The concept of corporate legal separateness has long been a fortress protecting affiliated business entities such as parents, subsidiaries, and sister companies from various kinds of liability and litigation. However, how much protection does such legal separateness offer the information that corporations gather and store when faced with vehicles of written discovery such as interrogatory requests or requests for production? In other words, if an opposing party requests information or documents from a party that requires that party to seek information or documents from an affiliated non-party entity, is the party then required to seek the requested information or documents from its affiliated non-party entities?
Back in May, we wrote about a pending motion before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in which the U.S. Department of Justice and several state attorneys general (“DOJ Plaintiffs”) sought to sanction Defendant Google and compel disclosure of all emails withheld for privilege that legal counsel received but never responded to (affectionately referred to as “silent attorney” emails). The DOJ Plaintiffs claimed the silent attorney emails constituted artificial requests for legal advice intended to conceal sensitive business communications from discovery. After the parties briefed the issues, the judge ordered that the parties identify cases in support of their positions on whether the judge had the power to issue sanctions for pre-litigation conduct, and further ordered Google to produce a random sample of 210 of the 21,000 “silent attorney” emails for the court’s in camera review.
What began as a trademark infringement dispute concerning electronic cigarettes has evolved into a never-ending series of discovery issues, and lessons about the limits of Federal Rule of Evidence 502 and privilege waivers. DR Distributors, LLC filed its initial complaint against 21 Century Smoking, Inc and its owner, Brent Duke, in September 2012 alleging trademark violations. The defendants filed their counterclaim also alleging trademark violations about a month later. Though fact discovery was supposed to have ended in 2015, the parties continued to assert problems with discovery seven years later. The latest issue presented before the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois in this case was whether the defendants waived the marital communications privilege by disclosing certain communications during discovery. In its decision finding that the privilege had been waived, the Court described the limited application of Rule 502 and warned against the dangers of arguing that a disclosure was “inadvertent” without providing any explanation of how the privilege review was performed.
If a request for legal advice goes unanswered, is it really a request for legal advice? According to the U.S. Department of Justice and several state attorneys general (“DOJ Plaintiffs”) in an antitrust action against Google, United States, et. al. v. Google, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the answer to this question should be “no,” at least where the unanswered request for legal advice is part of an internal company practice intended to conceal sensitive, non-privileged documents from discovery.
In a recent order from Livingston v. City of Chicago, Magistrate Judge Young Kim of the Northern District of Illinois provided useful guidance to litigants in the use of technology assisted review, or TAR. Importantly, Judge Kim affirmed what is known as “Sedona Principle Six,” the notion that a responding party is in the best position to design and evaluate procedures for preserving and producing its own electronically stored information, or ESI.
In its recent decision in Hall vs. Hall, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that after a final decision in one of several consolidated cases, the losing party has the immediate right to appeal that decision, even when other consolidated cases are still pending. Courts may consolidate cases for efficiency. Writing for the Court, Justice Roberts made clear, however, that such consolidation does not change the independent nature of the underlying claims, and that consolidated cases retain their separate and distinct identities.
It was a tragedy. The 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and Steven Gaines almost ended the band Lynyrd Skynyrd forever. In the wake of the crash, the survivors swore an oath never again to perform as “Lynyrd Skynyrd.” That oath made its way to court where it would be memorialized in a 1988 Consent Order outlining how and when surviving members could use the name “Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
Late last month, in Klipsch Grp., Inc. v. ePRO E-Commerce Ltd., the Second Circuit affirmed a $2.7 million sanctions award against defendant ePRO after repeated instances of discovery misconduct. Finding that the district court’s award properly reflected the additional costs plaintiff Klipsch Group Inc. was forced to bear due to ePRO’s actions, the Second Circuit disagreed with ePRO that the sanctions were impermissibly punitive and disproportionate. In an era of increasingly complex digital discovery, this case serves as both a sword and a shield: it protects litigants who pursue corrective discovery efforts to remedy an opponent’s willful mishandling of discoverable information, and it punishes litigants who flout their duties to maintain and disclose relevant information.