Friday, September 12, 2014

Proposed Rule 37(e): Failure to Preserve Electronically Stored Information

I mentioned yesterday that the proposed FRCP amendments include all three top priorities of the defense-oriented "Lawyers for Civil Justice," as stated on its web site:

LCJ’s . . . current federal rulemaking agenda is focused on . . . FRCP amendments related to our three pillars of discovery reform: (1) a national and uniform spoliation sanction approach; (2) a fair and practical revised scope of discovery; and (3) development of incentive-based “requester pays” default rules.

The proposed amendment to Rule 37(e) covers the first of the items on the LCJ's wish list.

The current version of Rule 37(e), adopted in 2006, provides a narrow safe harbor that prohibits sanctions for the loss of information due to "the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system," such as document-destruction policies adopted without regard to particular litigation.  The recently-revised proposed amendment to Rule 37(e) omits the existing explicit safe harbor and overhauls the earlier published-for-comment version of the proposal:

Rule 37.  Failure to Make Disclosures or to Cooperate in Discovery; Sanctions

* * *

(e) Failure to Preserve Provide Electronically Stored Information.  Absent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions under these rules on a party for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system.  If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court may:

(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or

(2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation:

(A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party;

(B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable

to the party; or

(C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.

Notice how many obstacles a party seeking ESI would have to surmount to obtain relief for the failure of the responding party to preserve ESI.  First, the court will have to find that the duty to preserve was triggered before the information was lost.  Second, the court will have to find that the responding party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve the ESI.  Third, the court will have to find that the lost ESI "cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery."  (By definition, the ESI is lost, so it is unclear to me how the seeking party would know with certainty that "additional discovery" could restore or replace the missing information.)

At that point, the court will have found that (1) the responding party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve (2) irreplaceable ESI (3) after a duty to preserve had been triggered.  Still, the court is not required to impose any curative measures or sanctions on the responding party without additional findings.  The court "may" take one of two paths:

  • if it makes the additional finding that the seeking party was "prejudiced" from the loss of the ESI, the court may order "measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice," OR
  • if it makes the additional finding that the responding party "acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation," it may order more serious sanctions, such as an adverse inference jury instruction or default judgment.

In the draft of Rule 37(e) that was published for comment in August 2013, the drafters allowed the court to order both "curative measures" and "sanctions."  In the draft that was approved, it appears that the court may order either curative measures or sanctions. 

As to sanctions, the LCJ, like many others, advocated "a national and uniform spoliation sanction approach" in light of differing mens rea requirements adopted by different courts, including negligence, gross negligence, and willfulness.  A uniform standard would indeed be useful, but a specific "intent to deprive another party of the information's use in the litigation" is the toughest standard to prove that the Advisory Committee could have adopted. 

 

September 12, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Corporate and Defense Perspective" Prevails in the Proposed Step Toward Cost-Shifting in Rule 26(c)

With the proposed amendment to Rule 26(c), the Advisory Committee is taking another step down the road to perhaps the biggest prize for large institutional defendants: shifting to plaintiffs the defendants' cost of responding to discovery.  Currently, the default rule is that each party bears its own costs of responding to the other side's discovery requests. 

The newly proposed rule will add "the allocation of expenses" as a provision that a court may include in a protective order.  Make no mistake, though: the euphemism "allocation of expenses" means "shifting of expenses to the requesting party," who will normally be the plaintiff.

The proposed amendment is:

26(c)  Protective Orders.

(1)  In General.  * * * The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from            annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, including one or more of the following:

* * * * *

(B) specifying terms, including time and place or the allocation of expenses, for the disclosure or discovery;

* * * * *

The accompanying proposed Committee Note is:

Rule 26(c)(1)(B) is amended to include an express recognition of protective orders that allocate expenses for disclosure or discovery. Authority to enter such orders is included in the present rule, and courts already exercise this authority. Explicit recognition will forestall the temptation some parties may feel to contest this authority. Recognizing the authority does not imply that cost-shifting should become a common practice. Courts and parties should continue to assume that a responding party ordinarily bears the costs of responding.

