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.
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.
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.
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.
On May 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) Antitrust Division approved Constellation Brands Inc.’s (“Constellation”) and Crown Imports LLC’s (“Crown”) request to use predictive coding to determine which documents were most relevant and responsive to the DOJ’s requests. Constellation is a potential buyer of assets from the huge AB InBev-Grupo Modelo merger, and Crown is a joint venture between Grupo Modelo and Constellation. Reportedly, Constellation and Crown identified in excess of one million documents that would require manual review before being handed over to the Justice Department for scrutiny. After several seed sets were run using the automated data review software and compared manually, DOJ was satisfied that the predictive coding software would identify the most relevant documents and approved its use. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the predictive coding software used by the parties was developed by kCura Corporation, a software vendor for many entities including DOJ.
Update of Proposed Rule Changes: A Universal Federal Sanctions Standard for the Failure to Preserve ESI Could be a Reality
The United States Courts’ Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (“the Committee”) has proposed various amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that, if adopted, will profoundly affect the range and scope of sanctions a court may impose for failures to preserve electronically stored information (“ESI”). F.R.C.P. 37(e), which currently addresses sanctions in those instances, is one of several rules slated for amendment.
The International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”) is forming a new e-discovery committee tasked with the development of standards for e-discovery processes and procedures. The international standard “would provide guidance on measures, spanning from initial creation of [electronically stored information] through its final disposition which an organization can undertake to mitigate risk and expense should electronic discovery become an issue” according to a draft committee charter.
In Haskins v. First American Title Insurance Co., the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey expanded the reach of a “litigation hold” to include independent agents of a title insurance company. The Court held that once litigation was reasonably anticipated, First American Title Insurance Company (“First American”) had a duty to instruct its independent insurance agents to preserve all potentially relevant documents and to suspend routine destruction of such documents. The ruling in Haskins gives important e-discovery guidance for many companies, as it clarifies that document preservation rules apply to independent agents in addition to a company’s in-house employees.