Top Twenty-Two e-Discovery Opinions of 2016: Number Four

Here is the e-Discovery Team’s fourth most interesting e-discovery opinion of 2016. In re Bard IVC Filters Prods. Liab. Litig., D. Ariz., No. MDL 15-02641-PHX DGC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126448 (D. Ariz. Sept. 16, 2016).

FOURTH – In re Bard IVC Filters Prods. Liab. Litig.

judge_david_campbellIn Re Bard is a very helpful case on limiting discovery and the intent of the new rules, especially Rule 26(b)(1) on scope of discovery and proportionality. In re Bard IVC Filters Prods. Liab. Litig., D. Ariz., No. MDL 15-02641-PHX DGC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126448 (D. Ariz. Sept. 16, 2016). The primary source of our interest in this case, and why we rank it thirteenth, is the author himself. The opinion was written by the one judge who should really know the intent of the new rules, U.S. District Court Judge David G. Campbell. Judge Campbell was the chair of the Rules Committee when the 2015 amendments were passed.

You may want to use some of the language in this decision by Judge Campbell in your briefs going forward. Here is the main language explaining the new rule and commenting on how many judges are not yet following it yet and still operating under the old rules with more expansive discovery:

rule_26b1I. New Legal Standards Governing the Scope of Discovery.

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was amended on December 1, 2015. The new rule defines the scope of permissible discovery as follows:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the party’s access to relevant information, the party’s resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden and expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

A. Relevancy.

To be discoverable under the first part of this test, information must be “relevant to any party’s claim or defense.” Id. This language has not changed from the previous version of Rule 26(b)(1). 

Before the 2015 amendments, Rule 26(b)(1) also provided that inadmissible evidence was discoverable if it “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Some courts – and many lawyers – used this language to define the scope of discovery. See, e.g., Surfvivor Media, Inc. v. Survivor Prods., 406 F.3d 625, 635 (9th Cir. 2005) (“Relevant information for purposes of discovery is information ‘reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.’”) (quoting Brown Bag Software v. Symantec Corp., 960 F.2d 1465, 1470 (9th Cir. 1992)).

This phrase was eliminated by the 2015 amendments and replaced with a more direct declaration of the phrase’s original intent: “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provided this explanation for the deletion:

The former provision for discovery of relevant but inadmissible information that appears “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” is also deleted. The phrase has been used by some, incorrectly, to define the scope of discovery. As the Committee Note to the 2000 amendments observed, use of the “reasonably calculated” phrase to define the scope of discovery “might swallow any other limitation on the scope of discovery.” The 2000 amendments sought to prevent such misuse by adding the word “relevant” at the beginning of the sentence, making clear that “relevant” means within the scope of discovery as defined in this subdivision . . . .” The “reasonably calculated” phrase has continued to create problems, however, and is removed by these amendments.

Rule 26, Advis. Comm. Notes for 2015 Amends.

The 2015 amendments thus eliminated the “reasonably calculated” phrase as a definition for the scope of permissible discovery. Despite this clear change, many courts  continue to use the phrase. Old habits die hard.1 In this circuit, courts cite two Ninth Circuit cases – Surfvivor Media, Inc. v. Survivor Prods., 406 F.3d 625, 635 (9th Cir. 2005), and Brown Bag Software v. Symantec Corp., 960 F.2d 1465, 1470 (9th Cir. 1992) – for the proposition that information is relevant for purposes of Rule 26(b)(1) if it is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”2 But these cases, and others like them, simply applied the earlier version of Rule 26(b)(1).

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FN 1 – Last month alone, seven cases relied on the “reasonably calculated” language to define the scope of permissible discovery. See Fastvdo LLC v. AT&T Mobility LLC, No. 16-CV-385-H (WVG), 2016 WL 4542747, at *2 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 31, 2016); Sierra Club v. BNSF Ry. Co., No. C13-0967-JCC, 2016 WL 4528452, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 30, 2016); Shell v. Ohio Family Rights, No. 1:15-CV-1757, 2016 WL 4523830, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 29, 2016); Arrow Enter. Computing Sols., Inc. v. BlueAlly, LLC, No. 5:15-CV-00037-FL, 2016 WL 4287929, at *1 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 15, 2016); Ecomission Sols., LLC v. CTS Holdings, Inc., No. MISC. 16-1793 (EGS), 2016 WL 4506974, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 26, 2016); Clouser v. Golden Gate Nat’l Senior Care, LLC, No. CV 3:15-33, 2016 WL 4223755, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 9, 2016); Scott Hutchinson Enters., Inc. v. Cranberry Pipeline Corp., No. 3:15-CV-13415, 2016 WL 4203555, at *2 (S.D.W. Va. Aug. 9, 2016). Several other cases cited the language as though it were still part of Rule 26(b)(1). See Fairley v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. CV 15-462, 2016 WL 4418799, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 19, 2016); Kuczak v. City of Trotwood, Ohio, No. 3:13-CV-101, 2016 WL 4500715, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 26, 2016); Kubik v. Cent. Michigan Univ. Bd. of Trustees, No. 15-CV-12055, 2016 WL 4425174, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 22, 2016).