The requester-pays idea has been tirelessly promoted for years by the Federalist Society and its ally, "Lawyers for Civil Justice" (LCJ) (as to LCJ's name, think "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength").  It is no secret that the arch-conservative Federalist Society has had a key role in reshaping the federal judiciary over the past thirty years. 

In their book, The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals (2013), Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin assert, "Every single federal judge appointed by President H.W. Bush or President George W. Bush was either a member or approved by members of the [Federalist] Society," including their most prominent appointees, Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. And as Michael L. Rustad and Thomas H. Koenig explain in their article, Taming the Tort Monster: The American Civil Justice System As A Battleground of Social Theory, 68 Brook. L. Rev. 1, 78 (2002):

Although The Federalist Society professes to take no official stand on controversial legal policy issues, the organization coordinates its activities with other conservative groups in favor of tort reform.  The Lawyers for Civil Justice, a pro-tort reform alliance, hosted a meeting for industry and defense bar leaders including the “United States Chamber of Commerce, Federalist Society, Defense Research Institute, [and the] American Tort Reform Association” to “improve the coordination among several groups already addressing . . . issues” such as tort reform.

Chief Justice Roberts appoints the members and the chairpersons of the Advisory Committee, the Standing Committee, and other federal rules committees.  As a result, the Federalist Society and LCJ have taken control of the federal rulemaking process.    

At present, the five chairpersons of the Rules Advisory Committees (Civil Procedure, Evidence, Appellate, Bankruptcy, and Criminal) and the Chair of the Standing Committee are:

Chairpersons of Federal Advisory Committees on Rules of Practice and Procedure

 

Federal

judge

type

Chair of

this

Committee

Appointed

by this

president

Known

affiliation

with Federalist

Society or LCJ?

Supreme Court clerkship

Jeffrey S. Sutton

Appeals

Standing

G.W. Bush

Yes

Scalia

Steven M. Colloton

Appeals

Appellate

G.W. Bush

Yes

 

Eugene R. Wedoff

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy

N/A

No

 

David G. Campbell

District

Civil

G.W. Bush

Yes

Rehnquist

Reena Raggi

Appeals

Criminal

G.W. Bush

Yes

 

Sidney A. Fitzwater

District

Evidence

Reagan

No

 

 

Thus, at least four of the six chairpersons of the federal rules advisory committees and the Standing Committee have some connection with the Federalist Society and/or LCJ.  A fifth, Judge Fitzwater, has been described as one of the country's "most conservative judges."  In addition, at least five of the fifteen voting members of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (including its chair, Judge Campbell) have some connection with, or have spoken at meetings sponsored by, the Federalist Society or LCJ.  You don't hear a lot about this – it may not be polite to mention it.

In any event, it is not surprising that the Advisory Committee and the Standing Committee have passed the proposed amendments to the FRCP.  The amendments include all of the LCJ's top three priorities as stated on its website:

LCJ’s FRCP Project promotes the corporate and defense perspective on all proposed changes to the FRCP and works proactively to achieve specific rule reforms by galvanizing corporate and defense practitioners and legal scholars to offer consensus proposals to the rule makers.  Our  current federal rulemaking agenda is focused on reining in the costs and burdens of discovery through FRCP amendments related to our three pillars of discovery reform: (1) a national and uniform spoliation sanction approach; (2) a fair and practical revised scope of discovery; and (3) development of incentive-based “requester pays” default rules.

It is true that the proposed amendment to Rule 26(c) only states explicitly what courts are already doing, based on their implicit power in the present rule.  And the Committee, in an attempt to calm plaintiffs' fears, added in the Committee Note a statement that cost-shifting should not become the norm.  But I suspect we haven't seen the last of this: LCJ will continue its efforts to make cost-shifting the "default rule."               

 

September 11, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Proposed Amendments to Rules 30, 31, and 33: New Limits on Scope of Discovery Applied to Depositions and Interrogatories

My series of posts on the proposed FRCP amendments to be voted on by the Judicial Conference next week continues with Rules 30, 31, and 33.

In the amendments published for comment in August 2013, the Committee had originally proposed to halve the allowed number of depositions from ten to five; reduce the allowed duration of a deposition from seven hours to six; reduce the allowed number of interrogatories from twenty-five to fifteen; and limit requests to admit for the first time ever to twenty-five.

