Category: Legal Decisions & Court Rules

Safety First: Counsel Should Take Affirmative Steps to Ensure ESI Is Being Preserved

In the advent of the 2015 amendment to Rule 37(e), courts have made clear that counsel’s obligation to ensure the preservation of ESI extends beyond the mere issuance of a litigation hold. Instead, to avoid possible sanctions, counsel must take affirmative steps to ensure the client’s compliance with the litigation hold to prevent the destruction of relevant ESI. In multidistrict litigation over a hazardous spill, In re Gold King Mine Release, defendant Harrison Western Construction Corporation (“Harrison”) was sanctioned for its failure to preserve and produce relevant documents related to its work on a Colorado mine prior to the release of millions of gallons of toxic waste. In its 2019 discovery requests, the state of Utah sought documents related to the work Harrison performed or planned to perform at the mine in 2014 and 2015. In response, Harrison was unable to provide most of the requested documents from that time period, claiming – through a third-party IT consultant – that a “catastrophic event” occurred during Harrison’s migration of documents to a new server. Because Harrison could not produce the requested documents, Utah moved for sanctions under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(b) and (e); however, the court seemingly only analyzed Utah’s application under Rule 37(e). In its analysis under Rule 37(e), the court focused on Harrison’s...

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: Federal Sanctions Imposed for Party’s Failure to Timely Search Its Email Server

A recent decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania underscores an important lesson on attorneys’ duty of competence, which requires a practical and well-rounded understanding of technology in order to execute their clients’ e-discovery obligations. Indeed, as Ondigo LLC v. intelliARMOR LLC reflects, ignorance of the various sources of e-discovery cannot shield attorneys or parties from sanctions under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(g) or 37(e).

Caught in the Sauce: Papa John’s Founder’s Failure to Preserve ESI in Cellphones Leads to Curative Sanctions Despite Initial Preservation Efforts

Practitioners and litigants alike largely understand that they must preserve evidence related to anticipated litigation. One potential pitfall, however, lies in the continuing nature of that obligation. Generally, a litigant’s duty to preserve evidence continues despite, for example, the collection of relevant documents or the imaging of devices containing relevant information. These principles were illustrated in a cautionary opinion by the Honorable Colin H. Lindsay, United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, in Schnatter v. 247 Grp., LLC, No. 3:20-3 (BJB) (CHL), 2022 WL 2402658 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 14, 2022). The case arose in the wake of Forbes Magazine publishing an article detailing a leaked conference call between the founder of Papa John’s, John H. Schnatter, and a marketing agency, during which Schnatter made racially charged comments. Within a week of publication, Schnatter was out as Chairman of Papa John’s and the University of Louisville announced it would rename the then Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Schnatter immediately retained counsel to assist in his separation with Papa John’s and explore potential affirmative claims. On July 25, 2018, just two weeks after the Forbes article was published, Schnatter’s own counsel sent him a Litigation Hold Notice. The Notice outlined his document preservation responsibilities, including suspending any automatic destruction...

Let’s Not Just Chat About It: District Court Sanctions Google for Failing to Preserve Chat Messages in Antitrust Suit

In a highly anticipated opinion addressing allegations that Google failed to preserve relevant internal chat messages – despite assuring the court in a case management conference that it had – United States District Court Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California ordered Google to cover the plaintiffs’ legal costs in pursuing a Rule 37 motion and left open the possibility of the plaintiffs later pursuing nonmonetary sanctions. Judge Donato’s scathing opinion in In re Google Play Consumer Antitrust Litigation represents yet another cautionary tale for attorneys certifying that a client has taken appropriate steps to preserve all pertinent electronic discovery without providing meaningful oversight. While Judge Donato chose to focus his criticism (and ultimate sanction) on Google, he clearly was concerned with the lack of oversight and misleading representation by both Google and its attorneys. The Google cases arise from a highly publicized multidistrict litigation (MDL) involving allegations that Google Play Store’s practices were anticompetitive in violation of antitrust laws. The plaintiffs include several gaming companies, Attorneys Generals of 38 states (and the District of Columbia), and numerous consumer plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged that Google engaged in exclusionary conduct leading to Google monopolizing the Android app distribution market. After a long and tortured procedural history that included extensive discovery and motion practice, the...

Dialing It In: E.D.N.Y. Denies Motion to Compel Production of Cell Phone for Forensic Examination Upon Mere “Speculation” That Metadata Was Deleted or Altered

This blog has previously noted the recent uptick of district courts authorizing forensic experts to conduct examinations and forensic imaging of cell phones to ensure the preservation and production of relevant electronic data. While we have discussed recent cases that have ordered such forensic imaging, such examination is not appropriate in every case and courts must continue to keep such “drastic” and “intrusive” discovery measures in check. In this regard, the District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently denied a defendant’s motion to compel the plaintiff to produce, for forensic examination, a cell phone that recorded videos already produced by the plaintiff in native format.