We update our cheat sheet devoted to ediscovery for defendants differently than the others.  Because of the broad nature of the topic – these cases arise in a wide variety of non-drug/device contexts – other personal injury, employment, civil rights, occasionally even criminal litigation.  That means we have to research them separately to find what we need to include.  That is more taxing than our usual routine because it means looking through hundreds of cases to find the ones that are:  (1) on point, and (2) favorable to our side of the “v.”  Thus, it has been a while since we last updated, but we just did it now.  The new opinions are below, and every one of them either allows access to a plaintiff’s social media activity or imposes sanctions (often for spoliation) on plaintiff for resisting such discovery.

Once again, although we’ve read all the relevant social media discovery cases, we include only the good ones – because we don’t believe in doing the other side’s research for them.  A couple of words to the wise arising from the rest are appropriate.  First and foremost, if you’re representing a defendant and are considering making a broad request for social media discovery at the very outset of the case – DON’T.  Without anything more solid than generalized suspicions as reason for a deep dive into an opponent’s social media, courts are not impressed and are likely to treat it as a “fishing expedition.”  Most of the time a blanket social media discovery demand will succeed only when the defendant has caught the plaintiff in a lie – with contradictory public social media evidence − or the plaintiff has attempted to delete or otherwise hide social media activity.  The key word is “investigate.”  Once the tip of the spear penetrates a plaintiff’s shenanigans, the rest follows more easily.

Second, in the absence of such hard evidence, the defense is well advised to start small, with less intrusive discovery.  Instead of asking for everything at once, check with an ediscovery specialist and consider proposing sampling – 5% or 10% of all posts – as something less intrusive, but statistically likely to find contradictory evidence if it exists.  An active social media user (the type most likely to generate useful information) will usually have published thousands of posts and other types of entries.  In that situation, sampling is very likely to reveal something significant present in a plaintiff’s social media.  The sampling can then support a broader discovery demand.

With those caveats, here is the latest favorable set of cases in which defendants have successfully engaged in discovery of plaintiffs’ electronic activities:

  • Shawe v. Elting, 157 A.3d 142 (Del. Feb. 13, 2017). Plaintiff properly sanctioned for deliberate and reckless deleting email and text messages by being ordered not only to pay all expenses of recovery but also a percentage of defendant’s total counsel fees, due to the spoliation complicating the conduct of the litigation general.
  • State v. Johnson, 2017 WL 1364136 (Tenn. Crim. App. April 12, 2017). Although the Shared Communications Act prohibited criminal defendants from obtaining a witness’ social media content from social media platforms, the defendant had established good cause to obtain such evidence directly from the witnesses who were social media users. They are not privileged. The subpoenae to the witnesses were not oppressive.
  • Lawrence v. Rocktenn CP LLC, 2017 WL 2951624 (Mag. W.D. La. April 19, 2017). Plaintiff must produce all text messages, photographs and videos that concern: (1) plaintiff’s physical capabilities; (2) that allegations in the complaint; (3) emotional distress; (4) any decline in plaintiff’s marriage; (5) alternative causes of the injuries; and (f) plaintiff’s activities during the claimed period of disability.
  • Flowers v. City of New York, 55 N.Y.S.3d 51 (N.Y. App. Div. June 20, 2017). Evidence from plaintiff’s public social media contradicted the plaintiff, thereby justifying discovery from plaintiff’s private social media accounts, including deleted material, relating to the same subject matter. Plaintiff shall provide a release to obtain material, including metadata, from the provider.
  • Walker v. Carter, 2017 WL 3668585 (S.D.N.Y. July 12, 2017). Plaintiff sanctioned for failure to produce relevant text messages. Must pay defendant’s increased attorney’s fees.
  • Ottoson v. SMBC Leasing & Finance, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 2992726 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2017). Plaintiff sanctioned for failure to preserve text messages and emails concerning the events at issue. The jury will be instructed on an adverse spoliation inference.
  • Jones v. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Gerardo Hernandez, 2017 WL 3525259 (Mag. S.D. Cal. Aug. 16, 2017). Plaintiff must produce a GPS-based map generated by his fitness watch.
  • Ehrenberg v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 2017 WL 3582487 (Mag. E.D. La. Aug. 18, 2017). With respect to social media, plaintiffs must produce posts and photos: (1) relating to the accident, (2) relating to all physical injuries whether or not caused by the accident, (3) reflecting plaintiff’s physical activity, (4) relating to plaintiff’s emotional distress; (5) relating to alternative emotional stressors; (6) concerning plaintiff’s vacations.
  • Calleros v. Rural Metro, Inc., 2017 WL 4391714 (Mag. S.D. Cal. Oct. 3, 2017). In class action over alleged deprivation of rest breaks, defendant is entitled to social media discovery of any activity plaintiffs engaged in while on company time.

The federal Advisory Committee on Rules of Civil Procedure released its latest Civil Rules Agenda Book on November 7, 2017. A copy of it is available here.  A couple of items on the agenda should be of interest to blog readers.

The first topic has to do with proposed changes Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6), dealing with corporate witness designations (see tab 5 beginning on page 171). The following changes are under consideration:

  • Inclusion of specific reference to Rule 30(b)(6) among the topics for discussion at the Rule 26(f) conference, and in the report to the court under Rule 16.
  • Amending Rule 30(b)(6) to clarify that testimony at a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition is not a judicial admission.
  • Requiring and/or permitting supplementation of Rule 30(b)(6) testimony.
  • Forbidding contention questions in Rule 30(b)(6) depositions.
  • Adding a provision for objections at Rule 30(b)(6) depositions.
  • Amending Rule 30(b)(6) to address the application of limits on the duration and number of depositions.