Following what the Committee called "fierce resistance," it withdrew these reductions in presumptive limits.  The proposed amendments as passed by the Advisory Committee and the Standing Committee no longer contain these new limitations. 

However, in the event that Rule 26(b)(1) is amended in the four ways I outlined in my previous two posts to narrow discovery, the Committee has added a cross-reference to 26(b)(1) into Rules 30, 31, and 33.  For example, here is the proposed amendment to Rule 30 (similar changes are proposed to Rules 31 and 33):

Rule 30. Depositions by Oral Examination

(a) When a Deposition May Be Taken. * * *

(2) With Leave.  A party must obtain leave of court, and the court must grant leave to the extent consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2):

(A) if the parties have not stipulated to the deposition and:

(i) the deposition would result in more than 10 depositions being taken under this rule or Rule 31 by the plaintiffs, or by the defendants, or by the third-party defendants.

* * *

(d) Duration; Sanction; Motion to Terminate or Limit.

(1) Duration.  Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, a deposition is limited to one day of 7 hours.  The court must allow additional time consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2) if needed to fairly examine the deponent or if the deponent, another person, or any other circumstance impedes or delays the examination.

Thus, if the scope of discovery is narrowed under 26(b)(1) (for example, by eliminating the judge's ability to order discovery relevant to the subject matter involved in the case), then parties resisting discovery will have more arguments against increasing the presumptive number of depositions and interrogatories or the presumptive length of a deposition.

September 8, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

More Proposed Limitations on the Scope of Discovery

In my last post, I addressed one of the proposed amendments to the FRCP that limits the scope of discovery: moving the so-called "proportionality" factors from their current place in Rule 26(b)(2)(C) as a court-imposed limitation on discovery to a place in Rule 26(b)(1) as an element defining the general scope of discovery.

The proposed amendments will also banish three other venerable phrases from Rule 26(b)(1):

  • They will eliminate the court's ability to broaden the general scope of discovery to "any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action."
  • They delete the statement that the scope of permissible inquiry includes information about the existence and location of documents and the identity of witnesses; and
  • They delete the phrase that information sought in discovery does not need to be admissible in evidence if it "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."

The unmistakable intent of this overhaul of Rule 26(b)(1) is to allow less discovery, no matter how much the Advisory Committee protests that these changes will have no effect on current practice. 

Continue reading

September 7, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 5, 2014

FRCP Amendments Will Narrow (Once Again) the Scope of Discovery

The changes proposed to the scope of discovery center around the third "theme" of the 2010 Duke Conference: proportionality.  The proposed contraction of the scope of discovery under Rule 26(b) incited the most passionate public opposition of all the amendments.  (For background given in earlier posts, click here, herehere, and here.)

The Advisory Committee's Report to the Chief Justice on the Duke Conference stated plainly that "there was no demand at the Conference for a change to the [26(b)(1)] rule language [on scope]; there is no clear case for present reform."  Despite this, the proposed amendments will overhaul Rule 26(b)(1):

(b) Discovery Scope and Limits.

(1)  Scope in General.  Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable. — including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter.  For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.  Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.  All discovery is subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(C).

 

(2)  Limitations on Frequency and Extent.

* * *

(C) When Required.  On motion or on its own, the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or by local rule if it determines that: * * *

(iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1) outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties’ resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.

             Breaking it down, these amendments will narrow and limit the scope of discovery in four ways:

  • They will make so-called "proportionality" an element defining the general scope of discovery, rather than a court-imposed limitation on discovery that is otherwise within the general scope.
  • They will eliminate the court's ability to broaden the general scope of discovery to "any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action."
  • They delete as "clutter" a statement, which has been in 26(b) since 1946 (although back then, it applied only to depositions), that the scope of permissible inquiry includes information about the existence and location of documents and the identity of witnesses; and
  • They delete, as misunderstood, another phrase that has been in Rule 26(b) since 1946: that information sought in discovery does not need to be admissible in evidence if it "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."

In this post, I will discuss the proposed move of "proportionality" from its current position as a limitation on discovery in 26(b)(2)(C) to part of the definition of the scope of discovery in 26(b)(1).

