Every judge who has ever struggled with discovery issues wishes that the lawyers involved had a better understanding of proportionality, that they had spent more time really thinking about how it applies to the requisites of their case. So too does every lawyer who, like me, specializes in electronic discovery. As Chief Justice Roberts explained in his 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary on the new rules on proportionality:
The amended rule states, as a fundamental principle, that lawyers must size and shape their discovery requests to the requisites of a case. Specifically, the pretrial process must provide parties with efficient access to what is needed to prove a claim or defense, but eliminate unnecessary or wasteful discovery. The key here is careful and realistic assessment of actual need.
Proportionality and reasonableness arise from conscious efforts to realistically assess actual need. What is the right balance in a particular situation? What are the actual benefits and burdens involved? How can you size and shape your discovery requests to the requisites of a case?
There is more to proportionality than knowing the rules and case law, although they are a good place to start. Proportionality is a deep subject and deserves more than black letter law treatment. 2015 e-Discovery Rule Amendments: Dawning of the “Goldilocks Era” (e-discoveryteam.com, 11/11/15) (wherein I discuss proportionality, the Golden Ratio or perfect proportionality, aka Φ, which is shown in this graphic and much more, including the spooky “coincidence” at a CLE with Judge Facciola and the audience vote). Also see: Giulio Tononi, Phi Φ, a Voyage from the Brain to the Soul (Pantheon Books, 2012) (book I’m rereading now on consciousness and integrated information theory, another take on Phi Φ).
We want everyone in the field to think about proportionality. To be conscious of it, not just have information about it. What does proportionality really mean? How does it apply to the e-discovery tasks that you carry out every day? How much is enough? Too much? Too burdensome? Too little? Not enough? Why?
What is a reasonable effort? How do you know? Is there perfect proportionality? One that expresses itself in varying ways according to the facts and circumstances? Does Law follow Art? Is Law an Art? Or is it a Science? Is there Beauty in Law? In Reason? There is more to proportionality than meets the eye. Or is there?
Getting people to think about proportionality is one of the reasons I created the Hive Mind game that I announced in my blog last week: “e-Discovery: Small, Medium of Large?”
This week’s blog continues that intention of getting lawyers to think about proportionality and the requisites of their case. It concludes with a word document designed to make it easier to play along with your own group, class or CLE event. What discovery activities required in a Big Case are not necessary in a Small Case, or even a Medium Sized case? That is what requires thought and is the basis of the game.
Rules of Federal Procedure
Proportionality is key to all discovery, to knowing the appropriate size and shape of discovery requests in order to fit the requisites of a case. Reading the rules that embody the doctrine of proportionality is a good start, but just a start. The primary rule to understand is how proportionality effects the scope of relevance as set forth in Rule 26(b)(1), FRCP:
Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged 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 parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.
But you also need to understand how it impacts a lawyer’s overall duty to supervise a discovery request and response as set forth in Rule 26(g). See Rule 26(g)(1)(B)(iii), FRCP:
neither unreasonable nor unduly burdensome or expensive, considering the needs of the case, prior discovery in the case, the amount in controversy, and the importance of the issues at stake in the action.
Many other rules have concepts of proportionality either expressly or implicitly built in, including Rule 26(b)(2)(B) (not reasonably accessible); Rule 26(b)(2)(C)(i) (cumulative); Rule 1 (just, speedy and inexpensive), Rule 34, Rule 37(e), Rule 45.
Reading the key cases is also a help, indispensable really, but reading what the judges say is not enough either. Still you need to keep up with the fast growing case law on proportionality. See for instance the fine collection by K&L Gates at: https://www.ediscoverylaw.com/?s=proportionality and the must-read, The Sedona Conference Commentary on Proportionality_May 2017. Here a few of my favorites cases:
- 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). In this must-read opinion District Judge David G. Campbell, who was the chair of the Rules Committee when the 2015 amendments were passed, takes both lawyers and judges to task for not following the new rules on proportionality. He then lays it all out in a definitive manner.
- In re Takata Airbag Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 15-02599-CIV-Moreno, MDL No. 5-2599 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 1, 2016). Judge Moreno quotes Chief Justice Roberts’ comments in the 2015 Year-End Report that the newly amended Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 26 “crystalizes the concept of reasonable limits in discovery through increased reliance on the common-sense concept of proportionality.” 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.