The second topic has to do with requiring disclosure of third-party litigation funding arrangements (see tab 7B beginning on page 345). The proposed rules change would amend Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(A) to add a new subsection (v) to the items subject to mandatory initial disclosure:

(v) for inspection and copying as under Rule 34, any agreement under which any 5 person, other than an attorney permitted to charge a contingent fee representing a party, has a right to receive compensation that is contingent on, and sourced from, any proceeds of the civil action, by settlement, judgment or otherwise.

The committee notes several areas of “disagreement” that would have to be resolved before a rules change could be adopted. These are:

  • Definition of what types of third-party litigation funding agreements are covered.
  • Whether a new disclosure rule for third-party litigation funding should be parallel to the existing requirement for disclosure of a defendant’s insurance policies.
  • Extent to which third-party litigation funders control or impact the conduct of the litigation at issue.
  • Extent to which third-party litigation funders control or impact settlement of the litigation at issue.
  • Possible impact of disclosure of third-party litigation funding on the parties’ strategic behavior.
  • Potential for conflicts of interests created by third-party litigation funding.
  • Whether disclosure of third-party litigation funding is important to judicial recusal.
  • Whether disclosure of third-party litigation funding would be a threat to attorney/client privilege or work product protection.
  • How proportionality affects disclosure of third-party litigation funding.
  • Whether third-party litigation funding increases frivolous litigation.
  • Possible conflict between disclosure of third-party litigation funding and state regulation of professional responsibility.

It appears uncertain whether the committee will seriously consider this proposal or continue to defer action as it did in 2014.  A possible motivating factor, not present in 2014, is the threat of congressional action to amend the rules.

Readers who are interested in either of these two issues can comment on them here.

A lot of time is spent in litigation on discovery. As tedious and non-exciting as it often is, cases can be won or lost depending on what happens during discovery. So, it’s not to be taken lightly. When we find ourselves arguing to the court about discovery, however, it is often without being able to point to much precedential case law. That’s because many courts simply rule from the bench perhaps entering only minute orders. And if case management orders are entered they often don’t rise to the level of being published, even electronically. We are then left scouring dockets looking for rulings or calling our colleagues hoping someone has an order that is helpful. So, we really appreciate when a helpful discovery ruling grabs our attention and we can in turn alert our readers to it.

One of the reasons that more routine discovery decisions don’t generate many opinions is that the rulings frequently turn on case specifics and common sense as opposed to more traditional legal analysis. That’s true of today’s decision. A lengthy order entered in the Abilify MDL setting forth essentially a list of decisions on multiple motions made by both plaintiffs and defendants. Certainly some are more case specific and not really worth much of a mention, so what follows is a list of the more general and most helpful rulings:

  • Confidentiality: The court allowed the parties to provisionally seal documents filed with their Daubert briefing and then at the conclusion of the briefing, the party who sealed the document had to show cause why the document should remain sealed. Defendants argued to keep certain very common categories of documents confidential:
    • Clinical case reports/adverse event reports: Defendants argued that these documents contain confidential patient identifying information and personal medical information. These aren’t plaintiffs – they are people who participated in studies or for whom an AER was prepared. They absolutely have a right to an expectation of privacy, not to mention the company has an obligation to protect that privacy. The court agreed – no public interest. In re Abilify Prods. Liab. Litig., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161660, at *7-8 (N.D. Fla. Sep. 29, 2017).
    • Internal company documents: Defendants sought to maintain confidentiality of several categories of internal, non-public documents and the court agreed as to most. Specifically, the court found that all of the following should remain under seal: “standard operating procedures, non-public regulatory submissions, drafts of non-public regulatory submissions, or internal communications regarding the pharmacovigilance process.” Id. at *9. All things plaintiffs like to use to try the case in the media. As to SOPs, the court concluded they are proprietary and developed by the company at considerable expense. With respect to the rest, disclosure “would have a chilling effect on the pharmacovigilance process.” Id. Keeping the pharmacovigilance process confidential actually enables manufacturers to participate in the process in a “frank, open, and honest” way. Id.
    • Expert reports and testimony: Here the court was unwilling to seal expert reports and transcripts across the board. They have to be redacted to the extent they discuss any of the documents or information that the court said should remain confidential. Id. at *10-11.
  • Privilege: Plaintiffs complained that they were unable to assess defendants’ claims of privilege as to its documents because defendants were not producing privilege logs simultaneous with their document productions. Defendants correctly noted that simultaneous privilege logs would significantly slow production down – a production would have to wait the finalizing of the log before it could be produced. The court agreed.  Simultaneous production would be inefficient. Id. at *17-19.
  • Document Retention Policies: Plaintiffs want them, defendants objected. Court ruled: “in the absence of any suggestion of spoliation Defendants’ document retention policies are not relevant.” Id. at *24.
  • Other Drugs: Plaintiffs’ discovery requests included documents about other similar drugs, claiming the information would go to defendants’ knowledge. The court sustained defendants’ objection on the grounds of relevance and proportionality. Id. at *25. While other drugs in the same class may be similar, they were developed later in time, have different mechanisms, and different indications – making them marginally relevant. When you balance only marginal relevance against the issues involved in the litigation – and what we assume to be massive discovery already taking place as to the actual drug at issue — we think the court reached a sound conclusion regarding proportionality to the needs of the case.
  • Trial Pool Discovery: Plaintiffs requested many different types of information, including financial information relevant to sales representatives, physicians, and other consultants. Defendants sought to limit that discovery to just the individuals related to the cases being worked up as trial bellwethers. Again the court agreed. For example, plaintiffs’ request to know about payments and incentives to sales representatives and doctors should be narrowly tailored to those doctors who treated the bellwether plaintiffs and the sales representatives who called on those doctors. Id. at *26-27. The same applied to other categories of “liability” discovery that were more appropriately limited to the bellwether cases. “Expanding the scope to all Plaintiffs would be a Herculean task and impossible to complete in the time frame set by the Court.” Id. at *28.

All in all the rulings were very defense-friendly and provide some good cites for your next motion to compel or motion to quash.

