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Court Rules that Defendant’s Boilerplate Objections Results in Waiver of Those Objections: eDiscovery Case Law

In Halleen v. Belk, Inc., No. 4:16-CV-55 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 2018), Texas District Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III granted the plaintiffs’ motions in part, ruling that the defendant had waived its objections to the plaintiffs’ RFPs and Interrogatories by including “subject to” or boilerplate language in its responses and also granted the plaintiffs’ request for ESI for identified corporate custodians and 30(b)(6) witnesses.

Case Background

In this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) conditionally classified collective action against the defendant over failure to pay overtime compensation, the plaintiffs filed a Motion to Compel Production of Documents and Electronically Stored Information, and Proper, Complete Answers to Interrogatories in March 2018.  In their motion to compel, the plaintiffs requested that the Court compel the defendant to (1) produce all documents responsive to plaintiffs’ Requests for Production (“RFP”), (2) provide complete answers to all Interrogatories, and (3) search and collect, via specified search terms and parameters, all electronically stored information (“ESI”) germane to identified corporate custodians and 30(b)(6) corporate representatives.

The plaintiffs argued that the defendant’s objections to their RFPs and Interrogatories were “deficient, inapplicable, and/or without merit”, but the defendant, whose responses and objections consisted of assertions of privilege or contain “subject to” or boilerplate language, responded that its objections were not only appropriate but necessary to protect itself from Plaintiffs’ abusive discovery requests.  The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant failed to provide a privilege log accompanying its objections, but the defendant contended that it was not withholding any information on the basis of privilege. The plaintiffs also sought an order compelling the defendant to produce ESI for identified corporate custodians and 30(b)(6) witnesses, referencing an exhibit which list search terms, sample percentages, and specific custodians.  In response, the defendant stated that the plaintiffs’ suggested search terms and requests were overly broad and contended that the parties were still working on agreed search terms and have yet to reach an impasse warranting a motion to compel.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the defendant’s objections, Judge Mazzant ruled: “The Court finds that Defendant’s inclusion of ‘subject to and without waiving these objections’ is not supported by the federal rules and goes against the purposes of a just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution…Further, by answering questions in such a manner Defendant fails to specify the scope of its answer in relation to the request. This makes it impossible for Plaintiffs or the Court to assess the sufficiency of the response. Therefore, Defendant has waived each objection by including ‘subject to’ or boilerplate language in its responses…As such, Defendant’s failure to specify specific grounds in the objections results in waiver of those objections…As a result, Defendant is ordered to provide amended responses as discussed below.”

With regard to the plaintiffs motion to compel production of specified ESI, Judge Mazzant ruled: “The Court finds that Plaintiffs’ request for ESI as specified in Exhibit 1 to its Reply is appropriate and should be granted. Although Defendant asserts that the parties are not at an impasse, the Court finds that given the ongoing discovery disputes and inability to cooperate the requested relief is necessary. Plaintiffs further request an order requiring Defendant to produce a randomized five percent of content on a share drive from 2013 to the present regarding various divisions of employees, including STMs. Because this request is raised for the first time in Plaintiffs’ reply, the Court declines to grant such relief at this time. Rather, the Court encourages Plaintiffs to confer with Defendant to reach a common ground on the amount of share drive that needs to be produced and for which specific divisions.”

As a result, the defendant was ordered to: 1) provide a privilege log for each assertion of privilege made within seven days, 2) serve upon plaintiffs’ counsel amended, corrected and complete sets of answers to plaintiffs’ Interrogatories and Requests for Production and 3) produce, in TIFF format, the ESI requested by the plaintiffs within two weeks.

So, what do you think?  Should parties be allowed to correct their “boilerplate” objections before they are waived?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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