Electronic Discovery Law

Legal issues, news and best practices relating to the discovery of electronically stored information.

 

1
Court Concludes Data Is within Defendant’s Possession, Custody or Control, Declines to Shift Costs
2
U.S. Supreme Court Considers “Inherent Authority to Sanction a Litigant for Bad-faith Conduct” by Ordering Payment of Opponent’s “Legal Fees,” Reverses and Remands
3
Court Concludes Rule 37(e) Does Not Apply to “situations where, as here, a party intentionally deleted the recording”
4
Sedona Principles Revised, Public Comment Welcomed
5
Sanctions Imposed for Loss of ESI Transferred in Sale of Business
6
Privilege Waived as to Unprotected Information on File Share Site
7
Judge Peck Issues “Wake-up Call” Regarding Appropriate Responses to Discovery
8
Court Grants Motion to Compel Reproduction in Requested Format
9
“Troubling” Activity with No Proof of Spoliation Insufficient to Warrant Sanctions
10
Despite Failure to Employ “Best Practices,” Lack of Sufficient Prejudice Results in Lesser Sanctions

Court Concludes Data Is within Defendant’s Possession, Custody or Control, Declines to Shift Costs

Williams v. Angie’s List, No. 1:16-00878-WTL-MJD, 2017 WL 1318419 (S.D. Ind. April 10, 2017)

Plaintiffs in this case—48 current and former employees of Defendant—alleged they were entitled to “substantial compensation” for hours worked without pay. Plaintiffs further alleged that Defendant’s computerized time records did not entirely reflect their hours worked because Defendant had instructed them to underreport their overtime hours and because many of those hours were worked from home.  Plaintiffs therefore sought production of “background data” automatically recorded while they were working on Defendant’s sales platform, Salesforce, in an effort to “close the gaps” in other records.  Defendant produced one year’s worth of the requested data, but refused to produce the additional two years sought by Plaintiffs arguing that the information was maintained by Salesforce, “a third-party provider of services,” and that Defendant had “no greater rights” to the data “than any other person.” Defendant also noted the $15,000 invoice it received from Salesforce related to the initial production, which it claimed supported its position that it did not have possession, custody or control of the information.  Ultimately, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to compel and denied Defendant’s motion to shift costs.

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U.S. Supreme Court Considers “Inherent Authority to Sanction a Litigant for Bad-faith Conduct” by Ordering Payment of Opponent’s “Legal Fees,” Reverses and Remands

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, 581 U.S. ___ (2017)

In this rare opinion from our Supreme Court addressing discovery, the court considered “a federal court’s inherent authority to sanction a litigant for bad-faith conduct by ordering it to pay the other side’s legal fees.” The court held that “such an order is limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct—or put another way, to the fees that party would not have incurred but for the bad faith.” Because neither the trial court nor the appellate court applied the correct legal standard, the judgment of the Court of Appeals (9th Cir.) was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

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Court Concludes Rule 37(e) Does Not Apply to “situations where, as here, a party intentionally deleted the recording”

Hsueh v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Fin. Servs., No. 15 Civ. 3401 (PAC), 2017 WL 1194706 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017)

In this case arising from claims of sexual harassment at work, the court found that an adverse inference was the appropriate remedy for Plaintiff’s deletion of a recorded conversation with an HR representative. In the course of its analysis, the court agreed with Defendants that “Rule 37(e) applies only to situations where ‘a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve’ ESI; not to situations where, as here, a party intentionally deleted the recording” and thus relied upon inherent authority to impose sanctions.

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Sedona Principles Revised, Public Comment Welcomed

The Sedona Conference has published revisions to its foundational Sedona Principles, The Sedona Principles, Third Edition: Best Practices, Recommendations & Principles for Addressing Electronic Document Production. As stated in the preface, the Third Edition was “necessitated by an even greater explosion in the volume and diversity of forms of electronically stored information, the constant evolution of technology applied to eDiscovery, and by further amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure” as well as by many years of experience in e-discovery.  Thus, “[t]he Third Edition has been thoroughly updated to take into account evolving views on electronic discovery over the past decade, based upon the collective experiences of the WG1 membership in facing the myriad of practical issues that are influencing the development of the law in this area, the numerous important court decisions across the country, and, of course, the 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules [of] Civil Procedure.”

