State Supreme Court Issues Opinion on Management of Discovery

Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion reaffirming that trial courts need to take an active, hands-on role in managing discovery and should consider cost-benefit and proportionality factors  to control excessive discovery. DCP Midstream, LP v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., et al., Case No. 12SA307 (Colo. June 24, 2013). Note my colleagues at SHB filed an amicus brief on behalf of NAM in this matter. The decision is a victory for efforts to encourage a rule of reasonableness in discovery.

Plaintiff sued for breach of contract and other claims. During discovery, DCP sent Anadarko fifty-eight requests for production seeking millions of pages of paper and electronic documents and many of Anadarko's "title opinions"— attorney-authored opinions about the state of title to land or mineral interests. Anadarko refused to produce many of the requested documents. DCP then filed a motion to compel. Without holding a hearing, the trial court granted DCP's motion. The trial court did not address any of Anadarko's specific objections, nor did it provide any analysis under C.R.C.P. 26(b) in support of its conclusions. In a later written order, the trial court reasoned that DCP was entitled to discovery on any issue that is or may become relevant and ruled that Anadarko's title opinions were not privileged because they were based on public information.

Appeal ensued. The state Supreme Court noted that this proceeding raised important questions about the scope of discovery and the extent to which trial courts must manage the discovery phase of a case to accomplish the overriding purpose of the civil rules—"the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action." C.R.C.P. 1. The state civil rules, and cases interpreting them, reflect an evolving effort to require active judicial management of pretrial matters to curb discovery abuses, reduce delay, and decrease litigation costs. See C.R.C.P. 16 committee comment ("It is expected that trial judges will assertively lead the management of cases to ensure that justice is served.").

This principle of active judicial management is reflected in the comments to the rules, and throughout the civil rules: e.g., C.R.C.P. 26(b) restricts the scope of discovery available as a matter of right; some material is limited to "good cause;" C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2) imposes limits on the number of depositions, interrogatories, and requests for production, and these limits can also be modified for "good cause."

The rules suggest that if a party objects to discovery because it is not relevant to a claim or defense, then the trial court must become involved. C.R.C.P. 26(b) requires trial courts to take an active role managing discovery when a scope objection is raised. When faced with a scope objection, the trial court must determine the appropriate scope of discovery in light of the reasonable needs of the case and tailor discovery to those needs. Because each case is unique and deserves unique treatment, the reasonable needs of the case will necessarily vary, depending on the subject matter and complexity of the case, the nature of the parties' claims or defenses, and the discovery necessary to resolve the dispute. To tailor discovery to the specific needs of the case, the Court said that the cost-benefit and proportionality factors listed in C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2)(F) will be helpful. These factors require active judicial management to control excessive discovery.

Bottom line, to resolve a dispute regarding the proper scope of discovery in a particular case, the trial court should, at a minimum, consider the cost-benefit and proportionality factors set forth in C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2)(F). When tailoring discovery, the factors relevant to a trial court's decision will vary depending on the circumstances of the case, and trial courts always possess discretion to consider any or all of the factors listed—or any other pertinent factors—as the needs of the case require.

So this one was vacated and remanded to the lower court for reconsideration.

Interesting Case Management Issue in Welding MDL

We have posted about the welding fumes MDL before. Call it case management by option-- as the court has worked through the bellwether trials, it is interesting that the MDL court gave the next-up plaintiff (in the Street trial) a choice.  Plaintiff could either (1) maintain his existing trial date of June 1, 2011, at which trial he may not offer the opinions of his expert Dr. Sanchez-Ramos; or (2) postpone the starting date for trial of his case until on or about November 1, 2011, and the Court would conduct a Daubert hearing on the admissibility of Dr. Sanchez-Ramos’s opinions during the summer of 2011.

Plaintiff Street chose the second option. Accordingly, the MDL Court has set the Daubert hearing to begin on August 24, 2011, with the expectation the hearing will last two days. The parties were directed to negotiate a schedule for briefing, expert depositions, and so on, and provide it to the Special Master as soon as possible. The schedule will include a deadline of April 5, 2011, for provision by Dr. Sanchez-Ramos of a supplemental expert report and literature review list.


Trial of the Street case was accordingly postponed to November 1, 2011. The Court said it will
discuss trial preparation deadlines with the parties during the next case management teleconference.  In re Welding Fume Products Liability Litigation,  No. 1:03-CV-17000 (N.D. Ohio, 3/25/11).  

Sanctions Against Plaintiffs in HRT Litigation

The judge in charge of multidistrict litigation involving Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' hormone replacement pill, Prempro, has decided to sanction a law firm representing hundreds of plaintiffs, for its failure to timely produce completed client fact sheets. In re: Prempro Products et al., No. 4:03-cv-01507 (E.D. Ark.). 

Judge Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas recently granted Wyeth's motion for sanctions against a Texas-based firm, although he declined to dismiss the plaintiffs.

Readers of MassTortDefense know the role plaintiff fact sheets (PFT) play in mass tort litigation, replacing some aspects of basic fact discovery; allowing defendants to gather information for early case assessment; beginning the process that winnows the number of cases that will be subjected to fuller case-specific fact discovery and expert discovery; and eventually informing the pool of cases available for initial trials if the case management process includes bellwether trials. 