A couple of weeks ago, we reported that, under pressure from the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber, we were headed to New York to see the Broadway production of Orwell’s 1984. Publicity surrounding this spectacle focused on audience members fleeing, fainting, and/or vomiting during the torture scene.  Incautiously well-fed (Vietnamese/Thai food from a singularly memorable Hell’s Kitchen bistro) and more than a bit apprehensive, we made our way into the theatre, where the assault on our senses began with a disconcerting background hum that continued until the curtain rose.  Whereupon ensued two hours of blinding flashes of light, lots of crashing sounds, plenty of blood, and some pretty cool dental torture.  We did not vomit, faint or flee.  And we liked the show more than we expected to, though we typically lean toward “happy” – the lauded and wonderful but lamentably short-lived recent revival of Finian’s Rainbow at Lincoln Center was right up our alley.

We thought about 1984 as we read today’s case. We are old enough to remember when a defendant had to hire a private investigator to play “Big Brother” and tease out deception in a plaintiff’s account of her limitations following an injury.  Nowadays, so-called “social media” have stepped in, in large measure, to fill those shoes, and discovery requests now commonly seek production of and access to those resources.

In In re: Cook Med., Inc., IVC Filters Mktg., Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149915 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 15, 2017), the court addressed several discovery motions in a bellwether case approaching trial.  First, as a sanction for the plaintiff’s failure to produce a privilege log, the defendants sought an order holding that the plaintiff had waived all privilege objections.  The court denied the motion, finding that “a blanket waiver is not an appropriate sanction when the party seeking protection makes a good faith showing that the requested material is privileged.”  2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149915 at *3.

Second, the defendants sought to compel responses to discovery requests to which the plaintiff had objected as overbroad because the defendants had defined “you” to include the plaintiff, her attorneys, and her representatives. The court said that this “fail[ed] to move” it because (we love this) “half of the interrogatories and responses in question do not even contain the word ‘you.’” Id. at *4.  Motion granted.

Third, the court properly held that the plaintiff waived objections she had failed to assert in her discovery responses, although it declined to order the plaintiff to produce all requested materials (which included emails between the plaintiff and her attorneys) irrespective of claims of privilege.

Fourth, the court addressed the defendants’ motion to compel the plaintiff to produce her Facebook profile and various posts in native file format though she had already produced them in PDF. The court declined to order production of all of the requested materials in native format and held that the defendant would be required to make a showing of its need for the metadata in the native file of any particular post.

Finally, the court turned to the scope of the defendants’ social media requests, which, it noted, had occupied much of the space in the parties’ briefs. First, in their brief, the defendants sought to compel the plaintiff’s social media log-in credentials, including her passwords.  Noting that the defendants already possessed the plaintiff’s usernames, the court held that the original interrogatory did not expressly seek passwords; as such, it declined to “compel a response to an interrogatory that does not exist.” Id. at *10.  But it dropped a footnote emphasizing that it would not likely have compelled the plaintiff to disclose her passwords in any event because it “struggle[d] to see how such staggering access [to the plaintiff’s private accounts] would be proportional to the needs of the case.” Id. at *10 n.6. The court elaborated, “The requesting party does not have an unfettered right to rummage through the responding party’s social media,” without a showing of relevance and appropriate limits on content and time period. Id. at *11.

To wit, the defendants next moved to compel the plaintiff’s private social media data related to her travel, social activities, medical conditions, and alleged damages. Noting that, because the plaintiff claimed loss of enjoyment of her life, depression, and continuing medical issues, the defendants would have been entitled to compel a response to interrogatories seeking the same information, the court granted the defendants’ motion.

Finally, the court declined the defendants’ request for screenshots of all of the plaintiff’s social media webpages from the date of her implantation with the defendants’ device to the present date, holding that the request was doomed by the lack of a content limitation. The court explained, “If the motion were granted, Plaintiff would have to turn over a screen shot of every private message she sent to anyone on any topic simply because she sent it after implantation.” Id. at *13.

In the end, an attenuated cautionary tale for anyone planning to sue anyone: while a court may not hand the opponent the figurative keys to your entire online life, postings that can be tied to your claims will find their way into your opponents’ hands, whether you posted them “privately” or not.

By the way, we just got tickets for the upcoming revival of Carousel, starring Jessie Mueller, whom we loved in Beautiful and Waitress. There will be no bloody tooth-pulling, and there will definitely be a show-stopping rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  We can’t wait.

The cases we typically write about focus on events after medical products have made their way through the applicable regulatory process and been marketed in the United States.  The marketed product is used, people claim to have been injured by it, and they sue the manufacturer under various product liability theories.  Often, in the course of seeking lots of discovery about the product and manufacturer, the plaintiffs in such cases will seek documents relating to foreign regulatory submissions and interaction.  While there might be some relevance of such documents in some cases, getting and producing them tends a pretty big pain for reasons like privacy laws and translation.  Plus, there is plenty of room for confusion given different regulatory standards in the United States and elsewhere around the world.  Under the old version of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, however, some degree of burdensome foreign discovery was pretty standard in large drug or device litigation.  We have seen some signs (like here and here) that the new version of Rule 26 will be less friendly to plaintiffs seeking foreign fishing expeditions.

