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Parties’ Failure to Cooperate Sparks Denial of Defendant’s Motion to Reconsider Court Ordered Discovery – eDiscovery Case Law
In Cactus Drilling Co. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co., 2014 U.S. Dist.. 11-14 (W.D. Okla. April 2, 2014), a largely contentious discovery phase was a major contributor to the decision of Oklahoma Chief District Judge Vicki Miles LaGrange regarding the defendant’s Motion to Reconsider, or Alternately, Motion for Clarification of the Court’s Order.
Discovery issues had plagued this litigation since the beginning, as both parties had repeatedly failed to communicate properly with one another, resulting in multiple interventions by the court. Upon the filing of the defendant’s Motion to Reconsider and a fourth request for continuation of the trial, Judge LaGrange held a hearing which discussed some of the discovery issues, among other things. The defendant stated at this hearing that some of the discovery documents requested by the plaintiffs—hard copies belonging to a key player who was no longer employed by the defendant—may have been inadvertently destroyed.
Pursuant to the hearing, Judge LaGrange instructed the parties to file status reports regarding the status of the discovery issues. While both parties accordingly filed a Joint Status Report soon after the hearing, once again there was a failure to communicate between parties, ultimately leading to the defendant’s filing of the Motion to Reconsider, or Alternately, Motion for Clarification of the Court’s Order.
This motion asked to reconsider an earlier court order that would allow discovery on the company’s document retention policies and litigation hold strategies, in order to investigate the circumstances under which the paper documents of the defendant’s former employee been destroyed. The defendant alleged that the court order was issued prematurely, and that it was irrelevant and not discoverable.
In response to the issue of the order being premature, it was found that this was not the case, as the defendant had known about the plaintiff’s request for this discovery at the time the parties filed the Joint Status Report, in which the defendant requested a ruling on whether they were required to produce discovery on their document retention policies along with a relevant witness for deposition.
The relevancy of the plaintiff’s discovery request was also addressed as such: “Plaintiff is entitled to inquire into the circumstances of the destruction of such relevant files while this litigation is pending, whether defendants took proper precautions, and whether such precautions were actually exercised by defendants’ employees. Thus, clearly a discovery request on defendants’ document retention and litigation hold practices and policies and whether such policies were followed with respect to [the former employee’s files] is relevant and discoverable.”
In conclusion, Judge LaGrange denied the defendant’s Motion to Reconsider, and ordered both parties once again to attempt to resolve the issues surrounding discovery and the defendant’s document retention and litigation hold practices in good faith.
So, what do you think? Should a party have the right to request discovery on document retention policies when relevant discovery documents are not obtainable? Should the cooperation—or lack thereof—between parties affect the court’s ruling on various motions? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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