documents that assessed the accuracy of its previous payments to the Medical Center, including documents that had been repeatedly logged as privileged. Although the government claimed that the documents were prepared in anticipation of litigation, the court held that the documents did not constitute protected work product because they were produced in furtherance of a business purpose (i.e., payment investigation) well before a genuine threat of litigation arose. The court equated the government’s function in assessing the hospital’s claims for alleged underpayments to that of an insurer who investigates a claim before making a final determination. Therefore, since the threat of litigation was too remote, the court found that the work product had been prepared for a possible negotiated business settlement between the parties, rather than for litigation. Contractors and others engaged in litigation with the government should keep “ordinary course of business” arguments in mind as a basis to challenge government privilege assertions.