A federal judge last week ordered Meta and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher to pay nearly $1 million over litigation misconduct in a California data privacy lawsuit.
As reported in Law & Crime (Judge slaps Facebook parent Meta and its law firm with almost $1 million in sanctions over litigation misconduct, written by Jason Kandel), U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco granted the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions on Thursday, ruling that Facebook‘s parent company and its law firm Gibson Dunn are “using delay, misdirection, and frivolous arguments” in a case alleging the social media giant shared private information with other companies and ordered them to pay $925,078.51 in fees and costs to the plaintiffs.
“Unfortunately, this sort of conduct is not uncommon in our court system,” the judge wrote. “But it was unusually egregious and persistent here.
“To be sure, this amount is loose change for a company like Facebook, and even for a law firm like Gibson Dunn. But it’s important for courts to help protect litigants from suffering financial harm as a result of their opponents’ litigation misconduct.”
Chhabria said examples of some of the company’s responses to the plaintiff’s demands were that “it need not disclose to the plaintiffs what information it had collected about them unless it had shared that information with third parties” and “the plaintiffs were required to take at face value Facebook’s assertions about what information it had shared,” court documents said.
“Merely reciting this argument shows how ridiculous it is, but Facebook and Gibson Dunn repeated it over, and over, and over again — despite the presiding magistrate judge telling them many times that it made no sense.”
Meta and Gibson Dunn, the judge said, had the “audacity to accuse the plaintiffs’ lawyers of delaying the case,” and asserted that the plaintiffs’ efforts to obtain relevant discovery were frivolous, court records said.
“It’s almost as if Facebook and Gibson Dunn spent the better part of three years trying to gaslight their opponents, not to mention the Court,” the filing states. “Sometimes lawyers and their clients engage in conduct of this sort because they are incompetent. Facebook and Gibson Dunn are not incompetent. Sometimes lawyers reflexively oppose the other side’s requests without giving any thought to their actions. That does not seem like Facebook and Gibson Dunn.
“Instead, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Facebook and Gibson Dunn’s conduct reflected a sustained, concerted, bad-faith effort to throw obstacle after obstacle in front of the plaintiffs — all in an attempt to push the plaintiffs into settling the case for less than they would have gotten otherwise.”
Hey, it could have been much worse – the plaintiffs sought over $2 million in sanctions from Meta and Gibson Dunn. The 53-page(!) order is available for review in the Law & Crime article here.
So, what do you think? Will fines like these change how companies and their outside law firms cooperate in litigation? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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Since the actions were (obviously) so egregious, why didn’t the court award the plaintiff the requested $2M+ instead of awarding just admitted “chump change”? Sometimes a chain jerk needs to be just that.
Unfortunately, it seems discovery misconduct is not something new for Gibson Dunn. A couple of years ago I worked on the mass tort case involving the large gas leak by SoCal Gas in Porter Ranch, CA. The number of plaintiffs was in the tens of thousands and the various law firms representing them kept challenging privilege calls made by Gibson Dunn on behalf of SoCal Gas. The judge kept ordering counsel to go back and re-review documents. Each time additional documents were produced. Eventually the judge ordered an independent party to review documents to determine whether the privilege assertions were correctly claimed. In the end, it was found that among all the various productions, 94% of the initial privilege claims were incorrect. The judge sanctioned Gibson Dunn $525,000.