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Plaintiff Monetarily Sanctioned for Failing to Disclose Counsel’s Communications with Third Parties

Posted on June 29th, 2018

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In Singer Oil Co. v. Newfield Exploration (Case No. Civ-16-768-M.) (United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma, June 7, 2018), an Oklahoma District Judge imposed sanctions on the Plaintiff after a verdict for failing to disclose communications its counsel had with third parties. Defendant discovered the communications while reviewing Plaintiff’s counsel’s time records.

In late 2016, the Singer Oil Co. (Plaintiff) responded to Newfield Exploration’s (Defendant) discovery requests stating that it had produced or would produce all documents requested by Defendant. Plaintiff did not assert privileged status for any of the unproduced documents. Plaintiff secured a verdict in its favor following a jury trial.  After the trial, Plaintiff filed an amended motion to recover attorney’s fees.

While the Defendant was reviewing the time records associated with Plaintiff’s discovery motion, it determined the Plaintiff’s attorney had frequently communicated with third parties through email about issues that were at dispute in the litigation. The Defendant contended that at least two of these communications took place before the Plaintiff had served its discovery responses.

According to the Defendant, the Plaintiff had a duty to disclose the communications that had taken place at the time of its discovery responses and to supplement these responses when additional communications were made.

The Judge ruled that while the Plaintiff did not violate the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure intentionally, it still violated the rules by not disclosing these third-party communications. In its requests for production, the Defendant had asked for all correspondence between the Plaintiff and parties or issues involved in the case. Given the Plaintiff’s description of the communications, the Judge determined they would have had little or any impact on the case.

In addition, the Judge also found that the Defendant’s proposed sanctions were harsh and not warranted given the circumstances. Instead, the Court determined it would be appropriate to have the Plaintiff pay the Defendant’s attorney’s fees it incurred while filing the motion for sanctions.

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