Schueneman v. Arena Pharms., Inc., No. 10cv1959-CAB (BLM), 2017 WL 3118738 (S.D. Cal. July 21, 2017) (Magistrate order), aff’d 2017 WL 3587961 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 21, 2017), is a securities case based on the allegation that the defendant pharmaceutical company defrauded investors by its representations about the likelihood that its new weight loss drug would get approved by FDA.  The focus of the allegation is about tumors in a rat study that ultimately led to FDA issuing a non-approvable letter in October 2010.  (As an aside, the drug was developed with a serotonin receptor subtype mechanism of action that was supposed to avoid heart valve issues seen with other weight loss drugs, litigation over which included allegations about a signal from tumors in a rat study—although the main plaintiff expert supporting that allegation did not get past Daubert.)  The non-approval was made public at that time, although the plaintiff investors claim that they continue to have been misled for another three months.  (The decisions do not mention either, but there was a fair amount of press on the rat study in September 2010 and the drug was ultimately approved, after more research, in June 2012.)  In March 2012, the company submitted an application to the European Medicines Agency to try to market the drug in Europe.  After some back and forth, the company withdrew that application in May 2013.  (We are feeling parenthetical, so we will note that the withdrawal of the European application was also the subject of U.S. press attention, spurred on by Public Citizen, whose actions often seem coordinated with litigation efforts.)  The plaintiffs sought every document conceivably related to the European application and its withdrawal, even though the allegations in the case were about earlier representations about FDA approval.  Defendants balked and the fight was joined.

The requirement that discovery be “relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case” allowed for a more rational analysis that we have seen in the past on such disputes.  Noting the “different standards utilized by the EMA and the FDA and the different time frames of the statements,” the court required plaintiffs to “explain how documents presented to the EMA, especially those unrelated to the Rat Study, are relevant to the issue in this case of whether Defendants ‘intentionally withheld information material to the market’s assessment of whether and when the FDA would likely approve [L]ocaserin.’”  2017 WL 3118738, *4.  Plaintiffs could not do that.  They also could not establish proportionality, a burden now assigned to the proponent of the discovery (although the posture here was a motion to compel rather than a motion for protective order).  Defendants had already produced or were producing lots of documents and estimated that a production of the documents at issue would take weeks and cost $80,000.  In the past, such a cost estimate for even marginal documents sought from a drug company would probably not be seen as an undue expense sufficient to cut off the discovery.  Now, in the age of proportionality, it is part of the puzzle:

Given the extremely broad discovery requests, including the fact that the requests are not limited to the Rat Study, the minimal relevance of the statements made after the class period in an application in the European Union involving drug standards that are different from those in the United States, and the large number of potentially responsive documents, the Court finds that requests 34-37 are not proportional to the needs of the case.

Id. Similar reasoning could be applied to disallow quite a few requests in drug and device product liability cases, particularly those on foreign regulatory discovery.

The defendant also forced plaintiffs to reveal the identity and contact information for six confidential informants relied upon for allegations in the complaint.  Plaintiffs claimed attorney work product protection, which the magistrate rejected and the district court found to be so frivolous as to merit the award of expenses under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5). Id. at **6-7; 2017 WL 3587961, *2.  We cannot recall seeing a product liability plaintiff resist discovery on the basis for allegations in a complaint on a claim of work product protection, so we will not dwell on this holding—but the same reasoning would apply.  Rather than just sound like homers and cheer when a drug company wins discovery motions, we will say that we like it when discovery is ordered on the actual allegations in the complaint and limited on issues outside of the allegations in the complaint.

We all know how important a prescriber’s testimony is in a drug or device case. In many jurisdictions, the testimony of the prescriber is a mandatory requirement if a plaintiff is going to meet his/her burden of proof on a failure to warn claim. That’s because under an ordinary burden of proof, warning claims are dismissed on causation grounds where there is simply no evidence in the record about the prescribing physician’s actions. In other words, without evidence that a different warning would have altered the prescribing physician’s decision to prescribe, plaintiff hasn’t supported his claim.

Of course, this isn’t the case in jurisdictions where a “heeding presumption” puts the onus on the defendant to come up with affirmative proof of lack of causation. So, there are also, unfortunately, several jurisdictions where defendants are quite motivated to secure the prescriber’s testimony as well. We just posted last week about a case where the prescriber testified that he was fully informed of the risks and even if he had received the additional information plaintiff claimed he should have, he would have prescribed anyway. Under the learned intermediary doctrine, that testimony broke the causal chain on a failure to warn claim.

This means in every case, one side or the other (maybe even both) is looking to depose the prescriber. Sometimes that isn’t possible because he/she has died or can’t be found. And sometimes, the federal government simply says no. That happens when the prescriber is an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) and the plaintiff, a veteran, received his treatment, including prescription of the drug or device at issue at a VA hospital/clinic.

Generally, government employees are immune from discovery in private litigation under rules first set out in United States ex rel. Touhy v. Ragen, 340 U.S. 462 (1952). Pursuant to Touhy, a governmental agency can validly issue regulations restricting the availability of its personnel to participate (voluntarily or involuntarily) in private litigation. Id. at 468. Such discovery, the Court held, could easily become unduly burdensome to government operations. The “variety of information” that government employees possess” and “the possibilities of harm from unrestricted disclosure in court,” warrant “centralizing determination” concerning compliance with civil process. Id.

The VA has established its own set of Touhy regulations which can be found at 38 C.F.R. §14.800 et seq. And, if you’ve ever sent a Touhy letter to the VA requesting the deposition of a VA doctor, you’ve most likely received a courteous letter back denying your request and citing those regulations. Sometimes, further discussion can lead to an agreement to conduct a short deposition on a pre-determined set of topics. But, where a compromise with the VA cannot be reached, the issue may need to be litigated in federal court. Which brings us to today’s decision in Brown v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134556 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 22, 2017).

In this case, plaintiff was seeking to depose the doctor who had prescribed him Risperdal in connection with his products liability lawsuit pending in California state court. Id. at *1. His efforts to secure this testimony included multiple subpoenas issued by courts in California and Alabama, multiple emails with the Office of General Counsel for the VA, and a formal request for authorization of the deposition to the VA. Id. at *3-4. In its response to plaintiff’s request, the VA offered the following justifications for denying his request: conserving the time of VA employees to perform their official duties; the VA’s non-involvement in the state court case; that pertinent information can be obtained from production of the medical records; and that no advance authorization was sought per VA regulations. Id. at *5.

