Category: General Litigation

Keeping the Curtain Closed: Connecticut District Court Denies Discovery on Discovery Where No Basis to Claim Deficiencies Shown

Despite the broad scope of discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, courts are generally reluctant to permit “discovery on discovery,” i.e., discovery requests related to a party’s efforts to search for, locate, preserve, and collect relevant electronically stored information (ESI). In a case brought against Wesleyan University (the “University”) by a student expelled for alleged cheating, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut recently declined to compel such discovery on discovery, where the plaintiff requested that the defendant identify and “catalog all of the devices on which responsive communications reside.” The discovery request was made well after the Rule 26 conference – discovery had been ongoing for nearly two years – and the plaintiff waited almost a full year after serving the requests to file her motion to compel. In light of these facts and the plaintiff’s failure to establish an “adequate factual basis” for requiring such discovery on discovery, the court denied portions of the plaintiff’s motion to compel. In Doe v. Wesleyan University, the plaintiff, a former student at the University, was expelled for allegedly cheating on her exams by improperly accessing the University’s “computerized learning management system” called “Moodle” during her exams. The University conducted an investigation and held an Honor Board proceeding, and the board decided...

Gibbons P.C. Presents “Keys to Negotiating Better Software and Software-as-a-Service Agreements”

From May 17-19, Peter J. Frazza, a Director in the Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Group, will lead a seminar in Las Vegas analyzing the negotiation of software licenses and software-as-a-service agreements, including data protection and privacy issues companies face that are specific to software transactions, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Mr. Frazza has over 30 years of experience handling complex lawsuits and contract negotiations on behalf of licensees and users in software licensing and software-as-a-service matters. For additional seminar details or to register, visit https://conta.cc/3CFGxws.

Instruction on Nominal Damages Was Anything but Instructive as Jury Returns $800,000 “Nominal” Damage Award

In its recent opinion in Graphnet, Inc. v. Retarus, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court revisited the role of nominal damages in the defamation context. This time, the issue arose after trial in connection with a jury instruction that advised the jury, in part, that it may award nominal damages to compensate a plaintiff for injury to reputation caused by a defendant’s defamation. In 2014 defendant Retarus published a brochure that contained allegedly defamatory statements about one of its competitors, plaintiff Graphnet. The jury found that Retarus did defame Graphnet but that Graphnet had not shown any actual loss. The jury, nonetheless, awarded Graphnet $800,000 in nominal damages. This exorbitant nominal damage award was, at least in part, the result of a confusing and contradictory jury instruction, which advised the jury both that it was “permitted to award nominal damages to compensate the plaintiff” and that “[n]ominal damages…are not designed to compensate a plaintiff.” Only the latter part of that instruction is correct. Nominal damages, as distinct from compensatory or actual damages, are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for actual loss. Rather, they serve the purpose of vindicating the character of a plaintiff who has not proved a compensable loss. Nuwave Inv. Corp. v. Hyman Beck & Co., Inc., 221 N.J. 495, 499 (2015)....

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Protects Due Process Rights and Rejects “Jurisdiction by Consent”

On December 22, 2021, a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in Robert Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company that a foreign corporation is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania solely because of its registration to do business there. The Mallory decision is an affirmation of the due process rights of non-Pennsylvania corporate defendants and significantly impacts who can permissibly be sued in the Commonwealth. Mallory, a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, filed suit in Pennsylvania seeking damages under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act against his former employer, Norfolk Southern, a Virginia corporation, for injuries allegedly sustained in the course of the plaintiff’s work in Virginia and Ohio. The sole basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction was Norfolk Southern’s registration to do business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s business registration statute is unique in that the statute conditions registration upon a corporation’s “consent” to personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania courts. Before Mallory, Pennsylvania state courts and many of Pennsylvania’s federal courts generally permitted the exercise of personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations based solely on their registering to do business in Pennsylvania. The appeal in Mallory required the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to consider whether Pennsylvania’s broad exercise of personal jurisdiction through its corporate registration statute comports with the demands of due...

Disappearing Act: Court Provides Reminder that Counsel Must Investigate and Understand Client’s Use of Ephemeral Messaging Services to Prevent Sanctions

A decision earlier this year from the Northern District of Indiana illustrates the importance of counsel thoroughly investigating and understanding all data sources their clients may be using to create and store potentially relevant Electronically Stored Information (ESI). With the increased use of messaging applications – including ephemeral ones – counsel must understand the intricacies of each application (and its retention and preservation policies) used by their clients to prevent the destruction of relevant ESI. In this case involving civil rights claims, the defendants sought evidence regarding the plaintiff’s activities and character to disprove claims that the defendants deprived the plaintiff of his honor and reputation – a “protected liberty interest” – without due process. Through one of their requests, the defendants sought all data related to the plaintiff’s Snapchat account. For background, Snapchat is a messaging service where users record photos and videos (called “Snaps”) to send to other users. These Snaps appear on the receiver’s screen only for a limited period of time (generally, seconds). In addition, Snapchat users can send chat messages to other users, create “Stories” that remain visible to all users for 24 hours, and save Snaps indefinitely by storing them in the user’s “Memories.” Data within the user’s “Memories” is saved by Snapchat until a user deletes it, at...

