Category: Legal Decisions and Court Rules

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...

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...

Inadvertently Produced Privileged Material May Generally Be Used for Purpose of Challenging Assertion of Privilege

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...

NY Commercial Division Promotes Technology Assisted Review

NY Commercial Division Promotes Technology Assisted Review

On July 19, 2018, the Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts issued an administrative order adopting a new rule for the New York Commercial Division supporting the use of technology-assisted document review. Based on a recommendation and proposal by the Subcommittee on Procedural Rules to Promote Efficient Case Resolution, Commercial Division Rule 11-e has been amended to state: The parties are encouraged to use the most efficient means to review documents, including electronically stored information (“ESI”), that is consistent with the parties’ disclosure obligations under Article 31 of the CPLR and proportional to the needs of the case. Such means may include technology-assisted review, including predictive coding, in appropriate cases. The parties are encouraged to confer, at the outset of discovery and as needed throughout the discovery period, about technology-assisted review mechanisms they intend to use in document review and production. The Subcommittee noted that document review “consumes an average of 73% of the total cost of document production in cases involving electronic discovery.” With that in mind, the Court adopted a rule meant to streamline and make electronic discovery more efficient in large, complex and e-discovery-intensive cases. The use of technology-assisted review is still optional. It should be considered...

“Private” Facebook Posts Are Discoverable and Should Be Treated as Any Other Source of Discoverable Information

“Private” Facebook Posts Are Discoverable and Should Be Treated as Any Other Source of Discoverable Information

The New York Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in Forman v. Henkin that “private” Facebook posts (i.e., those accessible only to your Facebook “friends,” as opposed to the general public) are discoverable if they meet the common discovery standard—that they are “material and necessary to the prosecution or defense of an action.” In Forman, plaintiff alleged she was severely injured when she fell from defendant’s horse. Plaintiff alleged her injuries impaired her ability to communicate and participate in what she described as the active lifestyle she enjoyed before the accident. Plaintiff alleged she posted on Facebook many photographs that depicted her pre-accident lifestyle, but that communicating on that social media platform had become so difficult after the accident that she deactivated the account six months later. She alleged that, after her accident, it would take hours to write a message on Facebook because she would have to re-read it several times before sending it to be sure that it made sense. Defendant requested an unlimited authorization to obtain plaintiff’s “private” Facebook account postings, arguing they would be relevant to plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court ordered plaintiff to produce all photographs (that were not of a romantic or sexual nature) and an...

Inadvertent Production Deemed Waiver of Privilege Where Counsel Was Reckless and Clawback Agreement Was Unclear

Inadvertent Production Deemed Waiver of Privilege Where Counsel Was Reckless and Clawback Agreement Was Unclear

The Southern District of Ohio recently clarified the relationship between FRE 502 and clawback agreements in its finding that a party’s counsel was “completely reckless” in producing the same privileged documents on two separate occasions. In Irth Sols., LLC v. Windstream Commc’ns LLC, the parties entered into a clawback agreement that was memorialized in three bullet points in an email exchange between counsel. The agreement provided that an inadvertent disclosure (a term not defined in the agreement) would not waive the attorney-client privilege. The parties further agreed that, “based on the scale of the case,” it was unnecessary to ask the court to enter an order under Rule 502(d), whereby the court may order “that the privilege or protection is not waived by disclosure connected with the litigation pending before the court.” Defendant then produced documents, 43 of which defendant later discovered were privileged. Defense counsel argued the reviewing defense attorney failed to designate the documents privileged because he was not familiar with the name of defendant’s in-house counsel and the second level review neither caught this error nor flagged search words such as “legal.” Upon discovering the error, defense counsel requested a clawback of the 43 documents. Plaintiff’s counsel...

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

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...

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

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...