Court Chastises Parties for Turning Case into a “Discovery Slugfest”: eDiscovery Case Law

by CloudNine

In UnitedHealthcare of Fla., Inc. et al. v. Am. Renal Assoc., Inc. et al., No. 16-cv-81180-Marra/Matthewman (S.D. Fla. Oct. 20, 2017), Florida Magistrate Judge William Matthewman granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration or Modification of Omnibus Discovery Order, clarifying the Court’s previous order regarding custodians and search terms, while denying the remainder of the plaintiff’s motion.  Judge Matthewman also chastised both parties for their lack of cooperation on search terms.

In the Court’s August order, the Court permitted Defendants to select an additional 16 custodians and an additional 12 search terms and to request more at a later date if Defendants have a good-faith basis to do so and also ruled that the defendants had not waived any privilege and did not have to produce a privilege log.

In the current Motion, the plaintiffs argued that the Court should reconsider or modify its Order because the Court never made a finding that Plaintiffs’ production was deficient, there is no evidence that would support such a conclusion, the Court did not tailor the additional custodians or search terms to “any purported inadequacy nor to any proportionality limits”, the Court did not “provide any mechanism for ensuring that ARA’s custodians and search terms do not capture an overwhelmingly, burdensome, disproportionate amount of information”, and the Court’s Order was “patently unfair”.  The plaintiffs also argued that the Court should reconsider its decision not to compel the defendants to provide a privilege log because they “wrongfully withheld a responsive, non-privileged document, and the Court should not rely on Defendants’ counsel’s representations that they have no additional non-privileged responsive documents.”

Noting that “the only asserted new evidence submitted by Plaintiffs consists of Docket Entries 303-1 through 303-4” (which included email correspondence, a list of the additional 16 custodians, a list of additional 12 search terms and a Declaration from the Director of e-Discovery at the plaintiff company), Judge Matthewman focused on the last paragraph of the Declaration, which stated:

“In my opinion and based on my experience, if additional time is taken to reexamine the search terms to minimize some of the more obvious deficiencies and then, after the search terms are run, allow for the parties to evaluate which terms hit on an excessive number of documents and narrow them accordingly, the process could be sped up significantly as the volume of documents for the steps after collection and indexing will likely be greatly reduced.”

In response, Judge Matthewman stated: “Ironically, this type of cooperation is exactly what this Court has been expecting from the parties and their counsel throughout this case—to work together to arrive at reasonable search terms, to run those search terms and engage in sampling to see if the search terms are producing responsive documents or excessive irrelevant hits, and then to continue to refine the search terms in a cooperative, professional effort until the search terms are appropriately refined and produce relevant documents without including an excessive number of irrelevant documents. However, despite what paragraph 12 of the Declaration suggests, and despite this Court’s suggestions to the parties and their counsel as to the cooperative and professional manner in which the parties should engage in the e-discovery process in this case, there has instead been an apparent lack of cooperation and constant bickering over discovery, especially e-discovery. The alleged new evidence submitted by Plaintiffs, that is, the list of additional search terms and custodians and the Declaration, clearly show that, where, as here, parties in a large civil case do not cooperatively engage in the e-discovery process, the collection and indexing of documents and the production of relevant documents, become much more difficult.”

Indicating that “the parties and their counsel, through their many discovery disputes and their litigiousness, have unnecessarily turned this case into what can best be termed as a ‘discovery slugfest’”, Judge Matthewman noted that “the parties have filed well over 50 discovery motions, responses, replies, notices, and declarations, many of which have been filed under seal” and that the Court “has held at least six discovery hearings in 2017, most of which were lengthy and contentious.”

Judge Matthewman also referenced several resources regarding cooperation for the parties to consider, including The Sedona Conference, the Federal Judges’ Guide to Discovery, as well as comments from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts regarding the 2015 Amendments to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 1 and 26.  With that in mind, Judge William granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration or Modification of Omnibus Discovery Order, clarifying the Court’s previous order regarding custodians and search terms, while denying the remainder of the plaintiff’s motion, including their dispute over the number of custodians and search terms and the failure to require the defendants to produce a privilege log.

So, what do you think?  What can we learn from the parties’ lack of cooperation in this case?

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