Author: Scott J. Etish

Litigating at the Intersection of Cooperation and Sedona Principle 6

The terms “cooperation” and “transparency” continue to gain traction in the context of litigation discovery, and the emergence of these concepts has been accompanied by a gradual erosion of a party’s ability to respond to discovery with autonomy. Litigants are often forced to make a decision as the expectation of cooperation in discovery intersects with the understanding that it is the responding party who will be in the best position to formulate a comprehensive discovery plan to search for, gather, and ultimately produce its own electronically stored information (ESI). This is based on the premise that the responding party is best situated to understand its own systems, the formats of communication used by employees, and the lingo used to discuss the subject matter of the dispute. The Sedona Conference Principle 6 recognizes that a responding party is in the best position to select relevant technology to appropriately gather and produce relevant information. On the other hand, the Sedona Conference Cooperation Proclamation, the 2016 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and countless judicial decisions extoll the benefits of cooperation. The intersection of Sedona Conference Principle 6 with the concepts of “cooperation” and “transparency” has been on full display in several recent decisions involving attempts by a requesting party to force a responding party to...

End of the Road: GN Netcom Inc. and Plantronics Settle Eight-Year Litigation Saga Beset by E-Discovery Sanctions

On July 12, 2020, United States District Judge Leonard P. Stark of the District Court for the District of Delaware (“District Court”) approved a joint stipulation of settlement filed by GN Netcom Inc., parent of Jabra headphones, and Plantronics. This settlement will end the eight-year old litigation saga between GN Netcom and Plantronics involving allegations that Plantronics had monopolized the relevant market via exclusive distribution deals which required its distributors to only sells Plantronics’ headsets and not those of its rivals. This case is noteworthy as to e-discovery because of the severe sanctions of $3,000,000 and an adverse inference jury instruction entered by the District Court against Plantronics in 2016 pursuant to then recently amended Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e). This blog post will not recount the full panoply of discovery abuses addressed in the District Court’s July 12, 2016 Order, but, in broad strokes, Plantronics was found to have acted in bad faith in failing to take reasonable steps to preserve ESI which could not be restored or replaced. The District Court’s sanctions order was entered because Don Houston, a former executive of the company, “double-deleted” thousands of his own relevant emails despite the existence of a legal hold. Mr. Houston also directed other employees of the company to delete relevant emails. While...

Raising the Specter of Discovery Abuse: The Importance of Developing a Discovery Record Before Filing a Motion to Compel

Two recent decisions highlight the importance of establishing a record of discovery abuse before filing a motion to compel based upon the commonly held suspicion that a responding party is withholding information and/or has failed to adequately preserve or search for information. Even in situations where a party is convinced that an adversary has failed to produce discoverable information, a litigant will face an uphill climb in pursuing a motion to compel in the absence of concrete evidence as to an adversary’s discovery shortfalls, including evidence of data deletion, untimely or absent preservation efforts, and/or the failure to produce information produced by other parties or third-parties that clearly should be in the possession of the responding party. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative (E.D. Pa.) In a recent decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Schiller denied plaintiffs’ motion to compel in a case where plaintiffs insisted that “there simply must be responsive documents,” but plaintiffs were unable to provide any specific evidence to support their speculation. In this antitrust litigation involving allegations that defendants colluded to raise the price of fresh agarics mushrooms, plaintiffs sought all documents from defendants regarding the sale of mushrooms to plaintiffs. In particular, numerous discovery disputes ensued after the court entered an order requiring defendants to...

Claw It Back: Updated Protections of New Jersey Rule of Evidence 530 on Inadvertent Disclosure

On July 1, 2020, Amended New Jersey Rule of Evidence 530 (Waiver of Privilege by Contract or Previous Disclosure) became effective. N.J.R.E. 530, which tracks Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 502, was amended as a result of the increasing use of electronic discovery in litigation and the associated concerns regarding the potential for the inadvertent disclosures. This blog has frequently addressed decisions involving F.R.E. 502, including in 2019, 2018, and 2012. Amended N.J.R.E. 530 includes significant revisions in paragraph(c), which includes provisions that apply “to disclosure of a communication or information covered by the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection.” N.J.R.E. 530(c). In particular, amended N.J.R.E. 530(c) addresses disclosures made during state proceedings or to state office or agency, N.J.R.E 530(c)(1); inadvertent disclosures, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(2); disclosures made in another forum’s proceeding, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(3); the controlling effect of a court’s order, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(4); and the controlling effect of a party agreement regarding disclosure, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(5). Under the amended Rule, it is clear that a court order regarding disclosure pursuant to N.J.R.E. 530(c)(4) has the potential to have a significant impact on other litigations, as the rule provides that a court order on privilege “is also not a waiver in any other federal or state proceeding.” However, an agreement “on the effect of disclosure in a state proceeding...

