Author: Charlotte Howells

Situational Awareness Matters: Two Courts Evaluate Whether TAR Processes Are Warranted and Reach Very Different Conclusions

Two recent decisions from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc.) and the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Livingston v. City of Chicago), highlight the increasing prevalence of Technology Assisted Review (TAR) as an e-discovery tool and its role as an emerging source of discovery disputes. We have previously addressed courts that have “endorsed” the use of predictive coding and/or TAR and have recommended that litigants consider such technologies to promote efficiency in the discovery process. We have also noted that courts have been extremely hesitant to impose affirmative requirements upon litigants to use these technologies. As discussed below, these two recent decisions provide a useful analysis of situations – with vastly different outcomes – where a party has introduced TAR procedures into the discovery process. In Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., plaintiff, the former CEO of defendant Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., filed suit based on his claim that the defendant failed to properly disburse his retirement compensation. Defendant claimed that plaintiff violated a non-compete agreement by engaging in consulting services with one of its competitors during the two-year period subject to the restrictive covenant. Plaintiff refuted these allegations, claiming that the companies he serviced did not engage in the same business as defendant. Though the business...

Technology-Assisted Review Is Not Compulsory, but Litigants’ Reluctance to Accept New E-Discovery Technologies Comes With Consequences

A Special Master appointed to administer discovery disputes in In re Mercedes-Benz Emissions Litigation, pending in the District of New Jersey, rejected Plaintiffs’ application to compel Defendants to utilize technology assisted review (“TAR”) or predictive coding in connection with the parties’ negotiation of their search term protocol. While we have previously addressed courts that have “endorsed” the use of predictive coding and/or TAR and have recommended that litigants consider the use of such technologies to promote efficiency in the discovery process, courts will be extremely hesitant to impose affirmative requirements on litigants in carrying out discovery. TAR is a process “in which human reviewers and a computer engage in an interactive process to ‘train’ the computer how to identify responsive documents based on properties and characteristics beyond simple search terms.” Special Master Dennis M. Cavanaugh, U.S.D.J. (ret.) observed that courts have universally concluded that TAR is “cheaper, more efficient and superior to keyword searching.” Nevertheless, the Special Master acknowledged that “responding parties are best situated to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for producing their own electronically stored information.” Thus, while courts have permitted parties to use TAR for document review, no court has compelled predictive coding over another party’s objection. The Special Master followed the approach of the few courts that have addressed...

FOI-led: Supreme Court Restricts Public Access to Confidential Business Information

In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, the United States Supreme Court expanded the meaning of “confidential” information exempt from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In doing so, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and definitively rejected the “competitive harm” requirement adopted by the D.C. Circuit in National Parks & Conservation Assn. v. Morton. Respondent Argus Leader Media filed a FOIA request with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), seeking the names and addresses of all retail stores that participate in a federal food stamp program known as SNAP. Argus Leader also sought each store’s annual redemption data from 2005 to 2010. The USDA declined to disclose store-level SNAP data based on Exemption 4 of FOIA, which precludes disclosure of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.” Argus Leader sued the USDA. The district court ordered disclosure based upon the failure to satisfy the “competitive harm” test, which requires a party to establish confidentiality by proving that disclosure is “likely … to cause substantial harm to [its] competitive position.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment. In a 6-3 decision delivered by Justice Gorsuch, the Court rejected the competitive harm test and...

NJ Supreme Court Narrowly Construes Shareholder’s Right to Inspection of Corporate Records

In R.A. Feuer v. Merck & Co., Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s narrow construction of the scope of a shareholder’s right to inspect a corporation’s records under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28 and the common law. In the underlying case, a Merck & Co, Inc. shareholder sought documents in order to elicit evidence that Merck acted wrongfully in its acquisition of another pharmaceutical firm. Merck appointed a “Working Group” to respond to the shareholder’s demand, which rejected the shareholder’s request for documents relating to the acquisition. Following this rejection, the shareholder sought twelve broad categories of corporate documents, including documents pertaining to the Working Group’s activities, communications, and formation; documents provided to the board regarding the target pharmaceutical firm and two of its drugs; and the board’s consideration of the shareholder’s demands and the Working Group’s recommendation. Merck disclosed pertinent minutes of the board and of the Working Group, but denied the remainder of the shareholder’s demand. The shareholder sued Merck, alleging entitlement to the documents under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28(4), which permits a shareholder to compel the corporation to produce its “books and records of account, minutes, and record of shareholders,” and the common law. The trial court denied the shareholder’s request and the Appellate Division affirmed. In a per curiam decision, the New...

