As I suppose we could have expected, 2009 has delivered the most important eDiscovery cases to date, and we’re only half way through the year (or we were when I started writing this series). The District Court started us off before the last of the New Year’s confetti had been swept up by issuing its decision in Micron Technology, Inc. v. Rambus, Inc., C.A. No. 00-792-SLR on January 9, 2009, declaring certain patents unenforceable as a sanction for spoliation. In a suit for patent infringement, Micron claimed Rambus employed a document retention policy that destroyed documents while they had a duty to preserve. The Court said that Rambus was an “aggressive competitor” so should have foreseen litigation as far back as December 1998. All relevant documents destroyed by Rambus after that time was spoliation. As a sanction, the Court decided the patents at issue were not enforceable against Micron.
Not to be out done, and what has really made 2009 interesting, the Court of Chancery has recently issued three opinions with significant eDiscovery implications. On May 18, the Court issued its decision in Triton Constr. Co. v. Eastern Shore Elec. Servs., Inc., 2009 WL 1387115, granting an adverse inference as a sanction for spoliation. In a suit for breach of fiduciary duty, Triton alleged that defendant Kirk had intentionally destroyed evidence on his office computer with a wiping program. Triton’s forensic expert found evidence that Kirk had used the program to annihilate files and emails. Kirk had also been required to produce his personal laptop and thumb drive, which he failed to produce claiming he no longer owned them. The Court didn’t buy it, and issued an adverse inference.
Just days later, on May 29, the Court issued two—yes, two—significant decisions: Omnicare, Inc. v. Mariner Health Care Mgmt. Co., 2009 WL 1515609; and Beard Research, Inc. v. Kates, 2009 WL 1515625. (Oh, what a glorious time it was for eDiscovery nerds everywhere!) In Omnicare, the Court ruled that just because data is on a backup tape doesn’t automatically make it ‘not reasonably accessible.’ Omnicare sued Mariner for breach of contract and moved to compel Mariner to restore backup tapes to retrieve old emails deleted pursuant to their data retention policy. Mariner asked the Court to force Omnicare to pay for the restoration or to allow it hold off on restoration and produce emails from its active files so the parties could assess whether the restoration could reasonably be anticipated to lead to relevant information. The Court looked to Zubulake to analyze the cost-shifting argument, and decided that cost-shifting was not warranted in this case, noting that just because “ESI is now contained on Backup Tapes instead of in active stores does not necessarily render it not reasonably accessible.” Nonetheless, the Court opted not to order the restoration, opting instead for the active file sampling Mariner proposed.
In Beard Research, the Court brought the hammer down on Kates for blatant, repeated, audacious spoliation. Beard sued Kates for tortuous interference and asked the Court to impose sanctions on Kates for spoliation. Kates repeatedly reformatted his laptop’s hard drive, then replaced the drive (but kept it), then wiped the new drive on the eve of the hearing in which he was explicitly told he would be required to turn the laptop over. The Court awarded attorneys’ fees and imposed an adverse inference, and Kates should thank his lucky stars the Court decided to go easy on him.
There we have it—the State of eDiscovery in Delaware. I’m off to the beach for a week.