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Appeals Court Upholds Default Judgment Sanctions for Defendant’s Multiple Discovery Violations: eDiscovery Case Law

In Long Bay Management Co., Inc. et. al. v. HAESE, LLC et. al., No. 14-P-991 (Mass. App. Ct., Nov. 17, 2015), the Appeals Court of Massachusetts found that the default judge had not abused her discretion in ordering sanctions and assessing damages and ordered that the plaintiffs could submit a petition for appellate attorneys’ fees incurred in responding to the appeal.

In this case, the plaintiffs sued their former legal counsel for overbilling after a former associate of the counsel firm notified the plaintiffs that his billing records had been altered without his knowledge.  The default judge found that throughout the proceedings, the defendants repeatedly abused the discovery process in various ways, including inappropriate subpoena of individuals for deposition who were not “relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action,” seeking information not “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

The defendants were also found to have “repeatedly stymied” the plaintiff’s efforts to gather discoverable information, by failing to respond to the plaintiff’s discovery requests and never producing the underlying metadata of the billing records despite court orders, using delay tactics and claiming several excuses such as privilege, the inability to separate the metadata from other client files, and missing multiple hearing dates without excuse.  In addition to the numerous discovery violations, the default judge determined that there was also strong evidence, albeit circumstantial, establishing spoliation.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the default judge should have allowed both his motion to stay and motion for reconsideration because the appearance of his new counsel required more time to brief the court why spoliation did not occur, that the damages judge erred in holding the assessment of damages hearing despite becoming aware that the plaintiff had litigated the case under a name that was not the real party in interest and that the default judge erred in preventing him from introducing specific expert testimony.  In response to each argument, the appeals court found that the default and damages judges did not abuse their discretion in ordering sanctions and assessing damages.  The appeals court also ordered that the plaintiffs could submit a petition for appellate attorneys’ fees incurred in responding to the appeal.

So, what do you think?  Did the defendants’ actions warrant a default judgment against them?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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