Continue reading

September 5, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chair of Advisory Committee Would Reject Adverse Inference Instruction for Negligent Loss of ESI

Echoing the May 2, 2014 Report to the Standing Committee by the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, the chair of the Advisory Committee, Judge David G. Campbell, has signaled that he would adopt the position of the proposed change to FRCP 37(e).  Vicente v. City of Prescott, No. CV–11–08204–PCT–DGC (D. Ariz. Aug. 8, 2014), 2014 WL 3894131.

The proposed amendment to Rule 37(e) provides:

If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court may:

(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or

(2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation:

(A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party;

(B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party; or

(C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.

Thus, the proposal rejects cases that permit an adverse inference instruction on a showing of negligence or gross negligence.  As the Advisory Committee reported to the Standing Committee:

Circuits that permit adverse inference instructions on a showing of negligence or gross negligence adopt [the] rationale . . . that the adverse inference restores the evidentiary balance, and that the party that lost the information should bear the risk that it was unfavorable. See, e.g., Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Finan. Corp., 306 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2002). Although this approach has some logical appeal, the Advisory Committee has several concerns with this approach when applied to ESI. First, negligently lost information may have been favorable or unfavorable to the party that lost it. Consequently, an adverse inference may do far more than restore the evidentiary balance; it may tip the balance in ways the lost evidence never would have.  (click here and go to page 314)

In Vicente, Judge Campbell stated that "the Court tends to believe that such an instruction requires a showing of bad faith," although the case did not require a decision on the point.  (n. 10)  Footnote 10 goes on to use the sentences quoted above almost verbatim, but without attribution.

 

August 14, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Free CLE for ABA Members on the Legal Implications of Mobile Devices

The ABA is presenting a free (to members) Webinar called "The Mobile Transformation: The Extraordinary Legal Implications of Billions of Mobile Devices" on Monday, July 21, 2014 from 1:00-2:30 p.m.   

Information on the Webinar is here.

July 18, 2014 in Conferences/Symposia, Discovery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

KBR Internal Investigation Documents Are Privileged, D.C. Circuit Says

Plaintiff Barko worked for Kellogg Brown & Root, a defense contractor and former subsidiary of Halliburton.  He filed a False Claims Act claim against KBR:

In essence, Barko alleged that KBR and certain subcontractors defrauded the U.S. Government by inflating costs and accepting kickbacks while administering military contracts in wartime Iraq. During discovery, Barko sought documents related to KBR’s prior internal investigation into the alleged fraud.  KBR had conducted that internal investigation pursuant to its Code of Business Conduct, which is overseen by the company’s Law Department.

KBR argued that the internal investigation had been conducted for the purpose of obtaining legal advice and that the internal investigation documents therefore were protected by the attorney-client privilege. . . .

After reviewing the disputed documents in camera, the District Court determined that the attorney-client privilege protection did not apply because, among other reasons, KBR had not shown that “the communication would not have been made ‘but for’ the fact that legal advice was sought.” . . . KBR’s internal investigation, the court concluded, was “undertaken pursuant to regulatory law and corporate policy rather than for the purpose of obtaining legal advice.”

. . . The District Court . . . ordered KBR to produce the disputed documents to Barko . . .

The D.C. Circuit granted KBR's petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the District Court's privilege ruling was clearly legally erroneous under Upjohn v. United States, and that it was otherwise appropriate to grant the writ: 

[T]he District Court also distinguished Upjohn on the ground that KBR’s internal investigation was undertaken to comply with Department of Defense regulations that require defense contractors such as KBR to maintain compliance programs and conduct internal investigations into allegations of potential wrongdoing. The District Court therefore concluded that the purpose of KBR’s internal investigation was to comply with those regulatory requirements rather than to obtain or provide legal advice. In our view, the District Court’s analysis rested on a false dichotomy. So long as obtaining or providing legal advice was one of the significant purposes of the internal investigation, the attorney-client privilege applies, even if there were also other purposes for the investigation and even if the investigation was mandated by regulation rather than simply an exercise of company discretion.

The D.C. Circuit rejected KBR's request to reassign the case to a different District Judge.  In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., No. 14-5055 (D.C. Cir. June 27, 2014).

