Category: Litigation Preparedness and Strategies

The Risks of “Failed” Spoliation Efforts: The Southern District of New York Finds Severe Sanctions Available Under Rule 37(b)(2) and Inherent Authority for “Incompetent Spoliators”

We have previously blogged on the controversy regarding whether a court may still sanction a party for spoliation of ESI pursuant to its inherent authority following the amendments to Rule 37(e). But what happens when the attempted spoliation ultimately fails because the discovery is located and produced often after much unnecessary effort and expense by the requesting party? Abbott Laboratories v. Adelphia Supply USA involved just such a situation. The court’s decision reinforced that even when spoliation efforts are ultimately unsuccessful, and therefore Rule 37(e) does not apply because information is not “lost,” sanctions remain available under Rule 37(b)(2) and the court’s inherent authority to address litigant misconduct, including outright fraud on the court. This decision confirms that where improperly withheld documents are ultimately produced courts can “nevertheless exercise inherent authority to remedy spoliation under the circumstances presented.” CAT3, LLC v. Black Lineage, Inc., No. 14 Civ. 5511, 2016 WL 154116 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 12, 2016). Plaintiffs Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., and Abbott Diabetes Care Sales Corp. (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a motion for case-ending sanctions against Defendants H&H Wholesale Services, Inc. (“H&H”), Howard Goldman, and Lori Goldman (collectively the “H&H Defendants”) based on electronic discovery-related violations of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. The court referred Plaintiffs’ motion to the Honorable Magistrate Judge Lois...

The Need for Counsel to Maintain Active Involvement in Discovery: California District Court Sanctions Attorney for Failing to Make “Reasonable Inquiry” as Required by Fed. Rule 26(g)

On June 1, 2020, the District Court for the Northern District of California in Optronic Techs., Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny Elec. Co., issued a strong reminder to counsel: act in accordance with the obligation to manage and oversee the collection of discovery, or risk running afoul of the attorney certification obligations of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(g). In this case, defendant’s attorney signed a certification pursuant to Rule 26(g) as to the completeness of defendant’s responses to discovery requests despite being unaware of what defendant actually did to search for responsive documents. The District Court found the lack of involvement by defendant’s attorney to be worthy of sanctions based on the specific circumstances of the case. Plaintiff sought sanctions concerning defendant’s responses to its post-judgement document requests in a litigation in which defendant had previously been found to have deliberately withheld documents, contradicting certain representations made to the court. Plaintiff did not seek sanctions pursuant to Rule 37 and/or the court’s inherent authority. Plaintiff claimed, among other issues, that defendant’s production was not complete and that defendant’s counsel “had not taken a sufficiently active role” in supervising the collection and production of documents. In response, defendant admitted that its counsel did not personally collect the documents, and instead provided “guidance” on what should be...

Inadvertently Produced Privileged Material May Generally Be Used for Purpose of Challenging Assertion of Privilege

A New York federal court has recently held that inadvertently produced privileged documents may be used by the receiving party for the limited purpose of challenging the claim of privilege to the extent that the receiving party became aware of the contents of those documents prior to the assertion of the privilege over those documents. In re Keurig Green Mt. Single Serve Coffee Antitrust Litig. In that case, the parties had entered into a stipulated protective order with a Federal Rule of Evidence 502(d) clawback provision, but the parties relied on two different provisions of the same order to support their arguments concerning whether the privileged document could be relied upon in challenging the claim of privilege. The order stated that “[i]f a party has inadvertently or mistakenly produced Privileged Material, and if the party makes a written request for the return, … the receiving party will also make no use of the information contained in the Privileged Material … regardless of whether the receiving party disputes the claim of privilege.” However, the order also stated that “[t]he receiving party may not use the Privileged Material … for any purpose whatsoever other than moving the Court for an order compelling production of the Privileged Material…” The Court relied on two prior decisions, both authored by...

NY Commercial Division Promotes Technology Assisted Review

On July 19, 2018, the Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts issued an administrative order adopting a new rule for the New York Commercial Division supporting the use of technology-assisted document review. Based on a recommendation and proposal by the Subcommittee on Procedural Rules to Promote Efficient Case Resolution, Commercial Division Rule 11-e has been amended to state: The parties are encouraged to use the most efficient means to review documents, including electronically stored information (“ESI”), that is consistent with the parties’ disclosure obligations under Article 31 of the CPLR and proportional to the needs of the case. Such means may include technology-assisted review, including predictive coding, in appropriate cases. The parties are encouraged to confer, at the outset of discovery and as needed throughout the discovery period, about technology-assisted review mechanisms they intend to use in document review and production. The Subcommittee noted that document review “consumes an average of 73% of the total cost of document production in cases involving electronic discovery.” With that in mind, the Court adopted a rule meant to streamline and make electronic discovery more efficient in large, complex and e-discovery-intensive cases. The use of technology-assisted review is still optional. It should be considered on a case-by-case basis and the parties are encouraged to confer about its potential use....

