Tagged: FRCP 37

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...

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...

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,...

In It for the Long Haul: The Duty to Preserve Social Media Accounts Is Not Terminated Upon an Initial Production

In a recent decision by a federal district court in Ohio, the court admonished a plaintiff in a gender-based pay discrimination for deactivating her LinkedIn account during the pendency of the litigation after making an initial production. The court concluded that plaintiff had violated her duty to preserve pursuant to Rule 37(e), as the conduct resulted in the deletion of relevant and discoverable information that was the subject of a previous court order. The court declined to impose sanctions because plaintiff had in fact produced data from her LinkedIn account and because defendant could not demonstrate prejudice. However, the court did not let plaintiff’s offense go lightly; the court stated that plaintiff’s action was serious and inappropriate. In Faulkner v. Aero Fulfillment Services, plaintiffs alleged gender-based pay discrimination during their employment with defendant. Pursuant to a court order, plaintiffs had to produce, among other things, the “last three years of social media information.” Plaintiff Faulkner’s counsel followed the directions on the LinkedIn website to download a full data archive in Microsoft Excel format and produced the Excel file to defendant. Subsequently, defense counsel requested the social media information in a different format, a “screenshot” format. But plaintiff’s counsel was unable to produce Ms. Faulkner’s LinkedIn information in the “screenshot” format because the account had already...

Rule 37’s “Meet and Confer” Requirement Gaining Steam in Discovery Disputes

Merz N. Am., Inc. v. Cytophyl, Inc. is the latest federal district court decision analyzing the meet and confer requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. As discovery issues continue to dominate the first 12 to 18 months of civil litigation (depending on the jurisdiction), litigators should review recent decisions, at least one of which denied a discovery motion for failure to adequately meet and confer. Under Rule 37(a)(1), a party moving to compel discovery must certify that it “has in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with the person or party failing to make . . . discovery in an effort to obtain it without court action.” Because neither the Rule nor the advisory notes accompanying it specify which methods of conferring are appropriate, individual courts have interpreted Rule 37’s meet and confer requirement through local rules and judicial decisions. For example, the Local Rules for the Eastern District of Texas require, “at a minimum, a personal conference, by telephone or in person, between an attorney for the movant and an attorney for the non-movant.” Further, while some courts have addressed the merits of a motion to compel despite a failure to adequately meet and confer, see, e.g., Buskirk v. Wiles, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168081 at *7 (S.D. W. Va. Dec....

Defendant Acting With “A Pure Heart But Empty Head” Not Subject to Spoliation Sanctions Under Amended Rule 37(e)

A recent decision denying a motion for spoliation sanctions highlights that a moving party must show that even clearly spoliated ESI is not available from other sources to qualify for an award of any form of sanction under Rule 37(e). In Snider v. Danfoss, LLC, the Northern District of Illinois held that a defendant’s admitted and erroneous destruction of duplicative ESI did not prejudice the plaintiff and therefore sanctions were not warranted. In other words, “no harm, no foul.” Plaintiff Snider worked for Danfoss for a number of years, during which time she was sexually harassed by another employee. Plaintiff informed her acting supervisor of the harassment, and was later transferred to a different position, which she viewed as a demotion and retaliation for her complaint. Approximately one week after the transfer, Plaintiff’s counsel sent a generalized, “preserve all evidence” letter to Danfoss. She then quit, and, pursuant to Danfoss’s policy, her emails were deleted 90 days after her employment ended. Plaintiff’s acting supervisor also later left Danfoss’s employment, and her emails were deleted in accordance with Danfoss’s auto-deletion policy. After the case was filed, Plaintiff deposed her acting supervisor, who suffered from a case of “testimonial amnesia” and was unable to recall a variety of facts, even benign, irrelevant facts. Plaintiff thereafter sought production...

Signs of Life? – Judge Francis Opines that “Inherent Authority” to Sanction Spoliation Related Conduct Survives Amended Rule 37(e)

In perhaps the first published decision since the amended Federal Rules took effect on December 6, 2015, United States Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV, a preeminent judicial e-discovery authority, relied upon amended Rule 37(e) and, somewhat controversially, his inherent authority, to sanction a litigant for evidence tampering and spoliation. The opinion is significant, not solely because it invokes the newly-minted rule, but because it interprets amended Rule 37(e) as not foreclosing the court’s inherent authority as a viable alternative to sanction spoliation-related conduct that may not strictly satisfy the new Rule’s elements.

Rule Amendments Update: U.S. Supreme Court Adopts Proposed Amendments

On April 29, 2015, the United States Supreme Court adopted, without changes, the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (For background information on the proposed amendments, see our previous blog posts from September 25, 2014, June 19, 2014, May 27, 2014, February 10, 2014, and May 6, 2013. Absent action by the United States Congress, the proposed amendments will take effect on December 1, 2015.

Rule Amendments Update: Judicial Conference Approves Proposed Changes

On September 16, 2014, the Judicial Conference approved, without changes, the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (For background information on the proposed amendments and the approval process, see our previous blog posts from June 19, 2014, May 27, 2014, February 10, 2014, and May 6, 2013.) The proposed amendments, which include changes to the definition of the scope of discovery in Rule 26(b)(1) and the applicable standard courts should apply when considering sanctions for ESI spoliation under Rule 37(e), will now be submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration and approval. If adopted by the Supreme Court before May 1, 2015, and Congress does not intervene, the proposed amendments will take effect on December 1, 2015.

Rule Amendments Update: Standing Committee Approves Proposed Changes

On May 29-30, 2014, the Judicial Conference’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure (the “Standing Committee”) met and approved the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (For background information on the proposed amendments, see our previous blog posts from May 27, 2014, February 10, 2014, and May 6, 2013.) The Standing Committee approved the entire slate of proposed amendments, including changes to the scope of discovery, as defined in Rule 26(b)(1), and changes to the standard to be applied by courts when imposing curative measures or sanctions for the spoliation of electronically stored information, as per Rule 37(e). Before approving the proposed amendments, the Standing Committee made several minor revisions, including changes to the proposed Committee Notes to Rules 26 and 37 (the meeting minutes setting forth the precise changes were not available as of writing). The Agenda Book from the Standing Committee’s meeting is available.