eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Request for Fee Reimbursement in Responding to Motion: eDiscovery Case Law

In Gade v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., No. 14-00048 (D. Vermont, June 6, 2016), Vermont Chief District Judge Christina Reiss denied the plaintiff’s motion for an order requiring the defendant to pay expenses and fees that she incurred in opposing the defendant’s motion to compel production of an Excel spreadsheet from the plaintiff’s expert.

Case Background

In this personal injury case where the plaintiff sued after the defendant denied her uninsured and underinsured motorist benefits claims, the defendant deposed the plaintiff’s biomechanical expert (John Smith).  The defendant asked for the expert to bring his files to the deposition, but did not examine the files before or during the deposition, instead requesting a complete copy of the expert’s file afterward, including his calculations.  In response, the plaintiff produced a copy of the expert’s file, including eight pages of data and calculations in PDF format.

On three different occasions, the defendant requested the expert’s files in Excel format, to see the underlying calculations and inputs on which the expert relied. During a September 2015 telephone conference, the plaintiff advised the defendant that if the expert’s files existed in Excel format, they would be produced; however, the plaintiff failed to do so, even after three additional written requests for those files.  Finally, the plaintiff responded that she would not produce the expert’s files in Excel format because his files, including his “unredacted calculations” and “the applicable formulas” had previously been produced in PDF format, inviting the defendant to cite “some applicable rule or decision that allows a party to compel another party’s expert to produce work-product files in a particular format”.

Ultimately, the defendant filed a motion to compel, which the plaintiff opposed; however, the parties, after sharing additional information, eventually agreed that motion to compel was moot. However, the plaintiff then sought compensation from the defendant for her attorneys’ fees incurred in opposing the motion, alleging that Defendant did not properly meet and confer as required by the rules.

Judge’s Ruling

After noting that the plaintiff “complied with her duty of disclosure and Defendant properly withdrew its motion to compel”, Judge Reiss turned her attention to the question of whether the defendant complied with Local Rule 26, which requires the movant to “confer[] with opposing counsel in a good faith effort to reduce or eliminate the controversy or arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution.”  Judge Reiss noted that the defendant “made six informal written requests for Mr. Smith’s files in Excel format from July 28, 2015 through October 13, 2015” and “also made an oral request for the information during a September 10, 2015 telephone call, after which Plaintiff initially stated that she would produce Mr. Smith’s files in Excel format, but later declined to do so.”

While admitting that “the better practice would have been for Defendant to make a formal request Mr. Smith’s files and underlying calculations prior to his deposition”, Judge Reiss ruled that “Defense counsel’s repeated attempts to obtain Mr. Smith’s files in Excel format prior to seeking court intervention, in conjunction with its affidavit supporting the motion to compel, satisfy the requirements of Local Rule 26(d)(2).”  As a result, determining that “it would be unreasonable and unfair to require” the defendant to pay fees to respond to a motion to compel that “arguably should have been unnecessary”, Judge Reiss ruled that “an award of sanctions, expenses, and fees is not warranted in this case.”

So, what do you think?  Did the Defendant go far enough to meet and confer on the issue?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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