“Private” Facebook Posts Are Discoverable and Should Be Treated as Any Other Source of Discoverable Information

The New York Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in Forman v. Henkin that “private” Facebook posts (i.e., those accessible only to your Facebook “friends,” as opposed to the general public) are discoverable if they meet the common discovery standard—that they are “material and necessary to the prosecution or defense of an action.” In Forman, plaintiff alleged she was severely injured when she fell from defendant’s horse. Plaintiff alleged her injuries impaired her ability to communicate and participate in what she described as the active lifestyle she enjoyed before the accident. Plaintiff alleged she posted on Facebook many photographs that depicted her pre-accident lifestyle, but that communicating on that social media platform had become so difficult after the accident that she deactivated the account six months later. She alleged that, after her accident, it would take hours to write a message on Facebook because she would have to re-read it several times before sending it to be sure that it made sense. Defendant requested an unlimited authorization to obtain plaintiff’s “private” Facebook account postings, arguing they would be relevant to plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court ordered plaintiff to produce all photographs (that were not of a romantic or sexual nature) and an authorization that would allow defendant to obtain from Facebook the frequency of plaintiff’s Facebook posts,...

New York Bar Association Revises Social Media Ethics Guidelines

On May 11, 2017, the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association issued its third iteration of Social Media Ethics Guidelines. As the authors of the Guidelines aptly recognize: “As use of social media by lawyers and clients continues to grow and as social media networks proliferate and become more sophisticated, so too do the ethics issues facing lawyers.” This recent update adds principles regarding professional competence and attorney use of social media, and addresses ethical considerations regarding maintaining client confidences, handling potential conflicts of interests related to social media, following clients’ social media, and communicating with judges via social media. Issued in 2014 and updated in June 2015, the Guidelines aim to provide “guiding principles” as opposed to “best practices” for the modern lawyer’s evolving use of social media. The authors acknowledge the guidelines’ inherent inability to define universal principles in the face of varying ethics codes, which “may differ due to different social mores, the priorities of different demographic populations, and the historical approaches to ethics rules and opinions in different localities.” The Guidelines are based upon the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and New York bar associates’ interpretation of those rules. The Guidelines do, however, cite ethics opinions where there is a difference of opinion or...

New Jersey Attorneys Must Face Ethics Charges for Facebook Friending

On February 3, 2015, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed the dismissal of a complaint two attorneys filed against the Office of Attorney Ethics and its Director (collectively “OAE”) claiming OAE lacked authority to investigate and prosecute ethics grievances against them for “friending” a party to a litigation on Facebook. The Appellate Division’s decision is significant – it affirms OAE’s power to investigate and prosecute alleged ethical violations and demonstrates the potential consequences for attorneys’ improper use of social media in litigation.

Florida is the Latest State to Allow Attorneys to Advise Clients About the Removal of Social Media Posts and Pictures

On January 23, 2015, the Professional Ethics Committee of the Florida Bar issued an advisory opinion holding that before litigation commences, and absent any other preservation obligation, an attorney may advise a client to: (1) remove information from social media pages and (2) change privacy settings from public to private, as long as the client retains a record of any deleted information or data. In so holding, the Florida ethics committee joined panels from New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina that have issued similar guidance.

Broken Record? Maybe, But Even Government Entities Cannot Escape the Failure to Preserve

Obtaining electronic discovery from a city or municipality in civil litigation can be a slow process. But, in DMAC LLC and Fourmen Construction, Inc. v. City of Peekskill, plaintiffs’ task was made impossible because of the City of Peekskill’s failure to implement a “formal e-mail retention policy,” leaving it up to the “sole discretion” of City staff and elected officials whether to retain or delete their e mails. When the City and other defendants were sued in 2009 for stopping a real estate development project that began back in 2007, allegedly for political reasons, that lack of any e-mail retention policy came back to haunt the defendants.

High Noon in DC: Judge Facciola Lays Down the Law on Discovery Cooperation

Anyone who thought that the concept of cooperation among counsel in discovery matters under the mandates of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f) and The Sedona Conference® “Cooperation Proclamation” was a hollow platitude or aspirational goal, might want to review the latest word on this from one of the pre-eminent ediscovery Judges in the Country, Magistrate Judge John Facciola, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. As he is wont to do, Judge Facciola took the opportunity presented by a rather pedestrian discovery dispute among counsel to make clear that the watchword in litigation discovery is cooperation among counsel, at least in his court.