Is a (Very) Narrow Interpretation of an eDiscovery Order Sanctionable Conduct?
In the case Miller et al. v. Team Go Figure, LLP, No. 3:13-cv-1509-O(N.D. Texas May 1, 2014), Plaintiffs brought a motion to compel, explaining that certain documents and data were necessary to provide proof of overtime in a wage and hour case. The court entered an Order on 2/14/14 regarding what must be included in the defense production:
“Team Order Forms for all sales made by Team Go Figure from 2010 through April 2013.” Seems pretty straightforward, or not? However, a crinkle appeared after Defendant produced only minimal forms from such time period. Defendants did not produce any incomplete Team Order Forms, and the forms were not used or not completed if the sale was finalized by phone, email or another method. However, for every order, a Team Order Form “template” was entered into Quickbooks.
Plaintiffs alleged in their Motion for Sanctions for failure to comply with the 2/14/14 Order that Defendant should have produced the Team Order Form templates from Quickbooks if the Forms were not complete in the paper file. Defendant claimed it did not believe the 2/14/14 Order required it to produce the Quickbook versions of the forms, if no completed hard copy existed.
The court noted it did not make its finding lightly, but believed Defendant’s narrow interpretation of the Order, without seeking court clarification, constituted gross indifference to the Order and to Plaintiff’s rights to such information.
The court also noted that during the 2/14/14 hearing, Defendant’s counsel professed that he wished he could produce all the forms, as he believed it would help the defense position. The court noted such statement belied the later actions of Defendant to only produce the absolute minimum number of forms by interpreting the Order as narrowly as possible.
Although Plaintiff sought a number of sanctions for this (and additional alleged conduct) the court found that monetary sanctions for reasonable attorney fees under Rule 37(b)(2)(C) were sufficient to compel production and to deter future violations. The court also ordered Defendant to produce any and all remaining outstanding forms within 5 days.