eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Orders Plaintiff to Re-Review 95% of its Production Classified as “Highly Confidential”: eDiscovery Case Law

In Procaps S.A. v. Patheon Inc., 12-24356-CIV-GOODMAN, 2014 U.S. Dist. (S.D. Fla. July 20, 2015), after the plaintiff designated 95% of its forensically-produced documents (141,525 of 148,636) as “highly confidential”, Florida District Judge Jonathan Goodman ordered the plaintiff to re-review and re-designate those documents within ten days, and also assessed a $25,000 fees award against the plaintiff’s outside counsel to compensate the defendant for its efforts in reviewing the documents.

Case Background

In this case, the parties entered into a stipulated confidentiality agreement whereby they designated confidential documents as either “Confidential Information” or “Highly Confidential Information”, with the parties agreeing that only counsel could view the “Highly Confidential Information”. The parties agreed to use the “Highly Confidential Information” category only for “information that truly requires highly sensitive protection.”

The defendant challenged both the plaintiff’s method of marking highly confidential documents and the number of documents marked.  The plaintiff marked each highly confidential document with the “highly confidential” legend but did so in a way which prevented the defendant from doing a computer search for the term “highly confidential.”  The defendant alleged that its inability to perform these searches significantly prejudiced its defense of the case.

Also, 148,636 documents were produced by the plaintiff in the forensic analysis, and the plaintiff designated 141,525 of them as “highly confidential” (95.2%).   The defendant also determined that 90.9% of the plaintiffs’ entire production (141,696 of 155,759 documents) was branded by the plaintiff as “highly confidential.”  The defendant’s statistical sample review of the branded “highly confidential” documents identified documents generated by the defendant itself, as well as SPAM emails – documents that would clearly not be “highly confidential”.  As a result, the defendant filed a motion for re-designation of highly confidential documents on July 13, 2015 and also sought fee reimbursement of $34,385.69.  The plaintiff ultimately acknowledged the “apparent over-designation of documents as Highly Confidential”, noting that it was performed by a third party vendor.

Judge’s Ruling

In a previous ruling in this case, Judge Goodman began his opinion by quoting both eighteenth century English writer Samuel Johnson and the recently departed B.B. King; in this ruling, he began by quoting song lyrics from a song by Christine McVie.  Judge Goodman, characterizing the plaintiff’s designations as “indiscriminate”, rejected the plaintiff’s proposed alternatives for the defendant or the special master to identify the documents to be re-reviewed, stating that “Procaps’ indiscriminate designation of documents as highly confidential should not lead to the “result of improperly shifting the cost of review of confidentiality” to Patheon.”

Instead, noting that “Procaps cannot avoid its discovery obligations by shifting blame to the third party it hired for the project” and observing that “Procaps’ attorneys presumably performed the final review, and one or more of its attorneys realized, or should have realized, that a 95% highly confidential, AEO (attorney’s eyes only) designation rate is problematic and questionable (or “absurd”) on its face”, Judge Goodman ordered the plaintiff to re-review and re-designate those documents within ten days.  He also awarded the defendant $25,000 of the $34,385.69 fees requested.

So, what do you think?  Was the court correct in ordering the plaintiff to re-review the documents in such a short period of time?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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