E-Discovery Law Alert Blog

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

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...

End of the Road: GN Netcom Inc. and Plantronics Settle Eight-Year Litigation Saga Beset by E-Discovery Sanctions

End of the Road: GN Netcom Inc. and Plantronics Settle Eight-Year Litigation Saga Beset by E-Discovery Sanctions

On July 12, 2020, United States District Judge Leonard P. Stark of the District Court for the District of Delaware (“District Court”) approved a joint stipulation of settlement filed by GN Netcom Inc., parent of Jabra headphones, and Plantronics. This settlement will end the eight-year old litigation saga between GN Netcom and Plantronics involving allegations that Plantronics had monopolized the relevant market via exclusive distribution deals which required its distributors to only sells Plantronics’ headsets and not those of its rivals. This case is noteworthy as to e-discovery because of the severe sanctions of $3,000,000 and an adverse inference jury instruction entered by the District Court against Plantronics in 2016 pursuant to then recently amended Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e). This blog post will not recount the full panoply of discovery abuses addressed in the District Court’s July 12, 2016 Order, but, in broad strokes, Plantronics was found to have acted in bad faith in failing to take reasonable steps to preserve ESI which could not be restored or replaced. The District Court’s sanctions order was entered because Don Houston, a former executive of the company, “double-deleted” thousands of his own relevant emails despite the existence of a legal...

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

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,...

The Need for Counsel to Maintain Active Involvement in Discovery: California District Court Sanctions Attorney for Failing to Make “Reasonable Inquiry” as Required by Fed. Rule 26(g)

The Need for Counsel to Maintain Active Involvement in Discovery: California District Court Sanctions Attorney for Failing to Make “Reasonable Inquiry” as Required by Fed. Rule 26(g)

On June 1, 2020, the District Court for the Northern District of California in Optronic Techs., Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny Elec. Co., issued a strong reminder to counsel: act in accordance with the obligation to manage and oversee the collection of discovery, or risk running afoul of the attorney certification obligations of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(g). In this case, defendant’s attorney signed a certification pursuant to Rule 26(g) as to the completeness of defendant’s responses to discovery requests despite being unaware of what defendant actually did to search for responsive documents. The District Court found the lack of involvement by defendant’s attorney to be worthy of sanctions based on the specific circumstances of the case. Plaintiff sought sanctions concerning defendant’s responses to its post-judgement document requests in a litigation in which defendant had previously been found to have deliberately withheld documents, contradicting certain representations made to the court. Plaintiff did not seek sanctions pursuant to Rule 37 and/or the court’s inherent authority. Plaintiff claimed, among other issues, that defendant’s production was not complete and that defendant’s counsel “had not taken a sufficiently active role” in supervising the collection and production of documents. In response, defendant admitted that its...

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

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....

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

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...

Technology-Assisted Review Is Not Compulsory, but Litigants’ Reluctance to Accept New E-Discovery Technologies Comes With Consequences

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...

Claw It Back: Updated Protections of New Jersey Rule of Evidence 530 on Inadvertent Disclosure

Claw It Back: Updated Protections of New Jersey Rule of Evidence 530 on Inadvertent Disclosure

On July 1, 2020, Amended New Jersey Rule of Evidence 530 (Waiver of Privilege by Contract or Previous Disclosure) became effective. N.J.R.E. 530, which tracks Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 502, was amended as a result of the increasing use of electronic discovery in litigation and the associated concerns regarding the potential for the inadvertent disclosures. This blog has frequently addressed decisions involving F.R.E. 502, including in 2019, 2018, and 2012. Amended N.J.R.E. 530 includes significant revisions in paragraph(c), which includes provisions that apply “to disclosure of a communication or information covered by the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection.” N.J.R.E. 530(c). In particular, amended N.J.R.E. 530(c) addresses disclosures made during state proceedings or to state office or agency, N.J.R.E 530(c)(1); inadvertent disclosures, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(2); disclosures made in another forum’s proceeding, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(3); the controlling effect of a court’s order, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(4); and the controlling effect of a party agreement regarding disclosure, N.J.R.E. 530(c)(5). Under the amended Rule, it is clear that a court order regarding disclosure pursuant to N.J.R.E. 530(c)(4) has the potential to have a significant impact on other litigations, as the rule provides that a court order on privilege “is also not a waiver in any other federal...

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

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...

ADA Website Liability and COVID-19

ADA Website Liability and COVID-19

Perhaps the last thing that many companies are focused on in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is the extent to which their websites are compliant with accepted accessibility standards and the threat of ADA website accessibility class actions or individual claims. Unfortunately, however, it appears that ever-enterprising plaintiffs’ attorneys are taking advantage of this crisis to press these already ubiquitous claims even further. Over the past several years, thousands of federal lawsuits, styled as both class and individual actions, have been filed against companies in many industries seeking injunctive and compensatory relief for website-related violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, has taken the position that the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” developed by the World Wide Web Consortium provide a minimum standard, and most courts have agreed. These cases seek injunctive and compensatory relief for violations of the ADA and analogous state and local anti-discrimination laws, specifically alleging that websites are not compliant with the ADA and accessibility guidelines particularly for vision-impaired users. These cases have developed into a lucrative cottage industry for certain plaintiffs’ attorneys, as they are easy to prosecute, difficult to defend, and often result in expedited...