Tagged: ESI

“It Wasn’t My Fault”: Court Rejects Attempts by Client and Attorney to Duck Responsibility and Sanctions Both Jointly

This blog has previously discussed the importance of cooperation among parties in a litigation to effectuate a comprehensive discovery framework; however, a recent decision from the District Court for the Northern District of California exemplifies the importance of joint responsibility and collaboration between attorneys and their clients when dealing with e-discovery matters, including preservation, collection, and production of electronically stored information (ESI). In a case that ultimately settled and involved both foreign and domestic parties, the court granted a motion for monetary sanctions pursuant to its inherent authority and Rule 37, after finding that the plaintiff’s discovery misconduct “not only forced [defendant] to incur additional attorneys’ fees but … also forced the court to expend considerable resources beyond what was necessary.” Because both the plaintiff and its former counsel “failed in their responsibilities,” the court imposed sanctions jointly and severally against them. In Optrics Inc. v. Barracuda Networks Inc., the plaintiff, a Canadian engineering firm, filed suit in August 2017 against the defendant, an American company, “bringing trademark, contract, and other claims stemming from allegedly unfair and deceptive business practices by [defendant] during the parties’ thirteen-year business relationship.” Beginning in June 2019, discovery disputes and “discovery violations” by the plaintiff plagued the litigation. In February 2020, “with discovery still mired in disputes,” the parties stipulated...

Amateur Hour Is Over! DR Distributors LLC Offers Crash Course on the Importance of E-Discovery Compliance

In DR Distributors, LLC v. 21 Century Smoking, Inc., et al., United States District Judge Iain D. Johnston issued a scathing 256-page opinion, dropping the proverbial hammer on the defendant and its counsel for repeated and egregious e-discovery failures – a veritable Keystone Kops series of discovery errors and misrepresentations spanning several years. The court imposed sanctions pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(g) and 37, as well as monetary sanctions, and required the defendants’ former counsel to participate in continuing legal education on electronically stored information (ESI). In sum, Judge Johnston put all attorneys on notice that it “is no longer amateur hour” for attorneys grappling with e-discovery – compliance is not merely “best practices,” but required under the Rules, and courts will address incompetence accordingly. The dispute arose from alleged trademark infringement claims involving electronic cigarettes with confusingly similar marks. The case was initiated in 2012 and assigned to Judge Johnston in 2014, who immediately held a case management conference. At this conference, the court asked counsel if litigation holds were issued, and defense counsel neglected to inform the court that no litigation holds had been issued at that point. Defense counsel also affirmatively stated that the defendant, Brent Duke, the principal of 21 Century Smoking, was generally knowledgeable about ESI, including...

Getting Your Ducks in a Row: Court Stresses High Evidentiary Threshold for Rule 37 Sanctions and Cautions Against Precipitous Motions

A recent case out of the Middle District of Florida illustrates the importance for parties contemplating motions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 to first understand the high threshold required for the court to grant their motions and impose sanctions. Examining a barrage of sanction motions, the court highlighted that a party needs to present a strong factual record when seeking charges of spoliation, as it takes more than simple allegations of destruction or non-retention of evidence to find sanctions appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37. Further, the decision provides a clear-cut example of unnecessary costs incurred and wasted judicial resources resulting from the failure of the parties to cooperate throughout the discovery process. As discussed below, while a number of the parties in the litigation entered into an electronically stored information (ESI) protocol, it appears that many of the discovery disputes could have been avoided if certain key areas, including the temporal scope of the documents to be produced, were addressed in that protocol. In Centennial Bank v. ServisFirst Bank, Inc., several former employees allegedly violated non-compete provisions of their employment agreements with the plaintiff, Centennial Bank (“Centennial”), when they left to work for the defendant, ServisFirst Bank. Beginning in 2016, the protracted discovery in this litigation involved countless disputes ranging from the...