The court found none of these reasons persuasive. First, the court made clear that Touhy is not a locked door to the discovery of government information:

Application of Touhy regulations . . . is intended only to provide an orderly process by which a government agency may determine whether a demand for information from it is valid and lawful. Such regulations by themselves do not create a privilege or otherwise authorize the withholding of information.

Id. at *6; see also id. at *16-17 (Touhy does not “broadly exempt” the government from providing evidence). In the case of the VA, that process is a list of 15 factors to be considered in determining whether to allow a VA employee to testify. See 38 C.F.R. §14.804. But a list of factors isn’t enough. “There must be a good reason for an agency to withhold its evidence, and absent such a good reason, doing so is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” Id. at *17. In this case, the court found the reasons the VA provided for withholding evidence simply didn’t make sense in light of the public’s right to obtain “every man’s evidence.” Id.

The VA’s first argument was burden/inconvenience. Section 14.804(a) provides that one consideration is “to conserve the time of VA personnel for conducting their official duties concerning servicing the Nation’s veteran population.” Certainly an honorable and essential service that nobody should be looking to undercut. But the court was perplexed at the VA’s assertion of this factor given that the deposition was limited to three hours, which even with prep time would likely mean no more than 8 hours total for the prescriber. Id. at *11.

[E]ight hours . . . is not a heavy burden of time compared to the need the plaintiff has for the testimony. It is ironic, indeed, that the VA does not consider supplying necessary information to veterans in need of it part of its “servicing of the Nation’s veteran population.”

Id.

The court also disagreed that plaintiff had not made a sufficient request for the testimony. He sent a letter summarizing the testimony that was sought and its importance. Plaintiff sought testimony about the doctor’s prescription of Risperdal to plaintiff and what the doctor knew about the drug when he prescribed it. Id. at *13. As the court acknowledged, what the prescriber knew concerning the risks of the drug is essential evidence for plaintiff’s case. “Only . . . the plaintiff’s treating physician, could provide this factual evidence.” Id. at *14-15. The VA’s argument that the necessary evidence can be obtained from the medical records fails for the same reason:

As mentioned already, under the Learned Intermediary Doctrine, necessary warnings related to drugs and medical devices are made to the treating physician, not the patient. This means that the plaintiff must explore, as a fact, whether [his prescriber] received any warnings or advisories regarding Risperdal, and their contents. Only [his prescriber] can supply this evidence concerning what he was told or read and what he knew about Risperdal when he prescribed it. That information is not likely reflected in medical records.

Id. at *20n.12.

The VA’s final argument was that it had “no direct or substantial interest in the private litigation between the plaintiff and the [drug] manufacturer.” Id. at *15. This lack of interest isn’t explicitly one of the 15 decision factors in §14.804, but could be related to the conservation of resources (already discussed above) or “that his testimony may create the appearance that the VA favors one litigant over another.” Id. On this point, the court repeatedly pointed out that the prescriber is being asked to provide factual testimony only. He is not being asked to serve as an expert or asked for his opinion on medical causation. Id. Moreover, a lack of interest in the litigation doesn’t “absolve” a witness of providing evidence. If it did, we’re sure private practitioners would turn down requests to testify all the time. The VA prescriber is no different than any other neutral, disinterested witness and his testimony is required only to comply with a general duty to provide evidence. Id. at *19-20.

The court’s reasoning would seem to apply to almost any prescribing testimony sought from a VA employee. If appropriately limited in scope to only factual evidence concerning the treatment of the plaintiff, the prescription of the drug, and the doctor’s knowledge of its risks and benefits, the factors for disallowing the deposition do not seem to apply – or are certainly heavily outweighed by the need for the evidence which cannot be obtained from any other source. We haven’t done a search for other Touhy decisions related to prescribers (maybe we will), but we certainly intend to add a cite to this decision to the next Touhy request we send to the VA.

 

This is our quasi-annual update to our cheat sheet about ediscovery for defendants.  Essentially that means using discovery to obtain access to what plaintiffs have said about themselves, and their supposed injuries, on social media.  Such material can be critical to defeating a plaintiff’s case. See Zamudio-Soto v. Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2017 WL 386375, at *11 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 27, 2017) (summary judgment on statute of limitations granted because plaintiff’s “Facebook post is even more indicative of suspicion [of causation]” than evidence that sufficed to defeat the discovery rule in binding Ninth Circuit decision).

However, we once again implore defendants – be reasonable.  Don’t do what we complain about the other side doing.  Don’t make unbounded requests for all social media at all times about everything.  Having just read a bunch of ediscovery cases about social media, we can state with confidence that such open-ended discovery is the quickest way to make bad precedent, the kind we don’t put on our cheat sheets, in this area.

Since discovery issues involving social media can arise in a many types of non-drug/device litigation – and even outside of personal injury altogether (think employment-related suits, for one thing) – this is a different kind of cheat sheet.  Instead of collecting cases as they come down via our weekly prescription medical product-related searches, we have to go out and research this issue specifically.  We’re lazy, so that doesn’t happen more than once a year or so.  The summaries below have been added to the cheat sheet itself, but we’re presenting them here as well.  As always with cheat sheets, we compile only those favorable to our side, which means those cases that allow all, or substantially all, of the discovery being sought.

