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Court’s “New and Simpler Approach to Discovery” Identifies Search Terms for Plaintiff to Use – eDiscovery Case Law

In Armstrong Pump, Inc. v. Hartman, No. 10-CV-446S (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2014), New York Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott granted in part the defendant’s motion to compel discovery responses and fashioned a “new and simpler approach” to discovery, identifying thirteen search terms/phrases for the plaintiff to use when searching its document collection.

In this breach of contract case, discovery was contentious and resulted in at least one prior motion to compel, which the court granted in favor of the defendant in 2012 and prompted the court to caution the plaintiff “not to engage in piecemeal production of materials it has located that are responsive to Optimum Energy’s unobjectionable requests”.  Nonetheless, the plaintiff subsequently produced documents nine different times.  As a result, the defendant filed a second motion to compel and sought sanctions for Plaintiff’s discovery behavior, including its delayed production of relevant information.

Judge Scott, noting that “[f]our and a half years later, discovery is far from complete”, expressed frustration with “the continual and growing animosity between the parties, an animosity that has slowed the progress of the case and that has required repeated judicial intervention.”  Stating that a “lawsuit is supposed to be a search for the truth”, Judge Scott said “the Court now will fashion a new and simpler approach to discovery” and identified thirteen phrases “that inevitably refer to or hint at the Hartman LOOP Technology”.  He then ordered:

“For a period starting from January 1, 2004 through the present time, Armstrong must search ALL corporate documents, files, communications, and recordings for EACH of the above phrases. Armstrong will maintain a list of every server, computer, file room, or other place searched, and a list of all positive search results. For each positive result, Armstrong will procure a full copy of the document in question. Armstrong also will furnish a complete and sworn description of its document retention policies, if any, from January 1, 2004 through the present time. In the specific instance of [REDACTED] reports, if for any reason a product did not have a written report for a certain stage or did not go through all five stages then someone at Armstrong with appropriate knowledge or expertise will provide a sworn statement explaining why. When the search is complete, a representative of Armstrong and all of Armstrong’s counsel of record will file a sworn statement confirming that Armstrong made a good-faith effort to identify sources of documents; that a complete search of those sources for each of the above phrases occurred; and that the search results have been furnished to Optimum. All of this must occur on or before April 1, 2015, with absolutely no exceptions or extensions. Failure to comply will lead to sanctions under Rule 37(b)(2)(A).”

Judge Scott also cautioned the defendant that “the Court will not hesitate to apply the same approach to its document production”, ordering the defendant to “either 1) file a joint sworn statement that Optimum has fulfilled ALL outstanding discovery requests from Armstrong; or 2) file a motion for a protective order to quash any outstanding discovery requests that Optimum opposes” by January 14, 2015.

So, what do you think?  Did the court go too far?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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