“Accidentally” Destroying Years of Text Messages Is No Defense to Spoliation Sanctions

The New York Supreme Court recently granted a defendant spoliation sanctions, in the form of an adverse inference instruction, against the plaintiff for the “accidental” destruction of years’ worth of text messages from the plaintiff’s cellphones. In Iacovacci v. Brevet Holdings, LLC, the plaintiff was terminated from his employment with the defendants in October 2016, through a letter that referred to “possible litigation” and requested that the plaintiff “preserve … electronically stored information (‘ESI’) relating” to the defendant’s business, “includ[ing] all emails, text messages, … and the like, … [including] material on a phone.” Several days after receiving the termination letter, the plaintiff filed a wrongful termination and breach of contract action, and the defendants filed an answer with counterclaims alleging misappropriation of the defendants’ documents, breach of fiduciary duty, and self-dealing. Thereafter, a years-long discovery dispute ensued. The defendants served several requests for documents, including text messages, but the plaintiff objected to the demands as irrelevant and overbroad, and in March 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for a protective order. In May 2018, the court ordered the plaintiff to produce cellphone and electronic calendar records as requested by the defendants, and at a status conference in December 2018, the court, again, directed the plaintiff to produce the text messages within 30 days. Finally,...

Planning Ahead: The Critical Importance of Early Agreement on the Proportional Scope of Preservation

In M.A. v. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., and H.H. v. G6 Hospitality LLC, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, rejected plaintiffs’ objections to the Magistrate Judge’s decision excluding certain types of electronically stored information (ESI) from defendants’ duty to preserve. In doing so, the District Court emphasized the fact that the parties had spent a considerable amount of time addressing issues related to ESI and that plaintiffs had consented to the exclusions during a status conference with the Magistrate Judge. In adopting the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation, the District Court based its decision on “guiding principles of proportionality, default standards in other jurisdictions, and current trends in ESI discovery.” Plaintiffs filed related complaints against several hotel locations and parent companies pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). In April 2019, plaintiffs sent letters to defendants reminding them of their duty to preserve potentially discoverable ESI. A number of discovery disputes ensued related to proposed confidentiality and ESI orders. While this decision also addresses issues related to confidentiality, the primary focus of this post is the dispute regarding defendants’ obligation to preserve certain types of ESI. In particular, plaintiffs objected to an oral decision rendered by the Magistrate Judge finding that defendants were not obligated to preserve:...

District Court Denies Protective Order in Putative Class Action: Production of Relevant ESI May Be Time Consuming and Expensive, But Not Unduly Burdensome

The District Court for the Eastern District of California recently denied a defendant’s motion for a protective order in a putative class action, finding that the information requested by plaintiff was relevant and subject to pre-certification discovery, and that defendant did not show that the electronically stored information (ESI) was inaccessible due to undue burden or cost, pursuant to Rule 26(b)(2)(C). Additionally, the court determined that even if defendant could show that the ESI was “inaccessible,” plaintiff demonstrated “good cause” to order production of the ESI notwithstanding the potential burden and cost. In Sung Gon Kang v. Credit Bureau Connection Inc., plaintiff, a consumer, filed a putative class action alleging that defendant provided businesses with inaccurate consumer credit information, including that plaintiff and the proposed class of consumers were included on the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list. A consumer is ineligible for credit in the United States if he or she is included on the list. Plaintiff sought to “represent classes consisting of individuals ‘about whom Defendant … sold a consumer report to a third party’ that included an OFAC Hit.” The discovery dispute centered on defendant’s objections to plaintiff’s first set of written discovery requests. Specifically, defendant objected to requests seeking the identities of individuals who had an...

Cooperation Is Key: E.D.N.Y. Decision Illustrates the Risk of Refusing to Cooperate in Discovery

While litigation is inherently adversarial, counsel and litigants would be well-served to recognize that “zealous advocacy” and cooperation need not be mutually exclusive, especially in cases with significant amounts of electronically stored information (ESI). A recent decision from the District Court for the Eastern District of New York illustrates the risk a party and/or counsel takes in refusing to engage in the meet and confer process. This decision also reaffirms the fact that, when parties are working on crafting ESI search terms, it is the parties, not the court, who are in the best position to resolve such discovery disputes through the meet and confer process required under FRCP 26. Cooperation during the discovery process is not only economical in avoiding potential costly disputes, but also required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In particular, Rule 1 instructs the parties must help the court to “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” To effectuate that goal, Rule 26(f) requires cooperation by the parties in formulating a discovery plan and meaningfully meeting and conferring in the event a discovery dispute arises. In the event the parties fail to cooperate, Rule 37 provides the court the ability to sanction a party for failing “to cooperate in discovery.” Additionally, many times, the...