  • Baxter v. Anderson, 2016 WL 4443178 (Mag. M.D. La. Aug. 19, 2016). Ordering plaintiff to identify every social networking website used or accessed since her accident, and where she posted photographs or other information, as well as usernames and the last date of access. Plaintiff must also produce all postings, including photographs, since the accident about the claims and defenses of the litigation, as well as postings about her alleged physical injuries and her physical capabilities.
  • Zamora v. GC Services, LP, 2016 WL 8853096 (Mag. W.D. Tex. Aug. 19, 2016). Plaintiff ordered to respond to discovery demand for all social media postings, recordings, and text messages, that concern the factual allegations plaintiff is making in the lawsuit.
  • McDonald v. Escape the Room Experience, LLC, 2016 WL 5793992 (Mag. S.D.N.Y. Sept. 21, 2016). Motion to compel granted ordering plaintiff to produce postings about plaintiff’s socializing, her attendance at parties or other social outings, and her participation in performances or other employment activities. Plaintiff’s production must include her complete postings, during the relevant time period, on any electronic social media or internet sites, including dating sites.
  • Jacquelyn v. Macy’s Retail Holdings, Inc., 2016 WL 6246798 (Mag. S.D. Ga. Oct. 24, 2016). No threshold showing is necessary before a defendant can seek discovery of social media evidence. Such a rule would shield from discovery Facebook users who do not share information publicly. Where a plaintiff puts physical condition and quality of life at issue, Facebook postings reflecting physical capacity and inconsistent activities are relevant and discoverable. Plaintiffs must produce: (1) all photographs posted by plaintiffs or in which they are tagged; (2) all comments to those photographs; (3) all posts by plaintiffs relating to activities in which plaintiffs contend they could not participate due to the incident; and (4) any posts referencing their claimed injuries, damages, or loss of enjoyment of life since the incident.
  • Scott v. United States Postal Service, 2016 WL 7440468 (Mag. M.D. La. Dec. 27, 2016). Where plaintiff has put her physical condition and activities at issue by filing a lawsuit, social media concerning those matters is discoverable. Defendant came forward with evidence that relevant social media existed. Plaintiff can also be required to identify all social media used since the accident and all postings related to any type of physical or athletic activities since the accident. To ensure completeness, plaintiff must retain historical data for all social media and review for responsive information. If such information is unavailable, plaintiff must describe the steps she took to locate and review responsive information.
  • Brown v. City of Ferguson, 2017 WL 386544 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 27, 2017). Social media discovery is no different than any other discovery. Social media is neither privileged nor protected by a right of privacy. Plaintiffs must produce all social media content with any relevance to the case, for five years prior to the incident, including private messages sent through Facebook messenger.
  • Gee v. Citizens Insurance Co., 2017 WL 694711 (Mich. App. Feb. 21, 2017) (unpublished). Affirming dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint as a sanction for deliberately deleting social media information to evade discovery.
  • Gordon v. T.G.R. Logistics, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 1947537 (D. Wyo. May 10, 2017). Plaintiff required to produce all social media history about her significant emotional turmoil, any mental disability or ability, or significant events which reasonably could result in emotional distress. Plaintiff also required to produce all Facebook postings which reference the accident, its aftermath, and any of her claimed physical injuries. Plaintiff must produce Facebook history and photos which relate or show her level of activity after the accident. Pre-accident social media need not be produced without a showing of relevance.
  • Matthews v. J & J Service Solutions, LLC, 2017 WL 2256963 (Mag. M.D. La. May 23, 2017). Plaintiff ordered to comply with document requests for all social media communications with defendant’s current or former employees and for archived Facebook material. Social media is discoverable.

These case have also been added to the cheat sheet itself, where we have collected over 100 favorable ediscovery for defendant cases that go back over a decade.

One of the issues that the federal Civil Rules Committee’s discovery subcommittee considered, but that eventually fell by the wayside, on the way to the 2015 discovery rules amendments, were proposals to convert to a “requestor pays” discovery system.  That would be a very significant change, and one of the criticisms that the other side leveled at such a system was that only rich people (or at least only rich plaintiff lawyers) could afford to bring suit, given the prospect of having to pay for expensive discovery that current system now gives plaintiffs for free.

Well, not for free.  Nothing is free.  The current “producer pays” discovery system gives plaintiffs a windfall by allowing them to demand production of millions of dollars’ worth of documents – and as importantly, electronically stored information (“ESI”) − and to impose those costs almost entirely on defendants.  As any economist will tell you, any system that provides access to something for free or at greatly below-market cost, be it health care, “dumped” imports, or discovery, creates greater demand for whatever the below-cost item is than would exist otherwise.

It’s worse in the legal system, because the other side’s heightened demand for “free” discovery has the concomitant effect of increasing the nuisance (that is to say, settlement) value of all litigation in which such demands are made – since one’s opponent is stuck with the bill.

All our side got out of the 2015 rules amendments cycle on requestor pays is a provision more clearly recognizing the authority of courts to shift discovery requests.  See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1)(B).  As we’ve mentioned, a couple of courts have done this during prescription drug/device MDL litigation.  See In re Bard IVC Filters Products Liability Litigation, 317 F.R.D. 562 (D. Ariz. 2016); In re Benicar (Olmesartan) Products Liability Litigation, 2016 WL 5817262 (D.N.J. Oct. 4, 2016).  Both of those cases involved what the courts viewed as excessive and unnecessary MDL discovery targeted at the defendants’ overseas activities.

Now we’ve found a third case – it took a little longer because it didn’t involve prescription medical products – that also invoked the new cost-shifting provisions in a very familiar (and frustrating) situation.  McClurg v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 2016 WL 7178745 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 9, 2016), wasn’t an MDL, but it could have been, except for a limited geographic scope.  Many hundreds of plaintiffs were all seeking recovery for alleged radiation-induced injuries from the same two defendants.

A situation depressingly familiar to any defense counsel in mass tort litigation developed.  Although plaintiffs are nominally responsible under the rules for collecting (and paying for the collection of) their own medical and related records in response to discovery requests, they botched the job so badly that the defendants – in whose interests it was to have these records – had to step in and do it themselves on their own dime.  Plaintiffs did produce “a list of known health care providers and a signed authorization for the release of medical records.”  Id. at *1.  “Because Plaintiffs did not timely and fully produce all of their records, Defendants contracted with a third-party vendor . . . to collect records directly from Plaintiffs’ health care providers and employers.”  Id.  Also, “the parties in this matter could not agree to a reasonable scope of record collection and allocation of costs.”  Id. at *4.

