Author: Kevin H. Gilmore

Clearing the Bar: SDNY Reminds Litigants of High Standard for Imposing Sanctions Under Rule 37(e)(2)

A recent decision out of the Southern District of New York once again illustrates the risk of sanctions under several sections of Fed. R. Civ. P. (“Rule”) 37 for spoliation of evidence and discovery misconduct, as well as the high burden a party must satisfy when seeking sanctions under Rule 37(e)(2). In Bursztein v. Best Buy Stores, L.P., despite finding that defendant flouted discovery obligations, failed to communicate promptly with its adversary, and raised baseless objections throughout discovery, the Court declined to impose sanctions under Rule 37(e)(2), though it did award sanctions – both monetary and in the form of evidence submission to the jury – under Rule 37(e)(1).

Blowing Things Out of Proportion: S.D.N.Y. Finds Hyperlinked Documents Are Not Necessarily Attachments and Rejects a Revamping of Production Protocols

The Southern District of New York recently held that hyperlinked documents should not necessarily be considered “attachments” and declined to require a responding party to utilize a collection tool proposed by the requesting party, which would have collected all hyperlinked documents and maintained their familial relationship with the parent document. This is a novel and important issue that has not received such thorough treatment by other courts. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many employees to work from home and increasing the use of cloud-storage apps for documents, the issues related to the treatment of hyperlinked documents and litigants’ obligations in collecting and producing these documents are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. In Nichols v. Noom Inc., the plaintiffs initiated a class action suit against Noom for a litany of allegations centered around false advertising. Prior to commencing discovery, Noom agreed to collect and search relevant data from multiple Google App sources (i.e., Gmail, G-chat, Google Drive). The parties agreed to utilize Google Vault to collect the relevant documents from Google Drive, despite the fact that Google Vault would not be able to collect file path metadata for each document. Additionally, the parties never agreed to the method of collection for emails stored on Gmail. While Noom wanted to use Google Vault to collect the relevant emails,...

Getting Your Ducks in a Row: Court Stresses High Evidentiary Threshold for Rule 37 Sanctions and Cautions Against Precipitous Motions

A recent case out of the Middle District of Florida illustrates the importance for parties contemplating motions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 to first understand the high threshold required for the court to grant their motions and impose sanctions. Examining a barrage of sanction motions, the court highlighted that a party needs to present a strong factual record when seeking charges of spoliation, as it takes more than simple allegations of destruction or non-retention of evidence to find sanctions appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37. Further, the decision provides a clear-cut example of unnecessary costs incurred and wasted judicial resources resulting from the failure of the parties to cooperate throughout the discovery process. As discussed below, while a number of the parties in the litigation entered into an electronically stored information (ESI) protocol, it appears that many of the discovery disputes could have been avoided if certain key areas, including the temporal scope of the documents to be produced, were addressed in that protocol. In Centennial Bank v. ServisFirst Bank, Inc., several former employees allegedly violated non-compete provisions of their employment agreements with the plaintiff, Centennial Bank (“Centennial”), when they left to work for the defendant, ServisFirst Bank. Beginning in 2016, the protracted discovery in this litigation involved countless disputes ranging from the...

Avoiding Unnecessary Costs: Court Reminds Parties to Narrowly Tailor Discovery Requests

As previously highlighted by this blog, discovery is best effectuated through cooperation by the parties in a litigation. A baseline to cooperation is adhering to the discovery rules set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court of Idaho recently issued a reminder to parties that discovery requests must be narrowly tailored in proportion to the needs of the litigation and that serving overly broad discovery requests is not a court-approved negotiation tactic. Further, prior to seeking court intervention, the parties should cooperate in an effort to resolve any discovery disputes by meeting and conferring with sincerity. In Oswald v. Costco Wholesale Corp., the plaintiff was struck by a car and pinned against another car in one of the defendant’s parking lots, causing significant and permanent injuries. The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging the parking lot was unsafe in its design and construction. In discovery, the plaintiff propounded extremely broad discovery requests, requesting that the defendant disclose “on a nationwide basis any incident [involving] a vehicle impacting anything.” In turn, the defendant sought a protective order asserting the discovery requests were overly broad and unduly burdensome. The court agreed with the defendant, stating that the plaintiff inappropriately used the “hearing as a sort of negotiation whereby the court is expected to replace...

