eDiscovery Daily Blog

To Preserve Sanction Potential, Plaintiff Fights To NOT Have Claim Against Them Dismissed: eDiscovery Case Law

Yes, you read that right.  In DR Distrib., LLC v. 21 Century Smoking, Inc., No. 12 CV 50324 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 12, 2019), Illinois District Judge Iain D. Johnston denied the defendants’ Motion for Leave to Amend their counterclaim to remove their own defamation counterclaim (Count VIII) against the plaintiffs – a move to which the plaintiffs objected, because it could eliminate their chance to pursue sanctions against the defendants for ESI spoliation.

Case Background

In this trademark infringement case, where, according to Judge Johnston, “the parties have engaged in a plethora of discovery disputes and pleadings practice”, the defendants moved for leave to amend their counterclaim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 to remove Count VIII, “defamation per se”, against the plaintiff – three years and eight months after the expiration of the amended pleading deadline.  This was the third time that one of the parties moved to amend a pleading after the deadline (second time requested by the defendant), the court had denied the previous two attempts.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Johnston began his ruling by stating:

“A party rarely objects to the dismissal of a claim against it. But it happens. See, e.g., Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 655-56 (7th Cir. 2001). This is one of those rare occasions. Context explains these unusual circumstances. Not surprisingly, like most bizarre legal circumstances, this situation is caused because each side is attempting to obtain a procedural litigation advantage. This Court is confident that its analysis and decision is correct. But this Court also recognizes that this opinion proves two old adages: (1) bad facts make bad law; and (2) judges who like all their decisions are likely bad judges.”

Judge Johnston proceeded to note that “raging in this case is an ESI food fight of Hollywood proportions”, stemming from “the loss of ESI relating to the defendants’ seemingly relevant emails and instant messages”, which was initially limited to the defendants’ defamation counterclaim.  As Judge Johnston noted: “During the ESI melee, by this Motion, defendants sought to eliminate Count VIII. Although unstated, to even the most casual observer, the reason for this move was obvious: If Count VIII were eliminated, then the ESI fracas would be moot. No harm; no foul.”  He also stated that “plaintiffs promise to file a brief longer than a CVS receipt to address the ESI issues”, raising “nearly every conceivable basis for sanctions”.  Summing up the situation, Judge Johnston stated that “plaintiffs cannot obtain these sanctions if Count VIII is eliminated (at least if the ESI were only relevant to Count VIII). Therefore, plaintiffs object, despite the seeming benefit of having a claim against them eliminated. So here we are.”

Make sense now?

In considering the defendants’ motion, Judge Johnston indicated that “defendants dedicate a large portion of their briefs to argue that Rule 15 governs this Motion, and that ‘[t]he court should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires’”, but responded that “when a motion to amend a pleading comes after a case management order is entered, Rule 16(b)(4)’s ‘good cause’ standard must be satisfied before a court considers whether Rule 15(a)(2)’s standards are satisfied.”  Judge Johnston also observed that the defendants had failed to show diligence, stating:

“This Motion, brought almost four years after the expiration of the amended pleading deadline, represents the first time that defendants have sought to dismiss Count VIII. These facts would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the real, but unstated, reason to eliminate Count VIII is to avoid the ESI maelstrom on the horizon.”

As a result, stating that defendants “have failed to show good cause pursuant to Rule 16 to amend the case management order”, Judge Johnston denied their motion and indicated that the “issues related to possible sanctions raised in plaintiffs’ response will be addressed in the separate round of briefing.”

So, what do you think?  Is the plaintiff making a big gamble in leaving a claim against them in the case to try to push for sanctions?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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