Waiver

Another Reminder That Attorneys Are Responsible for the e-Discovery Behavior of Their Clients

In the summer of 2013, the Northern District of California conducted a hearing over a motion to compel discovery responses which stemmed from e-discovery disagreements.  The plaintiff was a corporate investor in the defendant pharmaceutical company developing bovine-derived oxygen therapeutics.  A corporate officer of the pharmaceutical company was also named a defendant.  The plaintiff alleged breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  In its reply, the defendants counterclaimed breach of a licensing agreement, theft of intellectual property, and interference with prospective economic advantage. Discovery began when the plaintiff served interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admission.  The defendant corporation submitted its responses two months past the deadline, failed to completely respond to the interrogatories, and submitted incomplete document production.  The plaintiff moved to compel full and complete responses, after which the defendants’ counsel failed to appear at the hearing.   The court granted the plaintiff’s motion and awarded the plaintiff $1,400.00 in sanctions.  Additionally, the plaintiff complained that the defendant officer’s responses were also incomplete and filed two weeks late. These disputes are governed by the discovery rules in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  Rules 33 and 34 establish a 30-day response period for a party to serve its answers and applicable objections.  Additionally, Rule 33(b)(2) states that failure to timely respond to discovery requests generally constitutes a waiver of any objections to those requests.  Under Rule 37, a party may move to compel discover and if the court grants it the responding party must pay the moving party’s reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion. At oral argument, the plaintiff asserted the defendants only produced 121 emails, 109 of which were communications with the the Plaintiff.  The plaintiff alleged this lack of production raised the possibility of spoliation and boded ill for the document preservation efforts of the defendants.  The defendants’ counsel testified he gave instructions to his clients to produce the related documents; however, the court was not convinced.  The court cited Rule 26(g) which places an affirmative obligation on an attorney to ensure a client’s search for responsive documents and information is complete.  The previous submissions were clearly incomplete and it was the attorney’s responsibility to remedy them.  Furthermore, since the responses were late, all of the defendants’ objections were denied even though the court admitted the claims might be vague and overly-broad. The court used its discretion to modify the sanctions placed upon the defendants.  It set a new date for all remaining responsive documents to be submitted and if the new deadline was missed the Defendants would be forced to hire an e-discovery vendor.  Vendors can be very costly.  Furthermore, since the defendants’ failure to timely and fully respond was not justified, the court awarded $5,200.00 in additional attorney’s fees to the plaintiff.  While the defendants’ counsel was still held responsible, the court recognized that the defendants were also responsible for the delay and ordered the parties to split the cost of the sanction.  This illustrates the point that when discovery efforts are not taken seriously, both the client and the attorney can be on the hook for big expenses. George is a student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2014).  He is pursuing both the Health and Intellectual Property Concentrations and is especially interested in patent law.  He received both a B.E. and M.E. at Stevens Institute of Technology in Biomedical and Systems Engineering, respectively.  Presently, George works as a law clerk at Stone Law in Colts Neck, NJ, where he assists in the drafting of litigation documents and Office Actions with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Want to Claim the Producing Party is Tardy? First, Agree on Protocol for Production of ESI.

The producing party in a discovery request can be tardy producing documents, while making numerous generalized objections in a response, and still not have waived the party’s right to valid objections under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 or Fed. R. Civ. P. 34.

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Software Glitch Does Not Waive Privilege

In Datel Holdings Ltd. v. Microsoft Corp., the court was faced with a Motion by the Plaintiff to Compel the production of several document’s inadvertently produced by the Defendant and admitted into evidence at a deposition, that the Defendant now claims are protected by the attorney-client privilege. In this case, the Defendant produced several abbreviated versions of an email chain that did not contain the initial email message from in-house counsel to a non-lawyer program manager, although the following reply emails were entirely among non-lawyers, and discussed the results of computer testing and did not transmit legal advice.

