Shell Oil Co. v. Writt (Opinion)Annotate this Case
After Shell Oil Company and Shell International, E&P, Inc. (collectively, Shell) received notice from the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by one of its contractors, Shell performed an internal investigation and reported the results to the DOJ. Shell employee Robert Writt was terminated following the investigation. Writt sued Shell for wrongful termination and defamation. Writt’s defamation claim was based on allegations that, in the report provided to the DOJ, Shell falsely accused him of approving bribery payments and participating in illegal conduct. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Shell, concluding that Shell was absolutely privileged to prove the investigative report to the DOJ. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the report was only conditionally, not absolutely, privileged because the evidence did not conclusively establish that at the time Shell provided its report to the DOJ a criminal judicial proceeding was under serious consideration. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Shell’s statements were made preliminarily to a proposed judicial proceeding, and thus, the statements in the report were absolutely privileged.