Tagged: ESI

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...

Non-Consensual “Quick Peek” Revisited: FRE 502(d) Cannot Be Used to Compel Production of Potentially Privileged Information Without a Privilege Review

The District Court for the District of Columbia recently confirmed that FRE 502(d) orders cannot be used to force a responding party to produce potentially privileged documents without the opportunity to first review them. In doing so, the court found that such an order would not only violate the producing parties’ right to determine in the first instance how it reviews and produces, but would potentially compel the production of privileged information and thus would constitute “an abuse of discretion.” In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. George Washington University, the EEOC filed a discrimination action on behalf of a former executive assistant against defendant, George Washington University, alleging that defendant’s former athletic director treated the former executive assistant less favorably compared to her male co-worker, a former special assistant. The discovery dispute concerned four requests for production of documents served by plaintiff: three seeking thousands of emails from the work accounts of defendant’s former athletic director and his two assistants; and one seeking information related to workplace complaints against the former athletic director. Defendant argued that plaintiff’s requests were overbroad and unduly burdensome—that is, that compliance with the requests would impose costs that were “not proportional to the needs of the case,” under the proportionality dictates of FRCP 26. By its decision, the court resolved...

District Court Rejects the Concept of Unilateral “Relevance Redactions” but Stresses the Importance of Discovery Confidentiality Orders to Address Commercially-Sensitive Information

In a recent decision, a Washington District Court illustrated the challenges parties face when they are in possession of responsive documents also containing highly confidential irrelevant information. The court stressed that, as a general rule, a party is not permitted to unilaterally redact information solely on the basis of relevance, and parties should consider seeking to enter into comprehensive ESI discovery protocols and discovery confidentiality orders allowing for the redaction of irrelevant information included in otherwise responsive documents, particularly where the parties will be exchanging highly confidential information in discovery. In Corker v. Costco Wholesale, plaintiffs initiated a class action suit against a number of coffee wholesalers, distributors and retailers under the Latham Act for false designation of origin. In discovery, plaintiffs sought the sale volume and pricing for the particular blend of coffee at issue sold by the defendants. Instead of producing the spreadsheet containing this information in the native excel format, one defendant first produced documents summarizing the contents of the spreadsheet and then, after plaintiffs objected to this disclosure, a 2,269-page static PDF of the spreadsheet redacting information related to coffee blends not at issue in the litigation that the defendant considered highly confidential. Plaintiffs moved to compel the production of the spreadsheet in the native form as kept in the ordinary...

Rule 37(e) and a Court’s Inherent Authority to Sanction Parties for Spoliation of ESI; The District of Arizona Reminds Litigants that When Rule 37(e) is Up to the Task, It is the Controlling Source of Sanctions

The United States District Court for the District of Arizona recently addressed the issue of whether the court’s inherent authority can be used to analyze the failure to preserve ESI after amended Rule 37(e) became effective on December 6, 2015. Following the well-publicized amendments to Rule 37(e), the question of whether the court’s “inherent authority” to sanction a party for the spoliation of ESI survived the amendments has received disparate treatment from courts despite what many opine to be unambiguous language in the amended rule. In Alsadi v. Intel Corporation, District Judge David Campbell, who chaired the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure from 2011 to 2015, weighed in on this controversy, in pronouncing that a court cannot impose negative (adverse) inference sanctions pursuant to inherent authority when Rule 37(e) is up to the task of addressing ESI spoliation and the intent requirement of that rule is not satisfied. In this case involving claims for negligence and loss of consortium related to the emission of hazardous gases from an industrial wastewater system, plaintiffs (a plant employee and his wife) alleged that defendant’s negligence caused the plant employee to become permanently disabled after being exposed to hydrogen sulfide and possibly other toxic gases. Plaintiffs sought data from defendant regarding measurements of ambient gas...

Do Not Treat Rule 26(g) Certifications as a Mere Formality: Southern District of Florida Cautions Against Client ‘Self-Collection’ of ESI Without Adequate Attorney Oversight

In a recent decision reprimanding defense counsel’s lack of oversight of a client’s collection of data during discovery, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued a cautionary opinion that should serve as yet another reminder to counsel of the perils associated with allowing a client to self-collect ESI. Similar to a recent decision we addressed from the District Court of the Northern District of California, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. M1 5100 Corp., d/b/a Jumbo Supermarket, Inc. is a strong reminder that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 should serve as a guide for the action and oversight required of counsel in the search, collection, and production of documents in response to discovery demands. In this age discrimination case, the District Court addressed plaintiff’s motion to compel. Plaintiff sought more specific discovery responses to two requests, attorney’s fees and costs in addition to the “opportunity to inspect Defendant’s ESI because, by Defendant’s counsel’s own admission, Defendant ‘self-collected’ responsive documents and information to the discovery requests without the oversight of counsel.” Cautioning against the “perils of self-collection of ESI by a party or interested person,” the District Court reminded counsel of its obligation to “have knowledge of, supervise, or counsel the client’s discovery search, collection and production” pursuant to Rule 26(g)(1). The District...

Raising the Specter of Discovery Abuse: The Importance of Developing a Discovery Record Before Filing a Motion to Compel

Two recent decisions highlight the importance of establishing a record of discovery abuse before filing a motion to compel based upon the commonly held suspicion that a responding party is withholding information and/or has failed to adequately preserve or search for information. Even in situations where a party is convinced that an adversary has failed to produce discoverable information, a litigant will face an uphill climb in pursuing a motion to compel in the absence of concrete evidence as to an adversary’s discovery shortfalls, including evidence of data deletion, untimely or absent preservation efforts, and/or the failure to produce information produced by other parties or third-parties that clearly should be in the possession of the responding party. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative (E.D. Pa.) In a recent decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Schiller denied plaintiffs’ motion to compel in a case where plaintiffs insisted that “there simply must be responsive documents,” but plaintiffs were unable to provide any specific evidence to support their speculation. In this antitrust litigation involving allegations that defendants colluded to raise the price of fresh agarics mushrooms, plaintiffs sought all documents from defendants regarding the sale of mushrooms to plaintiffs. In particular, numerous discovery disputes ensued after the court entered an order requiring defendants to...

Disappearing Act: Northern District of California Issues Rare Terminating Sanctions for Spoliation on a Massive Scale

In WeRide Corp. v. Kun Huang, the Northern District of California addressed an egregious case of discovery abuses and spoliation by defendants in a business litigation involving the alleged theft of autonomous vehicle technology. Applying Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(b) and 37(e), the court issued rare terminating sanctions against several defendants who willfully and intentionally deleted various forms of ESI, including relevant emails, status reports, and source code, well after the commencement of litigation and after a preservation order issued by the court requiring the preservation of such information. Defendants compounded these abuses by adopting the use of “DingTalk,” an ephemeral communication technology, after the court had issued the preservation order. WeRide, a technology company engaged in the business of developing autonomous cars, employed defendant Jing Wang as CEO in January 2018. WeRide alleged that Wang went on to form his own company, AllRide, as a direct competitor. WeRide also alleged that former employee defendant Kun Huang was recruited by Wang to work for AllRide while still employed by WeRide. WeRide alleged that Huang downloaded various forms of data during this time period and transferred this data onto several USB devices from two WeRide-issued computers, then proceeded to delete files from the devices. WeRide further alleged that AllRide and Huang stole WeRide’s source code,...

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...

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....