FN 2 – See Fastvdo, 2016 WL 4542747, at *2 (quoting Surfvivor Media, 406 F.3d at 635); Sierra Club, 2016 WL 4528452, at *1 (quoting Brown Bag, 960 F.2d at 1470).

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Amended Rule 26(b)(1) was adopted pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2072, et. seq. That statute provides that “[a]ll laws in conflict with such rules shall be of no further force or effect after such rules have taken effect.” Id., § 2072(b). Thus, just as a statute could effectively overrule cases applying a former legal standard, the 2015 amendment effectively abrogated cases applying a prior version of Rule 26(b)(1). The test going forward is whether evidence is “relevant to any party’s claim or defense,” not whether it is “reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence.”

B. Proportionality.

The 2015 amendments also added proportionality as a requirement for permissible discovery. Relevancy alone is no longer sufficient – discovery must also be proportional to the needs of the case. The Advisory Committee Note makes clear, however, that the amendment does not place the burden of proving proportionality on the party seeking discovery. The amendment “does not change the existing responsibilities of the court and the parties to consider proportionality, and the change does not place on the party seeking discovery the burden addressing all proportionality considerations.” Rule 26, Advis. Comm. Notes for 2015 Amends. Rather, “[t]he parties and the court have a collective responsibility to consider the proportionality of all discovery and consider it in resolving discovery disputes.” Id. (emphasis added)

The inquiry to be conducted under the proportionality requirement, therefore, requires input from both sides. As the Advisory Committee explained:

A party claiming undue burden or expense ordinarily has far better information – perhaps the only information – with respect to that part of the determination. A party claiming that a request is important to resolve the issues should be able to explain the ways in which the underlying information bears on the issues as that party understands them. The court’s responsibility, using all the information provided by the parties, is to consider these and all the other factors in reaching a case-specific determination of the appropriate scope of discovery. 

Id. The Court therefore will look to evidence and arguments from both sides in deciding whether discovery from the Bard foreign entities is permitted under Rule 26.

ronald-hedgesOur friend, retired Judge Ron Hedges, publicly commented on this case and said the “collective responsibility” language is vague. “If there is no allocation of burden for showing discovery is proportional, and the committee note refers to a ‘collective responsibility,’ then maybe the burden should fall on the judge, as opposed to both parties.” You probably do not want to make that comment to the judge hearing your case, but you should argue that the burden is not upon you (assuming you are opposing the discovery).

It is interesting to see how many attorneys and judges alike just do not get it. As Judge Campbell said – Old habits die hard. Also remember that the other side may be citing to cases in their discovery briefs that are no longer valid since the change of the rules. Judge Campbell makes a good point on that: “the 2015 amendment effectively abrogated cases applying a prior version of Rule 26(b)(1).” You may need to make this important point in all discovery briefs going forward. Look out for the old phrases in cases Plaintiff’s counsel cites, especially “reasonably calculated.”

It is interesting to note how harshly some judges will react when an attorney before them does not cite to the new rules. Fulton v. Livingston Fin., LLC, No. C15-0574JLR, 2016 WL 3976558 (W.D. Wash. July 25, 2016). In Fulton an attorney at a prominent firm in Seattle cited the old rule and related case law in a memorandum filed with the court pertaining to relevance. The judge called the mistake “inexcusable” and imposed harsh sanctions on the attorney, including requiring him to personally pay opposing counsel fees and costs and to provide a copy of the sanctions order and “offending briefing to senior members of Mr. Ryan’s law firm.” Ouch. 

judge_david_g-_campbellBack to In Re Bard, Judge Campbell went on to deny the discovery request under Rule 26(b)(1) primarily because the requesting party had not shown how the information sought would be of any importance to the case. Here is the operative language from pg. 6 of the opinion:

Courts generally recognize that relevancy for purposes of discovery is broader than relevancy for purposes of trial. Even still, the Court concludes that the discovery sought by Plaintiffs is only marginally relevant. With no foreign-based Plaintiffs, and mere conjecture that communications between foreign entities and foreign regulators might be inconsistent with Defendants’ communications with American regulators, the discovery appears to be only potentially relevant – more hope than likelihood.

I especially like that phrase – “more hope than likelihood.” We see so much of that from opposing counsel.

Judge Campbell went on to analyze the benefit/burden factors in 26(b)(1), some “pro” the discovery sought, and concluded the opinion with the following:

The Court concludes that the burden and expense of searching ESI from 18 foreign entities over a 13-year period outweighs the benefit of the proposed discovery – a mere possibility of finding a foreign communications inconsistent with United States communication.

Because the proposed discovery is not proportional to the needs of the case considering the factors set forth in Rule 26(b)(1), the Court concludes that Defendants need not search the ESI of foreign Bard entities for communications with foreign regulators.

Again, note his use of the phrase “a mere possibility of finding” relevant evidence. That kind of language is appropriate in many discovery disputes we now see. 

This fourth most interesting case of 2016 is one that should be in all court memorandums. It provides a persuasive, authoritative discussion of the new rules, especially scope of relevance under 26(b)(1). In re Bard IVC Filters Prods. Liab. Litig., D. Ariz., No. MDL 15-02641-PHX DGC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126448 (D. Ariz. Sept. 16, 2016).

 

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