- eLessons Learned
- Press and Publicity
- About Our Team
- Contact eLL Blog
Executive Mgmt. Services, Inc. v. Fifth Third Bank is not a riveting case to read. It involves a rather mundane breach of contract claim by the plaintiff alleging wrongdoing by the defendant. Namely, Executive Management Services brought suit against Fifth Third Bank alleging that the bank had made misleading statements regarding interest-rate swaps. While the subject matter of the claim would fail to interest anyone, the procedural elements and motion practice offer a far more interesting and educational prospect. In building their defense, Fifth Third Bank sent Executive Management Services multiple discovery requests, which included tax returns, financial statements, and documents referring or relating to their (EMS) loan applications. However, Executive Management Services refused to produce the requested discovery on three grounds. First, EMS argued that the requested as they have "not claimed to be unsophisticated regarding standard commercial banking," only that they "did not understand the risks of the swap transactions." Second, the EMS argued that the defendant’s discovery requests were "overly board and unduly burdensome." Third, EMS claimed privilege regarding the requested documents under both attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. The court rejected EMS’s first argument right out of the gate. EMS claimed that the documents sought were not relevant to the issue at bar and therefore did not need to be turned over to their adversary. EMS claimed these documents were irrelevant because they had "not claimed to be unsophisticated regarding standard commercial banking," but rather that "did not understand the risks of the swap transactions." However, the court was not persuaded by this argument because even though this was a new area of investment banking, it remained the same procedure and protocol as any form of investment banking. Therefore, EMS’s past actions in commercial banking provided them with a foundation by which to understand this new field of investment and thus the documents proving this foundation were relevant. The court also rejected EMS’s argument that the documents were privileged under attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. While there may have been concerns regarding the confidentiality of these documents the court stated that the protective order in place addressed and negated all of the concerns posed by this argument. EMS’s second argument seems like it could have had the most impact out of the three; however, hardly any effort at all was put forth in crafting it. The plaintiffs simply stated that the production of such documents was unduly burdensome and overbroad and left it at that. There was no further development of this argument and therefore the court rejected it on its face. If the plaintiffs had put forth any evidence regarding why the request was overbroad or unduly burdensome the court may have limited the requested discovery. The plaintiffs should have offered evidence regarding why this request was unduly burdensome and overbroad; their failure to do so resulted in the court rejecting this argument on its face. A.S. Mitchell received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Central Florida (2008). He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
The court began its opinion by reciting the quote that “[d]iscovery relevance is minimal relevance,” leading most readers to presume the court was going to rule in favor of Plaintiff’s motion to compel. However, after learning that Plaintiff sought “the entire claims file” of Defendant, that presumption slowly dissipates. The motion before the court involved Plaintiff’s request for an order compelling Defendant to produce documents that are responsive to certain of Plaintiff’s second, third and fourth sets of Requests for Production of Documents. The Plaintiff alleged that Defendant’s objections are premised on unsupported claims of privilege and that the documents Defendant did turn over were excessively redacted. After a back and forth regarding the concept of “privileged” the court rules that the real crux of the issue is the “point at which Defendant was reasonably anticipating litigation.” It is at this point that a privilege is created for the documents at issue based on the work product doctrine as outlined in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3)(A) at which point a privilege for the documents at issue based on the work product doctrine. Because insurance claims are of such sensitive and proprietary nature, the court holds that the question of whether insurer documents were created in anticipation of litigation “depends on whether the party seeking protection can point to a definite shift made by the insurer from acting in its ordinary course of business to acting in anticipating of litigation.” Colloquially known as a “trigger” for document preservation, the burden is on the Defendant to establish the existence of such privilege in the face of litigation. The court ultimately held that the relevant date was December 28, 2012, when Defendant sent a letter regarding a settlement check. Thus, the court ordered that any information withheld on the basis of work product doctrine after that time must be produced. After serving its second set of discovery requests, the Plaintiff subsequently asked for the documents to be produced in native electronic format. However, the Defendant had already produced documents in paper and PDF form, which Plaintiff alleged was not the form maintained by the Defendant “or in any reasonably usable form.” Citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(D) and (E), the court noted that the rule allows, but does not require, the requesting party to specify the form in which it is requesting electronic data. The court also noted there is nothing in the rule that prohibits a party from requesting different formats from one set of discovery requests to the next. Ruling in favor of the objecting Defendant, however, the court considered the “proprietary nature of certain software used by Defendant” and “Defendant’s right to withhold privileged information” as well as the “added costs of re-producing information already submitted to Plaintiff.” Because the Defendant endured the time, effort, and expense of producing documents in PDF form as initially requested by Plaintiff, the court denied Plaintiff’s request to compel the native electronic forms of such documents. The Plaintiff’s motion to compel also sought all files containing “similar” claims. While disregarding the Plaintiff’s motivations for requesting such documents, the court opined that the effect of requiring this production would be to “subject [Defendant] to undue burden in light of topics which, at best, have limited evidentiary value in this case given the broadly worded nature of the information requested.” Adding insult to injury, the court makes it a point to criticize Plaintiff’s complaint. The cause of action was premised on a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing yet Plaintiff’s motion “continually” refers to this as a claim for “bad faith.” Succinctly and sharply, the court imparts some legal education by bluntly stating that the two are not interchangeable. After making its criticism of Plaintiff’s mischaracterization, the court writes that “even if such information were to be considered relevant, the requests, as written, are facially over broad.” The court broadly cites a “lack of specificity” before denying more than 25 of Plaintiff’s discovery requests. Because Plaintiff “failed to provide a sufficient, substantive limitation,” the court ruled that these “generalized discovery requests” were “facially over broad as well as irrelevant.” Lastly, seemingly as a concession to the largely defeated Plaintiff, the court partially grants Plaintiff’s final discovery request. Plaintiff sought the “complete personnel files” for certain claims handling supervising personnel involved in the claim. As with the other requests, Defendant objected citing the “personal, confidential, private information” that these files held. Significantly, the court recited that “‘confidential’ does not equate to ‘nondiscoverable’ or privileged.” Thus, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel such personnel files, although it concluded this grant by limiting it to information from the files that specifically pertains to the employees’ “background, qualifications, training and job performance” and explicitly excluded any “sensitive personal or medical information” regarding these individuals. By the end of its succinct seven-page opinion, the District Court for the District of Kansas handed down many valuable lessons for future parties engaged in discovery-based litigation. Among them: (1) The work product doctrine will not prevent production if litigation is reasonably anticipated; (2) Request documents in the form desired or risk a landslide of “unusable” documents; (3) Be careful, diligent, and precise in your word choice – both in your pleadings and your document requests; (4) Private/Confidential does not mean Privileged/Nondiscoverable. Nicole was a 2010 magna cum laude graduate of Northeastern University located in Boston, Massachusetts where she earned her B.A. in English and Political Science. She will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. After graduation, Nicole will serve as a clerk to a trial judge of the Superior court of New Jersey in the Morris-Sussex Vicinage. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
When are trade secrets no longer allowed to be kept secret? According to the Southern District of New York, when you try to obtain a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order in federal court you also appear to waive your right to trade secrets.Continue Reading
When counsel for plaintiff Oxxford Information Technology entered into a confidentiality stipulation that all information exchanged during discovery would either be returned to the original party or destroyed, they never imagined that it would be so costly to get rid of the information. After the matter settled, however, Oxxford's counsel learned that they had "inadvertently backed up defendants' information onto numerous back-up tapes to their law firm's computer system." Ironically, it was Oxxford's counsel who had originally demanded the core business secrets that ended up on the tapes.Continue Reading