In SinglePoint Direct Solar LLC v. Solar Integrated Roofing Corp., No. CV-21-01076-PHX-JAT (D. Ariz. March 21, 2023), Arizona District Judge James A. Teilborg agreed with the plaintiffs that 409,988 documents responsive to defendants’ ESI search terms was voluminous, but found the search results of over 400,000 documents proportional to the needs of the case.
In this case involving claims of misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition as part of 13 claims against the defendants, the parties submitted a joint briefing to the Court that Judge Teilborg said “does not lay out an exact chronology of when Plaintiffs first made objections, and the scope of those objections.” As part of that uncertainty, the parties agreed to ESI protocols which the Court did not adopt or reject.
Based on the timeline the Court put together, the parties exchanged search terms in July of 2022 and plaintiffs made some objections to defendants’ proposed search terms in September 2022. On December 21, 2022, as Judge Teilborg stated, the parties “agreed” to run their respective search terms and defendants produced their responsive documents in March 2023.
However, the plaintiffs objected again on January 9, 2023, then supposedly “agreed” again to run defendants’ search terms, then they made another round of objections on March 3, 2023. The plaintiffs agreed that 122,607 responsive documents must be produced but argued that the remaining 287,381 documents are so voluminous as to be objectionable.
Regarding the defendants’ claims that the plaintiffs’ objections were untimely, Judge Teilborg stated: “If the Court were asked to rule on these protocols back in July 2022, the Court would have found that the parties’ protocols are unmanageable because they do not set a specific timeframe for objections… The parties’ poorly crafted protocols defeat Defendants’ argument that the objections are untimely.”
Judge Teilborg also rejected defendants’ contention that the plaintiffs’ objections were “boilerplate”, stating: “at Doc. 186-1 at 4, it states, “By way of example, Plaintiffs have objected to the search term ‘acquisition’ on the basis that the term is not relevant to the case.” (emphasis added). This sentence leads the Court to believe Plaintiffs made more particularized objections at some point. Thus, on this record, the Court cannot conclude that Plaintiffs’ objections, which the Court does not have all of, were only boilerplate objections.”
However, Judge Teilborg also found the search results of over 400,000 documents proportional to the needs of the case, stating: “Regarding proportionality, the Court agrees that 409,988 responsive documents is voluminous. However, Plaintiffs chose to bring a wide-ranging lawsuit based on 13 claims for relief, eight of which relate to the remaining Defendants… Additionally, Plaintiffs are seeking more than $16 million in damages, plus as-yet-unquantified continuing damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. The Court finds that the ESI sought is proportional to the case as a whole.”
Judge Teilborg also rejected the plaintiffs’ unduly burdensome argument, stating: “Plaintiff have admitted on multiple occasions that the ESI discovery was going to be voluminous in this case…A voluminous ESI case is always going to be burdensome. This is an unfortunate reality of ESI heavy, high-dollar commercial cases. However, the Court cannot say, given what is at stake, that the burden of document review is so high as to warrant denying Defendants relevant discovery. Thus, given that the Court has found the request to be proportional, and that the parties have known from the beginning of this case that the discovery in this case would be significant (and have represented that knowledge to the Court on multiple occasions) the Court overrules Plaintiffs’ undue burden objection.”
Judge Teilborg also rejected the plaintiffs’ overly broad argument, stating: “This Court agrees that agreeing to run search terms does not waive relevance objections to the documents that are responsive to the search terms. Thus, the Court overrules Plaintiffs’ relevance objections to the search terms themselves but finds that Plaintiff may nonetheless review all documents that are “hits” on a search term for relevance and withhold irrelevant documents.”
As a result, Judge Teilborg ruled that “Plaintiffs’ objections are overruled; Plaintiffs must respond to Defendants’ requested discovery as specified above.”
So, what do you think? What should the plaintiffs have done to try to illustrate that the search results of over 400,000 documents were not proportional to the case? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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