Tagged: Production

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...

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...

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...

A Cloud of Confusion: The EDPA Compels Google to Disclose Data Stored Abroad Under the Stored Communications Act

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a departure from the Second Circuit’s Microsoft ruling, recently required Google to comply with search warrants issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), and produce data stored on servers abroad. The Eastern District joins other district courts, including the Northern District of California and the Eastern District of Wisconsin, in requiring technology companies to comply with subpoenas or warrants issued pursuant to the SCA and produce internationally-stored data. See In re Two Email Accounts Stored at Google, Inc., No. 17-1234, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101691 (E.D. Wis. June 30, 2017); In re Search of Content that is Stored at Premises Controlled by Google, No. 16-80263, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59990 (N.D. Cal., Apr. 19, 2017). In In re Google Search Warrants, the court found that Google’s compliance with the government’s warrants required a domestic application of the SCA because the relevant conduct, data retrieval and production, took place at Google’s headquarters in California. In support of its holding, the court distinguished Google’s method of data storage from Microsoft: whereas Microsoft stored its data in different centers abroad, Google breaks its data into “shards,” and “stores the shards in different network locations in different countries at the same time.” These data shards “only become comprehensible when the file is fully...

N.Y. Court Grants Spoliation Sanctions for Destruction of Documents Decades Ago

In Warren v. Amchem Products, Inc., Justice Peter Moulton sanctioned defendant J-M Manufacturing Company for destroying documents in 1990 and 1997 – 24 years and 17 years, respectively, before the Warren Estate filed suit against asbestos manufacturers in 2014. The Court granted plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions and ordered that, should the case proceed to trial, the jury will be instructed that it may infer that the destroyed documents would have supported plaintiff’s claims and would not have supported J-M’s defenses.

SDNY Clarifies Standard for Allowable “Discovery on Discovery”

A requesting party seeking to compel discovery into the producing party’s document collection processes – sometimes called “discovery on discovery” – has always faced an uphill battle. Courts fear allowing discovery to continue indefinitely. Mere suspicion of deficient document production is insufficient; the requestor must proffer an “adequate factual basis” for its belief. Recently, the Southern District of New York found that such a showing is not made where the requestor produced only limited relevant unproduced emails and the requestor did not specify how its requested relief would remedy the alleged discovery defects.

Software License Cannot Be Used as a “Shield” Against Production

In Pero v. Norfolk Southern Railway, Co., No. 14-cv-16 (E.D. Tenn. Dec. 1, 2014), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee concluded that a party cannot use a video software license to block a party from obtaining relevant evidence. Pero, an employee of Norfolk, sued after he was injured while operating a locomotive. The train was equipped with a camera and recorded the events leading to Pero’s injuries. Pero moved to compel production of the video, which could only be viewed using a proprietary software program. Norfolk moved for a protective order, arguing that providing a copy of the video would exceed the scope of its software license. Norfolk took the position that Pero had to pay $500 to purchase his own license or Pero could view the video in Norfolk’s counsel’s office.

Attempting to Shoot for the Moon and Settle For the Stars During the Meet and Confer Process May Result in Obtaining Neither

A recent decision out of the Northern District of California provides a sobering reminder that a party’s obligation to meet and confer must be undertaken in good faith. If a party is overly aggressive – and therefore perceived not to be acting in good faith – it may wind up with nothing. Boston Scientific Corporation v. Lee, was a fairly typical case involving a former employee’s alleged theft of trade secrets. Defendant Dongchul Lee (Lee) left Plaintiff Boston Scientific Corp. (Boston) and began working for a competitor, nonparty Nevro Corp. (Nevro). Shortly thereafter, Boston sued Lee, claiming theft of trade secrets and violation of a confidentiality agreement.

Think Before You Send: Communications to an Attorney Using Work Email May Not Be Protected Under the Attorney-Client Privilege

Generally, a confidential email sent to one’s personal attorney is protected under the attorney-client privilege. But what if the communication is sent using a business email account? Will a corporate policy entitling the company to access “all communications” sent on work computers undermine the privilege? Followers of this blog will recall, among other posts, our detailed recap of the extensive discussion of this issue at our Annual E-Discovery Conference in the wake of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency, Inc., upholding the privilege where the employee used a company computer to communicate with her attorney via a personal password-protected internet based e-mail account, and sanctioning the employer’s attorneys for failing to turn over the protected communications. Readers may also recall our discussion of US v. Hamilton, where the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a husband waived the marital communications privilege when he sent messages from his work email account to his wife, but took no steps to protect their sanctity. Since those decisions, courts nationwide have continued to wrestle with these issues. Most recently, a Delaware Court held an employee waived the attorney client privilege where he used his work email account to email his lawyer with knowledge of the company’s policy establishing its right to access all communications on work computers.

Court Threatens to Compel Hiring of Vendor if Document Production Problems Persist

Litigants who fail to meet e-discovery obligations run the risk not only of being sanctioned, but also of being subject to a court order compelling them to retain an e-discovery vendor. While the use of e-discovery vendors is becoming a common practice, it may add considerable expense to the already costly discovery phase of litigation. Additionally, compelled retention of a vendor may reduce litigants’ control over their own document production.