Establishing “Intent to Deprive” Under Rule 37(e): District Court Imposes Adverse Inference Instruction Based on Timing of Spoliation

This blog has previously discussed the challenges a litigant faces in moving for the so-called “severe sanctions” pursuant to amended Rule 37(e). With the 2015 amendment to Rule 37(e), a moving party seeking severe spoliation sanctions must establish that the opposing party “acted with the intent to deprive” the requesting party of the electronically-stored information (ESI) in the litigation at issue. In the absence of an explicit admission that a responding party deleted ESI with the subjective intent to deprive the requesting party of the same, a requesting party often faces an uphill battle establishing the “intent to deprive” requirement. A recent decision from the District Court for the District of Arizona provides an example of the type of circumstantial evidence – including the timing of the spoliation at issue – a moving party can rely on to potentially support the imposition of severe sanctions. In Federal Trade Commission v. Noland, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was investigating defendant Noland and his business, Success By Health (“SBH”), for allegedly “operat[ing] as an illegal pyramid scheme” and making false statements to SBH’s affiliates. In May 2019, Noland inadvertently discovered the FTC’s investigation and, when the FTC realized Noland found out about the investigation, the FTC advised SBH and Noland to preserve relevant documents. The day after...

“Is That All There Is?” The Western District of Kentucky Gives a Fresh Look to the Standard Supporting ESI Search Sufficiency Challenges

A long-established precept of ESI production challenges is, if you’re complaining that they “must have more than that,” you’d best be able to support that position if your goal is to force your adversary to redo its search. Maker’s Mark Distiller, Inc. v. Spalding Grp., Inc., et al., No. 3:19-CV-00014-GNS-LLK (W.D. Ky. Apr. 20, 2021) brings this point home in full force. In that decision, which involved a Lanham Act trade dress dispute, United States Magistrate Judge Lanny King addressed plaintiff Maker’s Mark’s complaint that defendant Spalding’s ESI production was so paltry and otherwise deficient that Spalding should be compelled to implement a new ESI search. Ultimately, the court was having none of it. This decision is a reminder of the importance of communication between counsel before and after the Rule 26 conference, as well as the need to establish a compelling factual record of discovery deficiencies before seeking judicial relief.

Hoisted on Their Own Petard: Production of Inaccessible Data That Later Becomes Unavailable Will Not Support a Suppression Claim Based on Spoliation Against the Recipient

The trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of Theranos, Inc., has finally commenced after numerous well-publicized delays. A little more than a month ago, the District Court for the Northern District of California denied Holmes’s motion to suppress evidence prior to her criminal fraud trial, finding that it was the “deliberate actions” of third parties (Theranos) that resulted in the loss of evidence contained on a database, not the prosecutors’ actions. Indeed, Theranos “knowingly and without comment produced an inaccessible” and encrypted copy of a database, and then dismantled the database hardware, rendering it permanently “unusable” only days after its production. In U.S. v. Holmes, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3)(C), of customer complaints and testing results, as well as findings from a 2016 report. Theranos used a bespoke database called the Laboratory Information System (LIS) that “housed, among other things, all patient test results and all quality control data at Theranos.” In 2015, federal government agencies (the “Government”) began investigating Theranos and, in April and June 2018, “served grand jury subpoenas on Theranos for information specifically from the LIS database and requested a copy of the database itself, along with the necessary software to access and search it.” One day after the grand...

Robles v. Domino’s: The Saga Continues – On Remand, District Court Grants Partial Summary Judgment to Plaintiff, Solidifying the Scope of ADA Website Liability in the Ninth Circuit

Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC is a seminal case in the development of ADA website accessibility claims, particularly in the Ninth Circuit. The case has been the subject of a long awaited opinion in the Ninth Circuit, and an unsuccessful petition for certiorari. On June 23, 2021, after five years of litigation, on remand from the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Central District of California granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Domino’s violated the ADA because its website was not fully accessible to visually impaired individuals. The court thus ordered Domino’s to bring its website into compliance with industry standards for website accessibility, known as the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, and to pay the plaintiff $4,000 in penalties. The plaintiff, a visually impaired individual who was unable to order a pizza from the defendant’s website in 2015, sued Domino’s claiming violations of the ADA. In granting summary judgment on remand, the district court reiterated the Ninth Circuit’s finding that websites and mobile apps are not “places of public accommodation.” However, where websites or apps like those controlled and maintained by Domino’s “facilitate access to the goods and services of a place of public accomodation,” such as a Domino’s franchise, the ADA applies. This holding rejected Domino’s argument that the ADA did not apply to...

Colorado Is the Latest State to Enact a Data Privacy Law: Here’s What You Need to Know

Colorado has become the third state to enact a comprehensive data privacy statute imposing compliance obligations on legal entities that collect or process the personal data of its residents. The Colorado Privacy Act (CPA) is based on and enforces many of the same key concepts as do other data privacy statutes and regulations. As such, companies that are implementing or updating compliance programs for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), and Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA) will be familiar with the main provisions of the CPA and likely will have an easier time achieving compliance. There are, however, some important distinctions that companies must consider as part of any ongoing compliance efforts in anticipation of the CPA’s effective date of July 1, 2023. As a threshold matter, the CPA applies to legal entities that (i) conduct business in Colorado or produce or deliver commercial products or services that are “intentionally targeted to residents of Colorado,” and (ii) either (a) control or process personal data of more than 100,000 consumers per year or (b) earn revenue (or receive a discount on goods or services) from the sale of personal data and control or process personal data of more than 25,000 consumers. Notably, the CPA...