eDiscovery Daily Blog

How Blue Was My Valley? Not Blue Enough to Cite the Defendant for Discovery Violations: eDiscovery Case Law

In Malone v. Kantner Ingredients, 4:12CV3190 (D. Neb. Mar. 31, 2015), Nebraska Magistrate Judge Cheryl R. Zwart denied the plaintiffs’ motion to show cause, finding that the defendant “the plaintiffs have presented no evidence” that the defendant “destroyed, hid, or purposefully (or even recklessly) failed to produce responsive ESI” in the case.

Case Background

Over two years, the defendants had produced documents from various sources, including 140,000 electronic files located on a computer image of the data stored on the defendant’s file servers. Despite that, multiple conferences were held with the court regarding the parties’ discovery disputes and the plaintiffs filed five motions to compel additional documentation from the defendant.

In October of 2014, the plaintiffs claimed the defendants failed to produce all documents responsive to the plaintiffs’ discovery requests, particularly sent emails and invoices of transactions between Blue Valley Foods and the defendants. In an attempt to quell the plaintiffs’ ongoing distrust of the defendants’ discovery efforts, the defendants were ordered to locate their servers and determine if the server imaging performed by the defendants at the outset of the case was a full and complete imaging, as well as produce responsive invoices and sent mail from those servers.

In response to that order, the servers were received by defense counsel, who confirmed that the data image from the shared server data received by defense counsel at the outset of the case matched the data set and data amount on the servers. The servers were sent to the defendants’ forensic expert, who fully imaged them and provided a full copy of that imaging to the plaintiffs’ forensic expert. After receiving the server imaging, the plaintiffs’ forensic expert performed a word search of the data and located some documents containing the words “Blue Valley” that were not previously disclosed by the defendants in an electronic format. The plaintiffs presented evidence that some of those documents were responsive to production requests served by the plaintiffs, but they were not previously disclosed to the plaintiffs in an electronic format.

The plaintiffs moved for an order to show cause, alleging the defendants, their counsel, and counsel’s paralegal failed to comply with the order, “destroyed or tampered with evidence, and provided untruthful information to the court regarding the existence of discovery requested by the plaintiffs.”

Judge’s Opinion

Judge Zwart noted that, after receiving the actual servers, “the defendants did not repeat their search of the server data for responsive discovery…But the order required the defendants to determine if the server imaging performed by the defendants at the outset of the case was a full and complete imaging: It did not require the defendants to repeat their ESI review and production if the 2012 initial data imaging appeared to be full and complete.”

She continued: “By providing the full image of the servers to Plaintiffs’ expert, the defendants produced the emails, invoices, and associated metadata as required under the court’s order. While the plaintiffs incurred expense for forensic review of that data, the plaintiffs’ use of their own forensic expert was reasonable—and perhaps necessary—to bring some closure to the ongoing ESI discovery battle… The defendants allowed Plaintiffs to ‘see for themselves’ whether any additional documentation was on the Kantner servers. And the court is convinced this was the only means of convincing Plaintiffs that they had received everything. Had the parties discussed how to collect, review and produce ESI at the outset, perhaps the cost of two experts, and other discovery-related fees and costs, could have been avoided. But those discussions never occurred.”

With regard to the missed documents discovered by the plaintiff, Judge Zwart, referencing several sources for best practices for searching, indicated that “At most, the plaintiffs offered evidence of mistakes made during defense counsel’s 2012 manual review of the electronic files. Manual review is still considered by many as the ‘gold standard’ for electronic document review. But human error is common when attorneys are tasked with personally reviewing voluminous electronically stored information.” She also cited Reinsdorf v. Skechers (2013), which stated: “The discovery process relies upon the good faith and professional obligations of counsel to reasonably and diligently search for and produce responsive documents…However, while parties must impose a reasonable construction on discovery requests and conduct a reasonable search when responding to the requests, the Federal Rules do not demand perfection.”

Given that standard, Judge Zwart denied the plaintiffs’ motion to show cause.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered rulings by Judge Zwart: click here, here, here and here to review previous rulings with eDiscovery impact that we’ve covered.

So, what do you think? Was that the right call or should the defendants have been held to a higher standard? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.