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Federal Judge in Illinois Denies Media Group’s Motion to Intervene Under FRCP 24(b)

Despite the importance of the general right to public access of court proceedings, a federal judge in Illinois ruled that a media group could not intervene in a lawsuit because, although it had standing, intervention would cause undue prejudice.

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When it comes to authentication challenges, raise it or waive it!

The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed a final restraining order (FRO) under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act despite claims by the defendant that key documents submitted by the plaintiff were not properly authenticated and admitted into evidence.  In late 2007, plaintiff, Krinal Shah, filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against her husband, Mayur Karnik, alleging he threatened via email to strangle and throw her in a river.  She further alleged that three days later defendant emailed and threatened to kill them both if she filed for divorce.  Finally, plaintiff alleged defendant burned her arm the previous summer.  In response to these allegations, the court issued a TRO and scheduled a hearing for an FRO.

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Letter, Reassess, Repeat: Avoiding Privilege Waiver After Notice of Inadvertent Production of Documents

Technology today often serves as the crutch upon which students and members of the workforce rely to complete and review assignments.  However, such technology does not always efficiently replace good, old-fashioned human effort.  For instance, the spell-checker in Microsoft Word can alert you to a possible mistake but the decision to continue searching for other mistakes must be made by the user.  Indeed, the existence of even one mistake should alert the reader or provider of a document that other mistakes may be present and prompt that person to reevaluate the rest of work.  The 2009 decision United States v. Sensient Colors, Inc. is a critical example of how damaging the failure to promptly and diligently check for additional mistakes can be for privilege invocations during discovery production.

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Letter, Reassess, Repeat: Avoiding Privilege Waiver After Notice of Inadvertent Production of Documents

Technology today often serves as the crutch upon which students and members of the workforce rely to complete and review assignments; however, such technology does not always efficiently replace good old-fashioned human effort. For instance, the spell-checker in Microsoft Word can alert you to a possible mistake but the decision to continue searching for other mistakes must be made by the user. Indeed, the existence of even one mistake should alert the reader or provider of a document that other mistakes may be present and prompt that person to reevaluate the rest of work. The 2009 decision United States v. Sensient Colors, Inc. is a critical example of how damaging the failure to promptly and diligently check for additional mistakes can be for privilege invocations during discovery production.

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You Know Those Files I Gave You Earlier? Yeah… Can You Not Look At Them, Please?

A Kentucky law firm narrowly escaped a waiver of privilege via adherence to Rule 502 (b). After carelessly turning over privileged e-mails; Wood, Wood and Young (of Maysville Kentucky) learned the hard way that turning over reams of e-mail absent careful redaction of privileged communications can have serious consequences. Fortunately, the firm adhered to Rule 502 (b) after opposing counsel put them on notice that privileged communication had been disclosed. In GATX Corp v. Appalachian Fuels, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129706 (E.D. Ky. Dec. 7,2010) the employees merely communicated with counsel via e-mail on a range of topics, some privileged and in the ordinary course of business. Unlike phone calls and snail mail, those communications were easily retrievable, voluminous in nature, and consequently less readily subject to redaction.

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“The Dog Ate It,” “We Didn’t Know About That Shared Directory,” and More Great eDiscovery Excuses

It happens all the time.  To expedite the litigation process, parties reach agreements as to the scope and timing of electronic discovery.  After all, who wants to delay litigation with the lengthy and expensive review of a universe of documents when you can significantly shrink that universe without compromising the quality of your production by agreeing on a set of specific custodians? The parties in Wixon v. Wyndham Resort Development Corp. reached an agreement that by a specific date, Wyndham would produce electronically stored information (“ESI”) held by specific custodians that matched specific search terms.  But what happened when, after the deadline, Wyndham revealed a stash of ESI found in a shared directory of a hard drive not allocated to a specific custodian?  Does a document not directly linked to a specific custodian automatically become “nonresponsive”?

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Video eLesson: Stengart v. Loving Care (Decided March 30, 2010)

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