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Without Meet and Confer Approval of its “Triangulating” Approach to Discovery, Defendant Ordered to Supplement Production – eDiscovery Case Law


In Banas v. Volcano Corp., No. 12-cv-01535-WHO (N.D. Cal. Oct. 4, 2013), California District Judge William H. Orrick determined that a defendant’s approach to discovery in which identifying the relevant documents by "triangulating" the defendant's employees wasn’t discussed with the plaintiff beforehand in a meet and confer.  Despite the fact that the court did “not find that defendant's production technique was unreasonable”, the defendant was ordered to supplement its responses since the approach wasn’t discussed and it left out multiple deponents.

In what was described as a “tentative” ruling, the facts were laid out as such:

  • In order to address the massive discovery required in this case, the defendant decided to identify the relevant documents by "triangulating" the defendant's employees. Rather than search every employee's emails, the defendant selected a subset of employees who would likely have received documents from, or sent them to, other employees who might have had involvement in this matter, so that the result would "most likely" capture all the relevant documents. In discovery, the defendant produced more than 225,000 documents. There was no agreement or even discussion between the parties about defendant's triangulation approach before the documents were produced.
  • Because of the volume of discovery in this case, documents were produced on a rolling basis. The last group of documents was produced shortly before the close of fact discovery.
  • Plaintiffs took the depositions of some 18 current or former employees of defendant. At least some of those witnesses were not within the subset of employees whose emails were searched directly by defendant.
  • The plaintiff had a hard drive that contained various documents he received while employed by the defendant. The plaintiffs compared the documents on his hard drive with the documents produced by the defendant regarding one employee they deposed and found that the defendant had produced a small fraction of the documents held by the plaintiff involving that deponent (the parties disputed his importance to the litigation).

Because of the discrepancy between the documents produced by the defendant and those contained in the plaintiff's hard drive, the plaintiff requested that the defendant search the electronic files of the witnesses whom plaintiffs deposed to ensure that the production is complete.  Though Judge Orrick did “not find that defendant's production technique was unreasonable”, he found that the plaintiff’s request was reasonable and “[u]nless there was an agreement concerning the ‘triangulation’ approach”, ordered the defendant to “perform this supplementary search and to produce any non-duplicative items”.

So, what do you think?  Could this dispute have been avoided by a meet and confer?   Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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