Militello v. VFARM 1509, 89 Cal. App. 5th 602 (2023)

Shauneen Militello brought a 22-count complaint against fellow co-owners of a cannabis manufacturing and distribution company, including Ann Lawrence.  Lawrence moved to disqualify Militello’s counsel, arguing that Militello had improperly provided to her counsel private emails between Lawrence and her husband that were sent on the company’s email network, which Militello’s attorney attempted to use in the litigation in violation of the spousal communications privilege.  The trial court agreed with Lawrence and disqualified Militello’s attorney, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that private emails sent on a company computer network could not be used against the user where the user had a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to personal emails sent over the company network. The appellate court noted that, because Lawrence was not “on notice” that her emails were not confidential, Militello failed to prove that Lawrence did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  In so finding, both the trial court and Court of Appeal emphasized that Militello provided no evidence that the company had a policy of monitoring individual email accounts or any policy prohibiting the use of the company’s email account for personal communications, which might have otherwise defeated Lawrence’s reasonable expectation of privacy.