 

 

 

June 28, 2014 in Discovery, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 20, 2014

SCOTUS: IRS Summons Challenger Must Show Facts Giving Rise to Plausible Inference of Improper IRS Motive

The IRS examined the tax returns of Dynamo Holdings Limited Partnership, and issued summonses to the respondents, "four individuals associated with Dynamo whom the Service believed had information and records relevant to Dynamo’s tax obligations.  None of the respondents complied with those summonses."  

The IRS instituted proceedings in District Court to compel the respondents to comply with the summonses.  The IRS submitted an investigating agent’s declaration that the testimony and records sought were necessary to “properly investigate the correctness of [Dynamo’s] federal tax reporting” and that the summonses were “not issued to harass or for any other improper purpose.”  In reply, the respondents pointed to circumstantial evidence suggesting that the IRS had “ulterior motives” for issuing the summonses: to “punish[] [Dynamo] for refusing to agree to a further extension of the applicable statute of limitations,” and to “evad[e] the Tax Court[’s] limitations on discovery.”  Accordingly, the respondents asked for an opportunity to question the agents about their motives.

The District Court ordered the respondents to comply with the summonses.  The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that a simple “allegation of improper purpose,” even if lacking any “factual support,” entitles a taxpayer to “question IRS officials concerning the Service’s reasons for issuing the summons.”

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Kagan, vacated the Eleventh Circuit's opinion and remanded, holding that the Eleventh Circuit had applied an incorrect legal standard:

A person receiving an IRS summons is . . . entitled to contest it in an enforcement proceeding. . .  .  As part of the adversarial process concerning a summons’s validity, the taxpayer is entitled to examine an IRS agent when he can point to specific facts or circumstances plausibly raising an inference of bad faith.  Naked allegations of improper purpose are not enough: The taxpayer must offer some credible evidence supporting his charge.  But circumstantial evidence can suffice to meet that burden; after all, direct evidence of another person’s bad faith, at this threshold stage, will rarely if ever be available.  And although bare assertion or conjecture is not enough, neither is a fleshed out case demanded: The taxpayer need only make a showing of facts that give rise to a plausible inference of improper motive.  That standard will ensure inquiry where the facts and circumstances make inquiry appropriate, without turning every summons dispute into a fishing expedition for official wrongdoing. . . .  But that is not the standard the Eleventh Circuit applied. . . .  [T]he Court of Appeals viewed even bare allegations of improper purpose as entitling a summons objector to question IRS agents.

United States v. Clarke, No. 13-301 (U.S. June 19, 2014).

June 20, 2014 in Discovery, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ABA Pretrial Practice and Discovery Committee Spring Newsletter

The Pretrial Practice and Discovery Committee of the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association has issued its
 
Spring 2014, Vol. 22 No. 2
TABLE OF CONTENTS
______________________________________________________________________
___________________________________
Articles »
The Changing Landscape of General Jurisdiction Post-Bauman
By Adam W. Braveman
This decision will have an immense impact on a foreign corporation's amenability to bring suit in U.S
courts.
 
"Self-Serving Testimony" and Summary Judgment Standards
By Jeffrey G. Close
Is there a split between the Fifth and Seventh Circuits?
 
The Problem of the Old Deposition and a New Party at Trial
By Michael Lowry
A deposition needs to be admissible, and that may depend on who is a party at the time of trial.
 
Supreme Court's CAFA Decision Changes Law in Fifth Circuit
By Paul Thibodeaux and Danny Dysart
The Court's decision on CAFA removal of parens patriae mass-action suits and how it impacts future
mass-tort litigation.
 
News & Developments
»
NV Court Expands Mandate of Production of Memory-Refreshing Documents
The mandate now applies to depositions as well as in-court hearings.
 
Considering a 30(b)(6) Deposition to Explore E-Discovery Methods?
A couple of recent decisions address a party's ability to use a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition to inquire about an
opponent's e-discovery methodology.
 

