Guess What? Cooperation Does Not Mean Privilege or Relevancy Are Dead

Here is the big lesson from the latest Biomet opinion over predictive coding:

The Steering Committee wants the whole seed set Biomet used for the algorithm’s initial training. That request reaches well beyond the scope of any permissible discovery by seeking irrelevant or privileged documents used to tell the algorithm what not to find. That the Steering Committee has no right to discover irrelevant or privileged documents seems self-evident.

United States District Court Judge Robert Miller, In re Biomet M2a Magnum Hip Implant Prods. Liab. Litig., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 172570, at *3 (D. Ind. 2013).

One word: Good.

Cooperation does not mean attorney work product is eviscerated when discussing predictive coding. Moreover, if ESI is not relevant, why drive up discovery costs in reviewing it?  Furthermore, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(1) does not allow a requesting party to find out how the producing party used ESI before its production. Biomet, at *4.

The opinion goes on to discuss Biomet’s position that it had produced all discoverable documents to the Steering Committee. However, this is where Judge Miller made a judicial warning: Biomet did not need to identify its seed set, but the “unexplained lack of cooperation in discovery can lead a court to question why the uncooperative party is hiding something, and such questions can affect the exercise of discretion.” Biomet, at *5-6.

The Court held it would not order Biomet to disclose its seed set, but did “urge” them to “re-think its refusal.” Biomet, at *6.

Bow Tie Thoughts

There is no good answer to the issue in this case. Technology issues should be worked out by experts in a non-combative way when it comes to production formats, scope of data, date ranges, custodians and other objective factors in conducting a search. Courts really do not want to get sucked into it. However, one issue since Da Silva Moore v Publicis Groupe & MSL Group is the idea that parties need to have transparent process that both sides agree to for predictive coding. I do not think the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require such disclosures at all. Moreover, it intrudes into attorney work product.

What is the answer? I would offer a requesting party to demonstrate there is a production gap or otherwise show how the production is deficient. This easily escalates into a quagmire over discovery about discovery. No body wins when that happens.

As for a producing party, I would not take a position that could incur the wrath of a Court if the requesting party later demonstrates a production was deficient.

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