Recent ERISA Preemption Decision in District of New Jersey Marks Departure from Prior Precedent

In Glastein v. Aetna, Inc., et al., the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, departing from several recent decisions in the District, denied Defendant Aetna, Inc.’s motion to dismiss a medical provider’s claim for reimbursement of insurance benefits on the ground that such claim was preempted by ERISA. Glastein, an out-of-network orthopedic surgeon, allegedly performed a medically necessary surgery for an Aetna-insured patient. Prior to the surgery, Glastein secured a written authorization for the service from Aetna. Glastein later billed Aetna $209,000, allegedly the “normal and reasonable” charges for the procedure. Aetna did not pay any portion of the charged amount. Glastein sued Aetna, alleging several state common law claims, including breach of contract, promissory estoppel, accounting, and fraudulent inducement. After removing the action from the Superior Court of New Jersey to the District of New Jersey, Aetna moved to dismiss Glastein’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant’s sole argument for dismissal was that Plaintiff’s state-law causes of action were expressly preempted by ERISA’s “express preemption” provision, under which ERISA preempts state laws where the state law refers to an ERISA plan or has an impermissible connection with an ERISA plan. In support of its preemption argument, Aetna cited to several recent decisions where the District dismissed complaints alleging...

Access Denied: NJ Appellate Division Clarifies Shareholder’s Right to Inspection of Corporate Records

In R.A. Feuer v. Merck & Co., Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division, in a to-be-published opinion, narrowly construed the scope of a shareholder’s right to inspect a corporation’s records under N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28 and the common law. A Merck & Co, Inc. shareholder appealed from the dismissal of his complaint seeking various corporate records, including twelve broad categories of documents. The shareholder sought evidence that Merck acted wrongfully in its acquisition of another pharmaceutical firm. After Merck appointed a working group to assess the shareholder’s concerns, the shareholder requested documents pertaining generally to the working group’s activities, communications, and formation; documents provided to the board regarding the target pharmaceutical firm and two of its drugs; and the board’s considerations of the shareholder’s demands and the working group’s recommendation. Merck disclosed pertinent minutes of the board and of the working group, but denied the remainder of the shareholder’s demand. The trial court determined that the shareholder’s demand exceeded the scope of the “books and records of account, minutes, and record of shareholders,” which the shareholder had a statutory right to inspect and that the common law did not expand that statutory right. The Appellate Division affirmed, narrowly construing the plain language of N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28(4). According to the court, “minutes” refers to “shareholder, board, and executive committee...

The Ties That Bind: When Will a Court Expel a Member of an LLC?

In IE Test, LLC v. Carroll, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed when a limited liability company (LLC) can expel a member under a statute authorizing a member’s disassociation for conduct that has made it “not reasonably practicable to carry on” the LLC’s activities. IE Test had three members, two of whom actively ran the business and drew salaries, and a third who played no role in the LLC’s day-to-day affairs. Before an operating agreement was executed, a dispute arose between the two active members and the passive member over the passive member’s compensation. Consequently, no operating agreement was ever signed. The two active members then sought to judicially disassociate the passive member on the statutory ground that the impasse and absence of an operating agreement made it “not reasonably practicable” that he could continue as a member. The trial court granted summary judgment, expelling the passive member, and the Appellate Division affirmed.

Online News Sources Have Standing to Protect Free Speech Rights for Anonymous Users, According to New Jersey Appellate Division

Online newspapers, internet service providers, and website hosts have standing to assert the constitutional rights of their users, according to the New Jersey Appellate Division’s recent unpublished decision in Trawinski v. Doe. In Trawinski, the Appellate Division affirmed the denial of a plaintiff’s request for a subpoena requiring NJ.com to disclose the identity of an anonymous commenter. Underlying plaintiff’s request were allegedly defamatory remarks made by an anonymous poster using the screen name “EPLifer2” concerning plaintiff and her husband, a borough council member of Elmwood Park.