More Than $750,000 Awarded in TAR Fees Serves as Both Warning and Guidance to E-Discovery Practitioners

Last month, we discussed a recent decision from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc.,  in which the court granted defendant’s motion to shift costs for electronically stored information (ESI) related to expenses incurred undertaking Technology Assisted Review (TAR) for approximately 322,000 documents, at plaintiff’s insistence. The court reasoned that there was good cause warranting cost-shifting because plaintiff insisted on pursuing TAR after it became disproportionate to the needs of the case. Recently, the court entertained defendant’s fee application, in which defendant sought $791,700.21 in expenses incurred in connection with TAR and $83,000 in costs and fees incurred conferring with plaintiff and related motion practice. Plaintiff objected to the amount sought, arguing that reasonable TAR expenses did not exceed $330,000. The court ultimately awarded defendant $754,029.46 in TAR-related expenses and a yet-to-be determined amount of expenses in connection with the fee application. In reviewing the fee application, the court noted that its finding of disproportionality was only reinforced by the parties’ intervening cross-motions for summary judgment, in which only one of the almost 100 exhibits submitted by plaintiff originated from defendant’s TAR production. This lone exhibit was submitted “to support an unremarkable factual contention.” In determining the amount of expenses to allocate to plaintiff, the court examined...

The Destruction of a “Startling Amount of Discovery”: District Court Imposes Severe, Case-Ending Sanctions Pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2)

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington recently entered a default judgment order of terminating sanctions against defendants pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2), as a result of defendants’ wholesale destruction of a “startling amount of discovery” as part of defendants’ adoption of a document disposition program during the course of the litigation. The district court found that the defendants “purposefully destroyed” relevant electronically stored information (ESI) “to avoid their litigation obligations.” This decision highlights the importance of extreme caution in the adoption of a document disposition or information governance program, which necessarily eliminates typically large quantities of ESI, during the time period when the duty to preserve relevant ESI has been triggered. In Moreno v. Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc., plaintiffs filed constitutional claims against defendants–providers of healthcare services to inmates–after plaintiffs’ eighteen-year-old son died while in defendants’ custody. In January 2018, prior to filing the lawsuit, plaintiffs sent a letter to defendants notifying defendants of their plan to file a lawsuit and advising defendants to “preserve all paper and electronic records that may be relevant to our clients’ claims” including “all e-mails and other electronic and paper records regardless of where they are maintained.” Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in October 2018 and, in December 2018, served discovery requests on defendants, seeking certain categories...

Situational Awareness Matters: Two Courts Evaluate Whether TAR Processes Are Warranted and Reach Very Different Conclusions

Two recent decisions from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc.) and the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Livingston v. City of Chicago), highlight the increasing prevalence of Technology Assisted Review (TAR) as an e-discovery tool and its role as an emerging source of discovery disputes. We have previously addressed courts that have “endorsed” the use of predictive coding and/or TAR and have recommended that litigants consider such technologies to promote efficiency in the discovery process. We have also noted that courts have been extremely hesitant to impose affirmative requirements upon litigants to use these technologies. As discussed below, these two recent decisions provide a useful analysis of situations – with vastly different outcomes – where a party has introduced TAR procedures into the discovery process. In Lawson v. Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., plaintiff, the former CEO of defendant Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., filed suit based on his claim that the defendant failed to properly disburse his retirement compensation. Defendant claimed that plaintiff violated a non-compete agreement by engaging in consulting services with one of its competitors during the two-year period subject to the restrictive covenant. Plaintiff refuted these allegations, claiming that the companies he serviced did not engage in the same business as defendant. Though the business...