So things stood until bellwether plaintiffs were selected (interestingly, by random selection, id. at *2).  All of a sudden the plaintiffs became very interested in the additional records that the defendants had been collecting at their own expense.  So they served discovery requests seeking those records – only for the bellwether plaintiffs – for free.  Id. (“Plaintiffs served document requests seeking ‘all documents and records’ that Defendants had collected regarding each of the 16 Bellwether Plaintiffs”).  Somewhat ironically, they also claimed that the defendants had engaged in excessive records gathering, and therefore also demanded access to the defendant’s records database (also set up at defendants’ sole cost) so they could select which records they wanted.  Id. (“Plaintiffs assert that they, too, wish to access [defendants’] secure portal free of charge, in order to decide which records they want”).

The two McClurg defendants’ response was “hell, no; not without you sharing the cost equally – that is shouldering one-third of the expense along with the defendants each sharing a third.  Id. (subject to a credit for whatever records plaintiffs had actually collected and turned over).

The McClurg court shifted costs, not 33% but 18%, to plaintiffs under Rule 26(c)(1)(B).  2016 WL 7178745, at *3.  Cost-shifting was necessary so that the plaintiffs did not become free riders:

The Court finds . . . that good cause exists to order some amount of cost-sharing before Plaintiffs may obtain the records collected by Defendants here.  Plaintiffs would ordinarily have been, and pursuant to the Court’s order were, responsible for gathering and producing their own records.  But while Plaintiffs appear to have produced some records as new complaints were filed, they did not do so in a complete and timely manner.  Indeed, Plaintiffs apparently produced records for a few of the Bellwether Plaintiffs just one or two days before their scheduled depositions.

Id.  That “Plaintiffs [were] seek[ing] access to the portal establish and maintained at Defendants’ expense” further justified a cost allocation order.  Id.

Although it was “unfortunate” that the parties never sought court intervention after failing to reach a records production protocol, id. at *4, giving plaintiffs free access to records collected and maintained at the defendants’ expense was unfair.  Id. (“it would be unfair to allow Plaintiffs to gain the benefit of Defendants’ early record collection and creation of the portal, which helped move the case forward, without contributing a fair share of the overall costs of such collection”).  Crediting plaintiffs’ complaints about excessive collection, McClurg reduced the percentage to 18%.  Id. (eliminating records collected concerning plaintiffs that the defendants knew could not be in the bellwether pool).  Plaintiffs also received a credit for the comparatively small amount of timely produced records they had collected.  Id.

Since the same failure by plaintiffs to collect their own records competently is endemic to prescription medical product MDLs, the cost-shifting in McClurg is of significant interest to us.

In fact, the results in all three of these cases – Bard IVC, Benicar, and McClurg – are also of interest to us because they provide pointers to where the requestor pays debate might reasonably go.  We certainly don’t agree with the other side’s largely bogus argument that across-the-board requestor pays discovery might shut the courthouse doors on the “poor” plaintiffs in the litigation-funded, advertising-driven mass tort industry.  In such litigation, there “does not appear to be a significant financial disparity in the parties’ ability to finance these putative litigations.  Thus, what this Court and other courts similarly situated are faced with is ‘Goliath versus Goliath.’”  Arch v. American Tobacco Co., 175 F.R.D. 469, 496 (E.D. Pa. 1997).

However, since the federal rules are supposed to be transubstantive, we will accept for the sake of argument that some deserving plaintiffs in some types of litigation might be excluded by a blanket requestor pays regime.  As an alternative, we think that the rules should include a presumption that the requestor pays for certain types of unduly burdensome, or otherwise unfair, discovery.  While such discovery might nonetheless be “proportionate,” were it to uncover something significant, these types of discovery are expensive and not particularly likely to produce evidence usable at trial.

Here are some examples of discovery that we have encountered that we think deserve to be presumptively discoverable only at the requestor’s expense – there are undoubtedly more:

  • Discovery into a defendant’s overseas activities, particularly if the documents are not in English (Bard IVC and Benicar both involved this kind of discovery);
  • Discovery into information independently gathered by the defendant for purposes of the litigation, excepting witness statements, and other items specified by the rules as peculiarly relevant (that’s McClurg);
  • Discovery into products manufactured by defendants other than those used by plaintiffs;
  • Discovery into product risks other than those suffered by plaintiffs;
  • Discovery into information in the possession of third parties, including government agencies;
  • Discovery into time periods where recovery is barred by relevant statutes of limitations;
  • Discovery into post-litigation information, after the alleged conduct has ceased;
  • Subjects of Rule 30(b)(6) depositions where the entity faced with deposition has no available percipient witnesses, and any witness would only have reviewed the same documents available to the deposing party;
  • ESI discovery into information located on inactive legacy/obsolete computer systems; and
  • Other similarly burdensome discovery, not of a type likely to produce significant evidentiary benefit, as determined by research commissioned by the Federal Judicial Center.

None of this kind of information is ordinarily essential to the hypothetical impecunious plaintiffs who would otherwise be shut out of court by having to pay for what are almost always expensive wild goose chases.

And if one of these categories turns out to be of particular importance in a given lawsuit, the requestor pays directive is only presumptive.  The party requesting the discovery would be able to go to the judge – either before or after the discovery takes place − and explain why a category of discovery, presumptively disfavored under the new regime, should be exempted from the requestor pays rule on the facts of the case in question.  Likewise, if the requestor is able to overcome the presumption beforehand, and the supposedly important discovery turns out to be a wild goose chase anyway, then the producer should be entitled to file a motion to shift those costs back to the requestor.

Implementing across-the-board requestor pays is a long shot right now, and such a dramatic change in the system could well have unintended and unforeseeable litigation consequences.  We think our proposal is not only a way to discourage types of discovery that are peculiarly prone to abuse, but might also be a way of trying out requestor pays on a smaller scale to see whether it is indeed a desirable change to the system generally.