June 18, 2014 in Discovery, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Supreme Court Allows Subpoenas on Banks With Argentina's Accounts

In the continuing worldwide drama over Argentina's 2001 debt default, Argentina loses another round.  Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, Ltd., No. 12-842 (U.S. June 16, 2014).  Its creditor, NML Capital, which Argentina owes about $2.5 billion, has pursued postjudgment execution on Argentina's property since 2003.  In 2010, NML subpoenaed two nonparty banks, Bank of America and an Argentinian bank with a branch in New York City.  The subpoenas sought documents relating to accounts maintained by Argentina. 

Argentina and BoA moved to quash the BoA subpoena (the Argentinian bank just didn't comply), and NML moved to compel.  The district court granted the motion to compel, and the Second Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court also affirmed, rejecting Argentina's argument that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act prohibited discovery of Argentina's extraterritorial assets.  Before its discussion of the FSIA, the Court discussed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure -- Rule 69 -- that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in first-year civil procedure casebooks.  (Hint, hint, casebook authors!)  The Court noted that "[t]he rules governing discovery in postjudgment execution proceedings are quite permissive," citing Rule 69(a)(2), which allows a judgment creditor to take discovery "from any person -- including the judgment debtor -- as provided in the rules or by the procedure of the state where the court is located."  The Court assumed without deciding that "in a run-of-the-mill execution proceeding [one where the judgment debtor is not a foreign state] . . . the district court would have been within its discretion to order the discovery from third-party banks about the judgment debtor's assets located outside the United States."

The question was thus whether the FSIA required a different result when the judgment debtor was, in fact, a foreign state.  The FSIA, passed in 1976, confers two kinds of immunity on foreign states, jurisdictional (which Argentina waived) and execution immunity, which immunizes property in the United States of a foreign state from attachment and execution, with some exceptions.  

"There is no third provision forbidding or limiting disocvery in aid of execution of a foreign-sovereign judgment debtor's assets," notes Justice Scalia for the majority.  "[T]he reason for these subpoenas is that NML does not yet know what property Argentina has and where it is, let alone whether it is executable under the relevant jurisiction's law."   The Court also dismissed concerns about international relations, suggesting that such an argument was better addressed to Congress.

Justice Ginsburg dissented.  Justice Sotomayor took no part.      

   

June 17, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, International/Comparative Law, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Appeals Court Reverses Denial of Sanctions Motion Against Merrill Lynch's Law Firm

The opinion of the Massachusetts Appeals Court begins:

The plaintiffs appeal from the denial of their motion for sanctions against Bingham McCutchen LLP (Bingham), intervener, the law firm that defended Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. (Merrill), in the 2002 jury trial of this action. The plaintiffs claim that in that litigation Bingham wrongfully withheld documents relevant to the issue whether Merrill, in handling the accounts of Benistar Property Exchange Trust Company, Inc. (Benistar), knew that Benistar was trading with money belonging to third parties. We hold that Bingham lacked an adequate legal basis, under the guise of the work product doctrine, for its decisions to withhold information that Merrill employees had viewed certain Benistar Web pages describing its business as an intermediary for third-party funds and then to present a defense claiming that no Merrill employees had viewed the very same Web pages.  As a result, we vacate that portion of the final judgment entering judgment in favor of Bingham on the plaintiffs' motion for sanctions.  As explained below, there remain certain issues that require resolution by a fact finder, and thus, we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Cahaly v. Benistar Property Exchange Trust Co., Inc. No. 12-P-956 (Mass. Ct. App. June 6, 2014).

Hat tip: The American Lawyer

June 9, 2014 in Discovery, Recent Decisions, State Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Standing Committee Approves Proposed FRCP Amendments

We've been covering (see here and here, among others) the path of the controversial proposed amendments to the FRCP as they (inexorably, in my view) wend their way toward final approval.

The Standing Committee met on May 29-30, 2014 in D.C. and unanimously approved the amendments as they were modified by the Advisory Committee at its meeting in April. 

Hat tip: Center for Constitutional Litigation

June 7, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

So-Called "Porno Troll's" Attempt at Joinder, Discovery Shot Down

Tired of using Mosley v. General Motors for an illustration of joinder under Rule 20? The D.C. Circuit has provided a great new case. The court quaintly began its opinion:

Generally speaking, our federal judicial system and the procedural rules that govern it work well, allowing parties to resolve their disputes with one another fairly and efficiently. But sometimes individuals seek to manipulate judicial procedures to serve their own improper ends. This case calls upon us to evaluate—and put a stop to— one litigant’s attempt to do just that.

AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1058, No. 12-7135 (D.C. Cir. May 27, 2014).

Plaintiff AF Holdings, represented by a law firm related to one that was called a "porno-trolling collective" in another case, allegedly (there was some question of forgery) acquired the copyright to a pornographic film called "Popular Demand." It sued 1,058 "John Doe" defendants in federal court in D.C. for copyright infringement for downloading the film on a file-sharing service known as BitTorrent.

Moving for leave to take immediate discovery, AF Holdings then sought to serve subpoenas on the five Internet service providers linked to the 1,058 IP addresses it had identified: Cox Communications, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Bright House Networks. The district court granted the motion . . . . The providers refused to comply. Invoking Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(d)(3)(A), . . . they asserted that the administrative expense involved was necessarily an “undue burden” because AF Holdings had failed to establish that the court would have personal jurisdiction over the defendants or that venue would lie in this district. . . . The providers also argued that any burden was necessarily undue because AF Holdings had failed to provide any reason to think that joinder of these 1,058 defendants in one action was proper. The district court rejected these arguments, . . . [but] certified its order for immediate appeal.

The D.C. Circuit vacated, holding that AF Holdings had failed to make a threshold showing of a good faith belief that the discovery would enable it to show that the court had personal jurisdiction over the unknown defendants; thus, the information sought from the service providers was not relevant.

The court then turned "to the question of joinder, which provides a separate and independent ground for reversal":

. . . Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) sets forth that multiple defendants may be joined in one action if the plaintiff seeks relief “with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” and “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” In a multi-Doe copyright infringement lawsuit such as this, at least one issue of law or fact will generally be common to all defendants—here, that issue might be whether AF Holdings has a valid copyright in Popular Demand. But whether all of these Doe defendants could possibly have been a part of the same “transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” so as to support joinder is a more difficult question. . . . For purposes of this case, we may assume that two individuals who participate in the same swarm [a type of peer-to-peer file sharing] at the same time are part of the same series of transactions within the meaning of Rule 20(a)(2). In that circumstance, the individuals might well be actively sharing a file with one another, uploading and downloading pieces of the copyrighted work from the other members of the swarm. But AF Holdings has provided no reason to think that the Doe defendants it named in this lawsuit were ever participating in the same swarm at the same time.

The D.C. Circuit left the question of sanctions to the district court on remand.

May 28, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

IAALS Releases Summary of Empirical Research on Civil Justice

Corina D. Gerety and Brittany K.T. Kauffman, of The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, have published a Summary of Empirical Research on the Civil Justice Process: 2008-2013.

 

An explanation of its Scope provides, "This report provides a synthesis of the relevant empirical research on the civil justice process released from 2008 to 2013. In addition to IAALS research, it contains studies conducted by a variety of organizations and individuals, including the Federal Judicial Center, the National Center for State Courts, the RAND Corporation, and others. We, the authors, refer to 39 studies in total, representing a relatively even mix of case file/docket studies and surveys/interviews."

May 27, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Courts, Recent Scholarship, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

California Bar Publishes Ethical Opinion on ESI for Public Comment

The State Bar of California has published a proposed formal opinion for public comment on the question, "What are an attorney’s ethical duties in the handling of discovery of electronically stored information?"

The digest of the opinion states:

An attorney’s obligations under the ethical duty of competence evolve as new technologies develop and then become integrated with the practice of law. Attorney competence related to litigation generally requires, at a minimum, a basic understanding of, and facility with, issues relating to e-discovery, i.e., the discovery of electronically stored information (“ESI”). On a case-by-case basis, the duty of competence may require a higher level of technical knowledge and ability, depending on the e-discovery issues involved in a given matter and the nature of the ESI involved. Such competency requirements may render an otherwise highly experienced attorney not competent to handle certain litigation matters involving ESI. An attorney lacking the required competence for the e-discovery issues in the case at issue has three options: (1) acquire sufficient learning and skill before performance is required; (2) associate with or consult technical consultants or competent counsel; or (3) decline the client representation. Lack of competence in e-discovery issues can also result, in certain circumstances, in ethical violations of an attorney’s duty of confidentiality, the duty of candor, and/or the ethical duty not to suppress evidence.

