Court Rules on Plaintiff’s Request to Add Thirty-Five Custodians to Discovery: eDiscovery Case Law

In United States Ex Rel. Bonzani v. United Technologies Corp, No. 3:16-CV-01730 (AVC) (D. Conn. Dec. 14, 2020), Connecticut Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkle ruled on various discovery motions, including granting in part and denying in part the plaintiff’s Request for Production for another thirty-five custodians, granting the request with regard to the individuals listed in the plaintiff’s and defendant’s initial disclosures, as well as four out of five custodians identified by the plaintiff as specifically relevant (with attached documentation).  Judge Garfinkle also rejected the defendant’s “liberal and reflexive use” of boilerplate responses to discovery requests.

Case Background

In this False Claims Act (FCA) case against the defendants, the plaintiff requested Judge Garfinkle to address “overarching deficiencies” in the discovery responses from the defendant and to compel complete responses to interrogatories and requests for production.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the defendant’s boilerplate objections, Judge Garfinkle agreed that the defendant’s generalized boilerplate objections set forth in response to the plaintiff’s requests for production, answers to interrogatories and responses to request for inspection were “neither useful or helpful” and stated: “As a general matter, Defendant’s blanket objections on the grounds of proportionality, burden and breadth are overruled. Defendants shall produce all responsive documents withheld on this basis and produce a log of all documents withheld on the basis of privilege or national security grounds within thirty (30) days”.  However, noting that “Defendant has also asserted objections and articulated the reasons why the discovery should be limited and/or may be privileged and/or should be denied”, Judge Garfinkle proceeded to address those objections specifically.

Another dispute was that the plaintiff argued that defendant Pratt refused to “produce documents and information from numerous relevant custodians, including individuals listed on its very own Initial Disclosures as individuals likely to have discoverable information”, arguing that the Court should permit the discovery of an additional thirty-five custodians because they appeared on either defendant Pratt’s or the plaintiff’s initial disclosures.  Defendant Pratt, in turn, argued that “[t]he 25 custodians already included in Pratt’s [ESI] review are the people most likely to have information relevant to the claims and defenses in this matter” and it should not have to undertake the additional expense solely on the basis that the thirty-five proposed custodians are listed in the parties’ initial disclosures.

Arguing that “many of the thirty-five (35) custodians appear on the most important and damaging documents that Pratt has produced to date”, the plaintiff identified five custodians and explained why these custodians were relevant to this case and attached documents to support the explanation.  In the case of four of the five custodians, Judge Garfinkle granted the plaintiff’s request, finding the plaintiff “has demonstrated a sufficient basis to add” each of those defendants to the custodian list.  Only one of those, Barry Kessler, was denied being only included on one email provided by the plaintiff where the list of e-mail recipients was “too numerous to count” and Kessler “was not listed by Pratt in its initial disclosures.”

As a result, Judge Garfinkle ruled that “Plaintiff’s Request for Production for another thirty-five (35) custodians is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The request is GRANTED as to the individuals listed in Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s initial disclosures and as to custodians Dennis Glynn, Samuel Wentworth, Matthew McCormack, and David Bonsall.”  Overall, Judge Garfinkle granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff’s Motion to Address Overarching Deficiencies in the Discovery Responses of Defendant United Technologies Corporation, Pratt & Whitney Division and to Compel Defendant to Provide Complete Responses to Relator’s Discovery, ordering parties to file a joint status report by January 5, 2020 identifying “outstanding discovery issues, if any, left unresolved by this Ruling and Order, as well as a proposed schedule.”

So, what do you think?  Do you think the plaintiff made an effective enough case to add the additional custodians?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant, an Affinity partner of eDiscovery Today.

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