If anybody out there is interested in this idea, have at it. Unlike discovery, our blogging is free to all readers.

Charges of discovery abuse get thrown around frequently in product liability litigation.  We have not done a scientific survey, but we guess that such charges are levied against the manufacturer defendants more often than against individual plaintiffs.  For one thing, seeking burdensome discovery, and then discovery on discovery, has been in the product liability plaintiff game plan for a long time.  There also tends to be more discovery that a defendant could produce—and, therefore, be accused on wrongfully withholding—than a plaintiff could produce.  There is also the practical consideration that large manufacturers tend to have the financial wherewithal to pay fees when ordered and contingency plaintiffs do not—although the lawyers who front the money for those plaintiffs and make the decisions about how to proceed in discovery typically do.  While there are occasions where courts require plaintiffs and their lawyers to pay substantial defense costs because of bad conduct in discovery or in the litigation more broadly, an argument about how to calculate fees to be awarded for discovery abuse is something that we generally hope to avoid.  It is not quite up there with arguing about the maximum acceptable ratio of punitive to compensatory damages that can be awarded, but it still makes us a little uncomfortable.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, 581 U.S. __ (2017), slip op., involves a very large award of fees based on the district court’s conclusion that the manufacturer defendant in a product liability case had intentionally withheld important internal testing documents.  The plaintiffs did not learn about the documents until after they had settled, when a reference appeared in a newspaper article about another similar case.  Because the case had resolved, the late application to shift costs and fees appealed to the court’s inherent authority.  Using that authority, the court not only determined that the defendant had engaged in bad faith discovery for years, but that it should pay the plaintiff $2.7 million for all costs and fees since the initial “dishonest discovery response.” Slip op. at 3.  It specifically determined that egregious conduct by a party negates the typical requirement that fees be limited to those caused by the sanctionable conduct. Id. As a back-up in case the Court of Appeals reduced the award, the court determined that the costs and fees excluding what plaintiffs estimated they incurred in pursuing other defendants and in proving medical damages, would be $2 million. Id. at 4.  (We find the whole concept of the fees incurred in the context of a presumably contingency fee representation somewhat bizarre.  Did the plaintiffs’ lawyers actually charge more than $2.7 million in costs and fees to their clients when the proceeds of the settlement(s) were divided up?)  The Court of Appeals affirmed the full amount and the Supreme Court granted cert.

The Haeger Court started by distinguishing between sanctions that compensate and sanctions that punish.  The latter can only be awarded if the trial court provides the “procedural guarantees applicable in criminal cases, such as a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard of proof.” Id. at 6 (citation omitted).  (As an aside, we are not sure that each state requires such a standard of proof when punitive damages are offered, so maybe this Court would be strict in its evaluation of punitive damages.)  “When (as in this case) those criminal-type protections are missing, a court’s shifting of fees is limited to reimbursing the victim.” Id. Damages to reimburse must have been caused by the sanctionable conduct, not merely come after it started.

The court’s fundamental job is to determine whether a given legal fee—say, for taking a deposition or drafting a motion—would or would not have been incurred in the absence of the sanctioned conduct. The award is then the sum total of the fees that, except for the misbehavior, would not have occurred.

Id. at 7-8 (citation omitted).  The court has some leeway in making large sanction award as long as the touchstone is causation.  A plaintiff can be hit for all costs of a defending case initiated in “complete bad faith,” such as we have seen relatively recently. Id. at 8.  Sanctions can also be based on the court’s assessment of whether failure to disclose “evidence fatal to its position” affected the timing (but not amount) of settlement. Id. at 8-9.

In Haeger, the trial court did not apply a but-for causation test to its damages calculation, so it will have to do it over with the right standard (unless it determines that there was some sort of waiver).  While we do not know what the amount of the sanction will be on remand, we do have an inkling that the damages imposed for discovery misconduct will tend to be less if the Haeger standards are followed in other cases.  In a case where a fundamental lie by the plaintiff—claiming to have used the defendant’s product, claiming legal authority to initiate a suit, claiming no knowledge of the injury or its cause until shortly before bringing suit—caused a case to be brought or stick around, some bold judges can still impose significant sanctions following Haeger’s principles.

 

Today’s post is on a short decision from the Court of Appeals of Florida, but it is important. In drug and device litigation, defendants are almost always required to produce the adverse event reports related to the product at issue based on the argument that they go to notice. Beyond notice we take strong issue with their admissibility. Take a look at our AER cheat sheet.  And with so many courts excluding them from evidence, extensive discovery of adverse events is something defendants should push back on. As part of that push back, defendants should never overlook raising the burden of redacting from any adverse event report any information that identifies either the voluntary reporter (physicians, consumers) or the person who used the drug or device (if not one and the same). If you’ve made that argument, you may have had a court question whether redaction is really necessary. The answer is an unequivocal yes.

The FDA requires manufacturers to maintain the confidentiality of this information.

The names and any information that would identify the voluntary reporter or any other person associated with an adverse event involving a human drug, biologic, or medical device product shall not be disclosed by the Food and Drug Administration or by a manufacturer in possession of such reports in response to a request, demand, or order. Information that would identify the voluntary reporter or persons identified in the report includes, but is not limited to, the name, address, institution, or any other information that would lead to the identities of the reporter or persons identified in a report.

21 C.F.R. §20.63(f) (emphasis added). So, whether plaintiffs request them or the court orders their production, the manufacturer is obligated to redact adverse event reports before producing them. So, from a practical standpoint, time must be built into any schedule to allow for this redaction to take place. Further, if plaintiffs’ adverse event request is overly broad, you might have grounds to ask for cost-shifting or at least cost-sharing. May help to refocus plaintiffs on what they really want/need.

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