- Hyles v. New York City, No. 10 Civ. 3119 (AT)(AJP), 2016 WL 4077114 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2016) (Judge Peck: “While Hyles may well be correct that production using keywords may not be as complete as it would be if TAR were used, the standard is not perfection, or using the “best” tool, but whether the search results are reasonable and proportional. Cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g)(1)(B)”)
- Johnson v Serenity Transportation, Case No. 15-cv-02004-JSC (N.D. Cal. October 28, 2016) (“… a defendant does not have discretion to decide to withhold relevant, responsive documents absent some showing that producing the document is not proportional to the needs of the case.”)
- Apple Inc. v. Samsung Elecs. Co., No. 12-CV-0630-LHK (PSG), 2013 WL 4426512, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116493 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 14, 2013) (“But there is an additional, more persuasive reason to limit Apple’s production — the court is required to limit discovery if “the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” This is the essence of proportionality — an all-to-often ignored discovery principle. Because the parties have already submitted their expert damages reports, the financial documents would be of limited value to Samsung at this point. Although counsel was not able to shed light on exactly what was done, Samsung’s experts were clearly somehow able to apportion the worldwide, product line inclusive data to estimate U.S. and product-specific damages. It seems, well, senseless to require Apple to go to great lengths to produce data that Samsung is able to do without. This the court will not do.“)
- PTSI, Inc. v. Haley, 2013 WL 2285109 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 24, 2013) (“… it is unreasonable to expect parties to take every conceivable step to preserve all potentially relevant data.”)
- Kleen Products, LLC, et al. v. Packaging Corp. of Amer., et al., Case: 1:10-cv-05711, Document #412 (ND, Ill., Sept. 28, 2012).
Also see: The Top Twenty-Two Most Interesting e-Discovery Opinions of 2016 (e-discoveryteam.com, 1/2/17) (the following top ranked cases concerned proportionality: 20, 18, 17, 15, 14, 11, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1); and, Good, Better, Best: a Tale of Three Proportionality Cases – Part Two (e-discoveryteam.com 4/8/12) (includes collection of earlier case law).
The Sedona Conference Commentary on Proportionality_May 2017 is more than a collection of case law. It includes commentary hashed out between competing camps over many years. The latest 2017 version includes Six Principles that are worthy of study. They can certainly help you in your own analysis of proportionality. The cited case law in the Commentary is structured around these six principles.
THE SEDONA CONFERENCE PRINCIPLES OF PROPORTIONALITY
Principle 1: The burdens and costs of preserving relevant electronically stored information should be weighed against the potential value and uniqueness of the information when determining the appropriate scope of preservation.
Principle 2: Discovery should focus on the needs of the case and generally be obtained from the most convenient, least burdensome, and least expensive sources.
Principle 3: Undue burden, expense, or delay resulting from a party’s action or inaction should be weighed against that party.
Principle 4: The application of proportionality should be based on information rather than speculation.
Principle 5: Nonmonetary factors should be considered in the proportionality analysis.
Principle 6: Technologies to reduce cost and burden should be considered in the proportionality analysis.
Proportionality is one of those deep subjects where you should think for yourself, but also be open and listen to others. It is possible to do both, although not easy. It is one of those human tricks that will make us hard to replace by smart machines. The game I have created will help you with that. Try out the Small, Medium or Large? proportionality game by filling out the online polls I created.
But, you can do more. You can lead discussions at your law firm, company, class or CLE on the subject. You can become an e-discovery proportionality Game-Master. You can find out the consensus opinion of any group. You can observe and create statistics of how the initial opinions change when the other game players hear each others opinions. That kind of group interaction can create the so-called hive-effect. People often change their mind until a consensus emerges.
What is the small, medium or large proportionality consensus of your group? Even if you just determine majority opinion, and do not go through an interactive exercise, you are learning something of interest. Plus, and here is the key thing, you are giving game players a chance to exercise their analytical skills.
To help you to play this game on your own, and lead groups to play it, I created a Word Document that you are welcome to use.