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Court States that Duty to Meet and Confer is Not an “Empty Formality”, Denies Request for Sanctions: eDiscovery Case Law

In Whitesell Corporation v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc. et. al., No. 103-050 (S.D. Ga., Sept. 10, 2015), Georgia District Judge J. Randal Hall denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions against the defendant for identifying a deponent that (according to the plaintiff) had no particularized information regarding the defendant’s efforts to produce documents, stating that he was “unimpressed” by the plaintiff’s effort to confer on the matter and stating that the “duty-to-confer is not an empty formality”.

Case Background

In its Third Set of Interrogatories to Defendants, the plaintiff requested that the defendant “[i]dentify every person who has knowledge regarding your document retention policies and procedures and your efforts to preserve and produce documents and information relevant to this litigation, and describe the subject matter of his or her knowledge.”  In response, the defendant identified three individuals, including one whom they described as having “general information” “regarding [the defendant’s] efforts to produce documents and information relevant to this litigation”.

At his deposition, that deponent expressed a lack of knowledge regarding the defendant’s document retention policies, so the plaintiff filed a Motion for Sanctions, arguing that the court should sanction the defendant’s identification of that deponent because he had no particularized information regarding the defendant’s efforts to produce documents “and certainly possesses no information that is different than any other of the dozens of other EHP employees whose computer was reviewed by EHP’s IT department in connection with this litigation.”  In response, the defendant pointed out that it had never identified that deponent as specifically knowledgeable about document retention policies, but that it did identify him has having knowledge regarding the document production (regarding which he adequately testified about during his deposition).

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Hall remarked initially that “At first blush, Whitesell’s motion for sanctions appears well-grounded. From Whitesell’s perspective, Mr. Edwards’s deposition seemed needless and unproductive.”  However, “upon a more contemplative look at the issue”, Judge Hall stated that he “cannot reach the conclusion that EHP violated its certification of discovery responses under the circumstances.”

Noting that the “interrogatory generally asks for persons with knowledge about efforts to produce documents and information relevant to the litigation, but then Whitesell complains that the witness does not have particularized knowledge of all areas pertinent to that subject matter”, Judge Hall stated that “the Court is unimpressed by Whitesell’s effort to confer on the matter…The duty-to-confer is not an empty formality.”

As a result, Judge Hall denied that motion stating that “the Court’s decision on this matter is influenced by the fact that there is now a mechanism in place, the monthly discovery hearings, to address the perceived gaps and failings in discovery almost immediately as they arise.”

So, what do you think?  Should more courts hold monthly discovery hearings to minimize disputes?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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