Interested parties are invited to “join the dialogue and expand the consensus” around the revised principles and may provide comments to the drafting committee until June 30, 2017.

The Sedona Principles, Third Edition is available for download, here.

Sanctions Imposed for Loss of ESI Transferred in Sale of Business

ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan Bd. of Trs. v. Connecticut Gen. Life. Ins. Co., No. C 15-02965 WHA, 2017 WL 345988 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 24, 2017)

In this case, ESI was lost when Defendant’s parent company sold another of its companies—on whose servers Defendant’s ESI was inexplicably stored—resulting in the transfer of that company’s servers and the ESI thereon to the third-party buyer. Concluding that Defendant failed to take reasonable steps to preserve the at-issue data, the court rejected Defendant’s argument that clauses in the sale agreement providing for “reasonable access to business information” including for “litigation purposes” and requiring the parties to retain information until the sixth anniversary of the agreement and not to destroy such information without notifying the other party were sufficient, particularly where despite such clauses, the information was not, in fact, available.  While the court concluded that additional information was required to proceed with a full Rule 37(e) analysis, it reopened discovery and ordered monetary sanctions to address the prejudice already established.

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Privilege Waived as to Unprotected Information on File Share Site

Harleysville Ins. Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc., No. 1:15cv00057 (W.D. Va. Feb. 9, 2017)

In this case, the court found that the placement of privileged information on a file share site and dissemination of the hyperlink to access that information without additional protections (e.g, password protection) constituted a failure to take reasonable steps to protect the information and that the attorney-client privilege and work-product protections were waived.  Notably, however, because defense counsel accessed the information but failed to notify Plaintiff’s counsel of the possible production of privileged materials, they were ordered to pay Plaintiff’s fees and costs in bringing the motion to disqualify them, which was denied.

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Judge Peck Issues “Wake-up Call” Regarding Appropriate Responses to Discovery

Fischer v. Forrest, —F. Supp. 3d—, 2017 WL 773694 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2017)

Judge Peck has “once again” issued a “discovery wake-up call,” this time regarding the effects of the 2015 amendments on the rules of discovery and in particular on Rule 34, addressing proper responses to requests for production. Specifically, the court noted that “one change that affects the daily work of every litigator is to Rule 34,” and instructed that “[m]ost lawyers who have not changed their ‘form file’ violate one or more (and often all three)” of the changes to the rule. Those changes require that “responses to discovery requests must”:

  • State grounds for objections with specificity;
  • An objection must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection; and
  • Specify the time for production and, if a rolling production, when production will begin and when it will be concluded.

In these related cases, the court concluded that Defendants’ responses to discovery violated the discovery rules, including by failing to comply with the requirements of Rule 34(b) and failing to recognize and appropriately respond to the amendments to Rule 26(b)(1).

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Court Grants Motion to Compel Reproduction in Requested Format

Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Assoc. v. California Dept. Educ., No. 2:11-cv-3471 KJM AC, 2017 WL 445722 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 2017)

In this case, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to compel production in native format with metadata, including the reproduction of information already produced, where Defendant failed to follow the protocol set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b) and unilaterally produced in “’load file’ format.”

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“Troubling” Activity with No Proof of Spoliation Insufficient to Warrant Sanctions

HCC Ins. Holdings, Inc. v. Flowers, No. 1:15-cv-3262-WSD, 2017 WL 393732 (N.D. Ga. Jan. 30, 2017)

In this case, the court declined to impose spoliation sanctions, despite Defendant and her husband’s “troubling” behavior, where Plaintiff failed to “present evidence to cast significant doubt” on the explanations for the at-issue behavior and failed to establish that the at-issue information—namely Plaintiff’s trade secrets and confidential information—had ever been “resident” on Defendant’s personal computer or otherwise in her control.

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Despite Failure to Employ “Best Practices,” Lack of Sufficient Prejudice Results in Lesser Sanctions

F.T.C. v. DirecTV, Inc., Case No. 15-cv-01129-HSG (MEJ), 2016 WL 7386133 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 21, 2016)

In this case, the Court addressed Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e)(1) but, despite acknowledging that Defendant “could have been more forthcoming in its disclosures to the FTC, and/or more proactive in its preservation efforts,” declined to grant the request to exclude evidence, including Defendant’s expert’s report, absent a showing  of sufficient prejudice.  Instead, the Court ordered Defendant to make its expert available for a 4-hour deposition, should Plaintiff find it useful.

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