Category: General Litigation

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...

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...

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...

DOJ Updates Corporate Compliance Program Evaluation Guidelines to Invite the Practice of Continuous and Evolving Improvements Through Data Analysis

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently updated its Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs guidelines, which federal prosecutors consider when making decisions to prosecute corporate compliance violations, impose monetary penalties, and require future compliance commitments. The guidelines highlight what prosecutors should deem relevant in evaluating a corporate compliance program, both at the time of the offense(s) and at the time of the charging decision and resolution. In turn, the guidelines serve as a roadmap for corporate compliance and control personnel in designing a corporate compliance program, allocating resources to the program, evaluating the efficacy of the program in practice, and redesigning the program as needed on a regular basis. The updates make clear that the DOJ is interested in the continuous evaluation and evolution of corporate compliance programs, and that prosecutors will now be examining whether and how a compliance program incorporates data analytics. As before, the guidelines instruct federal prosecutors to ask three questions, though now slightly revised as follows: Is the compliance program well designed? Is the program adequately resourced and empowered to function effectively? Does the program work in practice? A welcome addition to the guidelines is a stated recognition that the circumstances of the company, e.g., size, industry, geographic footprint, regulatory landscape, etc., are relevant to prosecutors’ analysis. The guidelines also suggest...

Internal Investigations and Compliance in a Post-Pandemic Environment: Risks and Opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented not only novel challenges, but also opportunities for companies hoping to enhance or regain productivity while preventing wrongdoing and maintaining robust compliance functions. As workplaces reopen, historical challenges will persist and new risks will emerge. To be best positioned during this transition phase and beyond, companies should embrace the opportunity to evaluate their existing compliance processes and make the adjustments now that are necessary to adapt to a risk landscape that will likely never again be the same. Empower Legal, Compliance, and Investigative Resources Responsible companies will not be receptive to attempts to excuse misconduct due to the pandemic, nor will regulators. After all, there will be no “pandemic defense” to wrongdoing, and hindsight tends to be unforgiving—particularly through the lens of regulators looking at current events months or years from now. And as businesses emerge from state stay-at-home orders, an increased focus on productivity threatens to exacerbate the already heightened risk environment. It is critical that compliance, legal, and internal and external investigative resources be empowered to mitigate these risks effectively. Some immediate mitigation actions to be considered include: Conducting mandatory training on the enhanced risk environment and compliance best practices. Assessing existing policies and procedures, including those specific to internal investigations, and revamping them as needed to address...

Is Everything Negotiable? Anticipating Legal Issues for the “Reopening”

In the early 1980s, a book entitled You Can Negotiate Anything spent nine months on the New York Times bestseller list. The book may have a resurgence in the coming months, as one thing is for certain right now: After the state’s reopening, every contract, lease, and agreement is likely to be subject to negotiation. While much attention has been focused on force majeure provisions in contracts and potential bankruptcy filings, the practical effect of survival of the fittest will dictate necessary legal needs. Certainly there will be a time lag for the courts to be clogged with new cases. The retail, leisure travel, and entertainment sectors, while arguably most impacted by the recent closures and restrictions, will surely not be the only areas where businesses and individuals by necessity will renegotiate virtually every existing agreement. As New Jersey deals with the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic, legal issues are emerging that were previously never contemplated. In an instant, the world has changed, and all negotiated contracts are potentially at risk. The question becomes: How do businesses protect their futures? To start, anticipate legal issues. Documents and Agreements Likely to Be Subject to Renegotiation It is prudent to develop a reopening legal plan consisting of the following steps: Review your existing agreements. Are they still...

Beyond Force Majeure: Government Quarantine Orders May Themselves Excuse Contract Non-Performance

The coronavirus pandemic is reverberating throughout commercial sectors, and countless contract obligations are going unperformed—shipments are not being made or accepted, payments are being missed, and contract milestone dates are lapsing every week that the pandemic and business shutdown continues. Those typically rare force majeure provisions are now being scrutinized. (For more on those topics, see previous entries in our COVID-19 “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help” client alert series, including “Litigation Issues That May Arise.”) And, in New Jersey, the precise language of such a clause is key, as courts in this state have held that they should be “narrowly interpreted as contemplating only events or things of the same general nature or class as those specifically enumerated.” Seitz v. Mark-O-Lite Sign Contractors, Inc., 210 N.J. Super. 646 (N.J. Sup. Ct. Law Div. 1986). With only some force majeure clauses including explicit references to pandemics, or broadly-worded “catch-alls,” the success of a force majeure defense is not necessarily certain. But before (or in addition to) attempting to invoke that force majeure provision, consider whether a court would ultimately determine that contractual non-performance is due to an “Act of God” or rather is being caused by the governmental orders quarantining segments of the population and/or shutting down whole swaths of the...

Does the SHIELD Act Cover Your Business and Are You Ready?

As we have previously written, the privacy and security requirements of the New York Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (“SHIELD Act”) are effective as of March 21, 2020. The SHIELD Act implements broad new data security requirements for all businesses that have the private information of New York residents, and reaches beyond New York’s own borders to compel companies – including companies that do not do business in New York – to take affirmative steps to protect the personal and private information of New York residents that the company may be collecting or storing. Initially, the SHIELD Act expands the definition of “private information” that must be safeguarded to include any information that can be used to identify a person, in combination with a social security number, a driver’s license number, a financial account number, or biometric information. Separate and apart from these “data elements,” the definition of “private information” also now includes “a user name or e-mail address in combination with a password or security question and answer that would permit access to an online account.” Second, the SHIELD Act applies to any company that possesses the private information of even a single New York resident – even if the company does not conduct business in New York. All companies must...

Successful Crisis Management During a Pandemic

We are living in a moment that can only be described as a crisis on multiple fronts. While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a situation like none other, our experience advising clients through past crisis situations provides guidance on how to handle critical decisions in an uncertain and unsettling environment in a time of chaos and panic. Past experience has taught us that a crisis situation can either become a distant bad memory or turn into a disaster. Failure to handle crisis management and key decisions effectively now and in the near future can lead to devastating consequences. There are common themes and basic strategies to any crisis which bear repeating. Keep in mind that decisions are made in real time. They are also made with imperfect information, and initial decisions are magnified one hundred fold. Don’t compound the problem. The first rule of crisis management is, “do not do anything to make it worse.” In responding to the coronavirus, that means, first and foremost, to stay healthy. You and your leadership, team, and employees cannot help anyone and get back to normal if they are sick, so do not take risks with anyone’s health. Remember that credibility is key. Be honest and direct, and don’t speculate in order to tell someone what you think...

The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help – Litigation Issues That May Arise

A wide variety of issues are arising and are likely to arise in connection with, and in the aftermath of, the COVID-19 crisis. The Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department is here to help, and can work with you to address these critical concerns. Breach of contract disputes stemming from the coronavirus situation are likely to be widespread. They are surfacing already and will continue to surface throughout commercial contexts and for numerous reasons, including the ever-changing landscape of market forces that are at play right now. One notable – and particularly relevant – contractual concept, force majeure, is going to be front and center. Force majeure provisions may excuse otherwise impermissible actions in certain extraordinary situations beyond the control of the party failing to perform. It is, therefore, critically important that contracts are reviewed both for the presence of (and particular language surrounding) such provisions and for any necessary notice requirements. Additionally, employment contracts are likely in jeopardy, which will inevitably lead to wrongful termination claims. Relatedly, you may need to enforce restrictive covenants – or fight their enforcement – in the aftermath of the crisis. Also likely to arise are supply chain disputes. People and companies will need goods and materials that are not going to be available, and businesses will have contracts...