eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: eDiscovery Violations Leave Delta Holding the Bag


In the case In re Delta/AirTran Baggage Fee Antitrust Litig., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13462, 41-43 (N.D. Ga. Feb. 3, 2012), U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten ordered Delta to pay plaintiff attorney’s fees and costs for eDiscovery issues in consolidated antitrust cases claiming Delta and AirTran Holdings, Inc. conspired to charge customers $15 to check their first bag. Noting that there was a “huge hole” in Delta’s eDiscovery process, Judge Batten reopened discovery based on defendants’ untimely production of records and indications that there was overwriting of backup tapes, inconsistencies in deposition testimony and documents, and neglect in searching and producing documents from hard drives.

Plaintiffs asserted that Delta did not conduct a reasonable inquiry to confirm its implicit representations that (1) all of the relevant hard drives had been processed, and (2) there were no missing back-up tapes. Arguing that Delta should have ensured that all sources of discoverable information were identified and searched and searched in the evidence locker, Plaintiffs contended that Delta falsely certified that its discovery responses were correct and complete. As a result, Plaintiffs contended that the case had been “unnecessarily delayed and its costs unnecessarily increased, and the fact that Delta is now producing these documents is immaterial”.

The Court agreed, noting:

“The Court finds that Delta did not conduct a reasonable inquiry. With respect to the collected but unsearched hard drives, Delta has not substantially justified its failure to ensure the drives were run through Clearwell and searched back in 2009. While its counsel did email {Delta’s IT Group} CSIRT a list of custodians whose hard drives should have been loaded onto Clearwell, CSIRT did not respond with confirmation that each listed person’s drive was on the system; CSIRT only stated that files were identified by “user employee id, not by name.” Delta has not shown that it ever confirmed with CSIRT that each hard drive that was supposed to be run through Clearwell actually had been. This oversight is a huge hole in Delta’s electronic discovery process, and Delta has not adequately explained why it did not ensure in 2009 that every collected hard drive was actually processed through Clearwell and searched.”

Judge Batten determined that Delta had violated FRCP 26(g) early disclosure requirements and failed to supplement discovery, justifying sanctions under FRCP 37(c)(1). Ruling that Delta needed to pay plaintiffs’ fees and costs in bringing the discovery motions and for extended discovery activities, Judge Batten strongly suggested that both sides meet and confer to attempt to agree to those fees and costs.  However, Judge Batten found that Delta would not be sanctioned with the exclusion of the late production, because Delta: 1) Informed the Court and Plaintiffs after they discovered the issue; 2) Requested the Court suspend the case schedule; and 3) There was no evidence the Defendants willfully withheld the discovery.

So, what do you think?  Were the sanctions justified?  Or should more sanctions have been applied?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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