The deadline for public comments is 5 p.m., June 24, 2014.      

May 7, 2014 in Discovery, State Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reenactment of deposition argument over definition of "photocopy machine"

As a break from writing or grading your final exams (and to walk down the memory lane of law practice for some of us), here's a great reenactment of an argument during a deposition about the definition of a photocopier.  The short video by writer and director Brett Weiner is part of the New York Times Op-Docs series and is a verbatim transcript of a deposition from an Ohio case.

May 2, 2014 in Discovery, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Report on Last Week's Civil Rules Advisory Committee Meeting

We covered earlier the agenda for the Civil Rules Advisory Committee’s April meeting, which took place in Portland, Oregon last week and was an important step for the recently proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Bloomberg BNA’s U.S. Law Week has this report on the result of the meeting.

The Advisory Committee’s recommendations go next to the Standing Committee on the Rules of Practice and Procedure, which will meet in May.

Hat Tip: Tom Rowe

 

 

April 16, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Next Steps in the FRCP Amendment Process

As we’ve been covering, the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure (a.k.a. the Standing Committee) has proposed a significant batch of amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The public comment period on that proposal ended in February, with over 2,300 comments submitted.

The next step in the process is a meeting of the Civil Rules Advisory Committee that will take place on April 10-11 in Portland, Oregon. As covered earlier, the agenda book for that meeting has now been posted on the US Courts website and is available here. At this meeting, the Civil Rules Committee will make recommendations to the Standing Committee, which will meet at the end of May.

The materials in the 580-page agenda book suggest that there could be some important changes to the original package of amendments that was circulated last August. Most significantly, the Duke Conference Subcommittee (named for a conference convened by the Civil Rules Advisory Committee in May 2010) recommends withdrawal of amendments that would have (1) lowered the presumptive numbers of depositions and interrogatories, (2) limited the presumptive number of requests to admit, and (3) reduced the presumptive length of depositions.

Abandoning these proposals is certainly a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the subcommittees recommend moving forward with other troubling changes, including (1) amendments to the scope of discovery under Rule 26(b), and (2) the abrogation of Rule 84 and the Forms that appear in the Civil Rules Appendix (which are especially significant with regard to pleading standards).

In February, some colleagues and I submitted a joint comment opposing these changes. That comment was submitted by myself, Helen Hershkoff (NYU), Lonny Hoffman (Houston), Alex Reinert (Cardozo), Elizabeth Schneider (Brooklyn), and David Shapiro (Harvard) [Direct link to the pdf available here]. Thereafter, Janet Alexander (Stanford), Judith Resnik (Yale), and Steve Yeazell (UCLA) submitted a letter – on behalf of themselves and 168 other law professors – supporting our comments in opposition to these changes [direct link to the pdf available here]. Numerous other law professors have also submitted critical comments (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

I hope these critiques will prompt the various committees to reconsider these problematic proposals. As we stated in the introduction to our joint comment

As in 1993 and in 2000, evidence of system-wide, cost-multiplying abuse does not exist, and the proposed amendments are not designed to address the small subset of problematic cases that appear to be driving the Rule changes. We anticipate that, as with past Rule changes, untargeted amendments will fail to eliminate complaints about the small segment of high-cost litigation that elicits headlines about litigation gone wild; instead they will create unnecessary barriers to relief in meritorious cases, waste judicial resources, and drive up the cost of civil justice. The amendments are unnecessary, unwarranted, and counterproductive.*** In our view, the amendments are likely to spawn confusion and create incentives for wasteful discovery disputes. Even more troubling, by increasing costs and decreasing information flow, the proposed amendments are likely to undermine meaningful access to the courts and to impede enforcement of federal- and state-recognized substantive rights.

 

 

April 3, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Civil Rules Advisory Committee Publishes Agenda for April Meeting

The Advisory Committee on Civil Rules has published a 580-page Agenda for its upcoming meeting in Portland, Oregon on April 10-11, 2014.

Hat tip: Kevin Clermont.

March 25, 2014 in Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)