Court Narrows Email Search Terms but Declines Sanctions Between Bickering Parties
In Diesel Power Source et. al. v. Crazy Carl’s Turbos et. al., Case No. 14-826 (D. Utah, Feb. 23, 2017), the parties are business competitors, and their respective owners are involved in the manufacture and sale of diesel products and services. Plaintiffs sued Defendants after Defendants allegedly posted defamatory comments and photographs on the internet about Plaintiffs, indicating that Plaintiffs’ products are low quality and do not perform well. The individual Defendant, Carl Douglass, owner of the corporate Defendant, allegedly posted these comments on blogs, forums, message boards and personal messages after purchasing products from Plaintiffs. The lawsuit was fraught with discord, leading the magistrate judge to note that “to state that the parties in this matter are not cooperating with each other is an understatement.”
During discovery, both sides sought sanctions against each other for alleged discovery violations. Plaintiffs sought sanctions against Defendants for their alleged failure to comply with a May 2016 court order compelling production of certain items. By December 2016, emails based upon certain search terms had still not been produced. The court took the Motion for Sanctions under advisement before finding in January 2017 that the email search terms submitted by Plaintiffs were “overly generic” and created an undue burden upon Defendants. The court ordered Plaintiffs to provide five detailed search terms with more detail than those previously submitted. Plaintiffs did provide five search terms as well as 72 spelling variations on such terms. Defendants then filed its own Motion for Sanctions based upon the number of search terms, arguing that Plaintiffs were not compliant. Plaintiffs argued that the spelling variations were easy to search by using quotation marks, and then filed its own Motion for Decision and Request for Additional Sanctions.
The court found both parties to be at fault, holding that Plaintiffs failed to sufficiently narrow their search terms and that Defendants’ Motion misstated the record. The court narrowed Plaintiffs’ search terms to 20 terms and ordered Defendants to use such terms to search their emails with Plaintiffs paying half the costs for the production. The court denied the remainder of the relief requested by both parties and declined to award any sanctions but cautioned the parties that continued failure to cooperate would result in sanctions against the attorneys in the case.