Slow Down You’re Moving Too Fast: Third Circuit Directs District Court to Resolve Motion to Compel Arbitration Before Motion to Dismiss

In a recent decision, the Third Circuit made it abundantly clear that a motion to compel arbitration must be decided before a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Joshua Silfee filed a lawsuit against ERG Staffing Service, his former employer, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, claiming the company’s payroll policies violated state law because workers were required to use a fee-carrying debit card. ERG filed a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act, asserting that the arbitration agreement between Silfee and ERG’s payroll vendor precluded the suit against ERG. ERG also filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss Silfee’s complaint based on the merits of his state law claims against the company. The district court decided to delay consideration of ERG’s motion to compel arbitration and denied the company’s motion to dismiss the case. ERG appealed. The Third Circuit concluded that the district judge erred in delaying the arbitrability inquiry, explaining that arbitrability is a “gateway” issue and that, after a motion to compel arbitration is filed, a court “must refrain from further action until it determines arbitrability.” The Third Circuit noted that “[t]he seeds of the District Court’s confusion may have been sown by our decision in Guidotti,” where the court explained that a motion to compel arbitration...

Don’t Ask For Too Much: Court Strikes Balance in Addressing Dispute Over Discoverability of Social Media

In a recent case, Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman of the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming reminds practitioners that requests for social media data still must be relevant and proportional to the dispute. In this auto accident case, the Court found a balance between the need for defendants to determine whether a plaintiff is lying or exaggerating and the possibility that allowing defendants too much leeway in seeking social media could dissuade injured plaintiffs from pursuing legitimate claims for fear of humiliation and embarrassment. Plaintiff alleged she sustained physical injuries, traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. In an extraordinarily broad discovery request, defendant requested that plaintiff produce “an electronic copy of your Facebook account history.” Plaintiff downloaded and produced information from her Facebook accounts gathered by using several keyword search terms. However, plaintiff refused to produce her entire Facebook archive, and defendant moved to compel. The Court explained that “[s]ocial media presents some unique challenges to courts” in determining the proper scope of discovery. In particular, Judge Carman explained: “People have always shared thoughts and feelings, but typically not in such a permanent and easily retrievable format. No court would have allowed unlimited depositions of every friend, social acquaintance, co-employee or relative of a plaintiff to inquire as...

Data Breach Victims Grounded: Third Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Putative Class Action Based on Economic-Loss Doctrine and Absence of Explicit Contractual Obligations

The Third Circuit’s recent decision affirming the district court’s dismissal of a proposed class action in its entirety highlights the difficulties faced by Plaintiffs pursuing data-security class actions in situations where the claims are not based upon explicit contractual language. This is an important decision for defense counsel to keep in mind in considering options to get rid of a class action before it takes off.

Signs of Life? – Judge Francis Opines that “Inherent Authority” to Sanction Spoliation Related Conduct Survives Amended Rule 37(e)

In perhaps the first published decision since the amended Federal Rules took effect on December 6, 2015, United States Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV, a preeminent judicial e-discovery authority, relied upon amended Rule 37(e) and, somewhat controversially, his inherent authority, to sanction a litigant for evidence tampering and spoliation. The opinion is significant, not solely because it invokes the newly-minted rule, but because it interprets amended Rule 37(e) as not foreclosing the court’s inherent authority as a viable alternative to sanction spoliation-related conduct that may not strictly satisfy the new Rule’s elements.

Third Circuit Holds Non-Signatories May Be Bound By Forum Selection Clause

In Carlyle Investment Management LLC v. Moonmouth Co., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that a non-signatory to an agreement can be bound by a forum selection clause where the forum selection clause is valid, the non-signatory is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement or closely related to the agreement, and the claim arises from the non-signatory’s status related to the agreement.

Adverse Inference Instruction Warranted For Insurer’s Breach of Retention Policy

It should come as no surprise that litigants continue to ignore such basic discovery obligations as the duty to preserve potentially relevant documents once litigation is reasonably anticipated. A recent case out of the Northern District of New York exemplifies the importance of patience in establishing a record of discovery abuses, including data deletion, before seeking sanctions to address such situations.