Cooperation Is Key: E.D.N.Y. Decision Illustrates the Risk of Refusing to Cooperate in Discovery

While litigation is inherently adversarial, counsel and litigants would be well-served to recognize that “zealous advocacy” and cooperation need not be mutually exclusive, especially in cases with significant amounts of electronically stored information (ESI). A recent decision from the District Court for the Eastern District of New York illustrates the risk a party and/or counsel takes in refusing to engage in the meet and confer process. This decision also reaffirms the fact that, when parties are working on crafting ESI search terms, it is the parties, not the court, who are in the best position to resolve such discovery disputes through the meet and confer process required under FRCP 26. Cooperation during the discovery process is not only economical in avoiding potential costly disputes, but also required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In particular, Rule 1 instructs the parties must help the court to “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” To effectuate that goal, Rule 26(f) requires cooperation by the parties in formulating a discovery plan and meaningfully meeting and conferring in the event a discovery dispute arises. In the event the parties fail to cooperate, Rule 37 provides the court the ability to sanction a party for failing “to cooperate in discovery.” Additionally, many times, the...

Unnecessarily Opening Doors — the Southern District of California Provides an Important Reminder of the Value of FRE 502(d) Clawback Agreements

Highlighting numerous preventable mistakes that resulted in the unintentional waiver of attorney-client privilege, a recent Southern District of California decision reinforces the importance of comprehensive clawback agreements specifically pursuant to FRE 502(d) and (e) to prevent analysis of waiver under either FRCP 26 or the common law waiver standard embodied in FRE 502(b). This blog has previously addressed the interplay between Rule 502 and parties’ clawback agreements and recently discussed the limitations of FRE 502(d) and the inability of litigants to use it to compel production of potentially privileged information without a privilege review. In Orthopaedic Hospital v. DJO Global, Inc. and DJO Finance, LLC, the District Court found a waiver of the attorney-client privilege with respect to a privileged document introduced at deposition and the testimony elicited in connection with the privileged document due to the producing party’s failure to “promptly” rectify the inadvertent production under FRE 502(b). The court refused to find a broader subject matter waiver as a result of the introduction of this privileged document. Critically, the parties had proceeded with discovery without having negotiated, entered into, and sought Court approval of a clawback order under FRE 502(d), instead proceeding under a Rule 26 protective order that incorporated the common law clawback standard of FRE 502(b). As we have discussed in...

District Court Rejects the Concept of Unilateral “Relevance Redactions” but Stresses the Importance of Discovery Confidentiality Orders to Address Commercially-Sensitive Information

In a recent decision, a Washington District Court illustrated the challenges parties face when they are in possession of responsive documents also containing highly confidential irrelevant information. The court stressed that, as a general rule, a party is not permitted to unilaterally redact information solely on the basis of relevance, and parties should consider seeking to enter into comprehensive ESI discovery protocols and discovery confidentiality orders allowing for the redaction of irrelevant information included in otherwise responsive documents, particularly where the parties will be exchanging highly confidential information in discovery. In Corker v. Costco Wholesale, plaintiffs initiated a class action suit against a number of coffee wholesalers, distributors and retailers under the Latham Act for false designation of origin. In discovery, plaintiffs sought the sale volume and pricing for the particular blend of coffee at issue sold by the defendants. Instead of producing the spreadsheet containing this information in the native excel format, one defendant first produced documents summarizing the contents of the spreadsheet and then, after plaintiffs objected to this disclosure, a 2,269-page static PDF of the spreadsheet redacting information related to coffee blends not at issue in the litigation that the defendant considered highly confidential. Plaintiffs moved to compel the production of the spreadsheet in the native form as kept in the ordinary...

Third Circuit Clarifies Scope of Liability for Insurance Companies Under the Consumer Fraud Act

In a precedential decision interpreting the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), the Third Circuit determined that an automobile insurance carrier may be liable under the CFA for deceptively inducing one of its customers into releasing claims against another party represented by the carrier. In Alpizar-Fallas v. Favero, Defendant’s car struck Plaintiff’s vehicle, causing serious injury and damages. Both parties were insured by Defendant’s insurance company, Progressive. A Progressive claims adjuster arrived at Plaintiff’s home and presented her with a document that he claimed required her signature. The adjuster represented that by signing the document Plaintiff would expedite the claim process. Plaintiff signed the document relying on the adjuster’s statements. The document, however, was a “comprehensive general release of any and all claims” against defendant driver, also insured by Progressive. Plaintiff was not advised by the adjuster to seek counsel. Plaintiff subsequently brought a putative class action against Progressive for violation of the CFA. On Progressive’s motion, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims, reasoning that the CFA did not apply to “an insurance company’s refusal to pay benefits” but only to the “sale or marketing” of the policies. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the district court mischaracterized Plaintiff’s claim as one for denial of her benefits. Reaffirming its 2007 decision in Weiss...