The information requested on the PFT is often a negotiated topic, but typically includes information that any plaintiff's attorney who has done a good faith, Rule 11 assessment of the claim should have, or could readily access. The Manual for Complex Litigation notes that in lieu of interrogatories, questionnaires directed to individual plaintiffs in standard, agreed-on forms were used successfully in the breast implant and diet drug litigation.  It also includes sample case management orders regarding, inter alia, plaintiff fact sheets. (For other examples of plaintiff fact sheets, see In re Baycol Products Litigation, MDL 1431, Pretrial Order No. 10 (D. Minn. Mar. 18, 2002) and In re Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1407, Case Management Order No. 6 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 21, 2002)).

Wyeth showed the court that the plaintiff firm missed several court deadlines to serve completed fact sheets for each of its clients. Wyeth first argued in 2008 that plaintiffs represented by the firm had repeatedly submitted incomplete fact sheets in which they provided merely a “will supplement” answer to several questions. Judge Wilson agreed and issued an order on Dec. 17, 2008,
directing the firm to produce completed fact sheets by Feb. 2, 2009.  In February, defendant again complained to the court that hundreds of fact sheets had not been served by the deadline and that many of those that had been produced remained incomplete, with plaintiffs replacing “will supplement” with the vague language that plaintiffs do "not recall and do not have reasonable access to the information that would be responsive to this question without undue burden or cost.”
Plaintiffs were then given until April 13 to resubmit the fact sheets in accordance with the order, and the responses led Wyeth to renew its bid for sanctions including dismissal.

The judge directed the firm to pay $5,000 to Wyeth to partially compensate it for the time and effort involved in seeking adequate fact sheets.  The firm must also assign an associate or paralegal to immediately contact all plaintiffs identified by Wyeth as still having insufficient fact sheets and to have the documents filled out by August 5th.

The court warned that it was likely that additional sanctions — and perhaps considerably more severe sanctions — will be imposed if substantial effort is required to review the adequacy of fact sheets filed by Aug. 5, 2009. 

The court indicated it had seriously considered dismissing all the affected cases without prejudice, and with the proviso that if a case was refiled it must have a reasonably accurate fact sheet attached and that sanctions against counsel would likely be imposed if additional fact sheets were attached with non-answers.  Only the administrative burden of dealing with amended complaint filings prevented this.

Latest Federal Court Statistical Report Offers Snapshot of Mass Torts

An interesting snapshot of mass torts and product liability actions in the federal courts is found in the annual report, "Judicial Business of the United States Courts: 2008 Annual Report of the Director."  This report is produced by the Statistics Division, Office of Judges Programs, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts The latest report shows that a surge in asbestos cases drove a significant rise in new federal personal injury and product liability litigation.

Overall, civil filings increased 4 percent in 2008 to 267,257, and the national pending civil caseload climbed 12 percent to 298,129, the report said.  The rise in diversity of citizenship filings resulted chiefly from personal injury cases related to asbestos, especially in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and diet drugs in the Eastern District of Arkansas. According to court officials, asbestos filings under MDL 875 and diet drug filings under MDL 1203 caused filings to swell by more than 19,500 cases. About 99,000 asbestos-related cases containing at least 3.3 million claims are pending in the MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (In the Arkansas Prempro MDL, which consists of thousands of cases, the judge has ordered the plaintiffs to complete discovery involving defendants Pfizer Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc. by Sept. 1 , 2009) .

In the 2007 reporting period, a total of 29,291 product liability cases were commenced in federal courts, and in the same period ending in 2008, that number jumped to 53,102, based largely on the surge in asbestos-related filings .

The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation acted upon 35,987 civil actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1407 during the 12-month period ending September 30, 2008. The Panel transferred 8,156 cases originally filed in 92 district courts to 52 transferee districts for inclusion in coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings with 27,831 actions initiated in the transferee districts. Product liability cases involving the hormone therapy drug Prempro and the Kugel Mesh Hernia Patch were among the more significant of the Panel's transfer determinations during the report period. The Panel did not order transfer in 25 newly docketed litigations involving 150 actions.


Since the creation of the Panel in 1968, it has centralized 301,255 civil actions for pretrial proceedings. As of September 30, 2008, a total of 11,665 actions had been remanded for trial, 395 actions had been reassigned within the transferee district, and 186,747 actions had been terminated in the transferee court. At the end of this fiscal year, 102,448 actions were pending throughout 60 transferee district courts.

The federal judiciary calls the report the most comprehensive set of detailed statistical tables published on its work.


 

Latest Update on Digitek MDL

The Digitek MDL Judge, on March 5th,  entered PTO # 16, which details important case management and scheduling deadlines in this mass tort. 

For those interested in some of the nuts and bolts of managing an MDL: the Order  requires that within 45 days, each defendant named in the Master Complaint shall file a Master Answer or a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 motion in response to the Master Complaint.

The Order sets deadline for plaintiffs to request and brief class certification of any wrongful death, personal injury or medical monitoring putative class in September, 2009.

Plaintiffs are required to fill out and sign Plaintiff Fact Sheets, providing basic fact discovery.  It sets up a process for handling deficiencies in the responses.

Plaintiffs are to provide signed undated authorizations for the gathering of medical records, and addresses for each health care provider, including hospitals, clinics and outpatient treatment centers, and any other custodian of records identified in a plaintiff’s Fact Sheet.

Plaintiffs are ordered to produce medical and pharmacy records in their  possession establishing that the plaintiff was prescribed Digitek and the date(s) on which each prescription issued.

The Order set up a procedure for governing the oft-debated ex parte contact by defendants of treating physicians.

Defendants are ordered to provide organizational chart information as well as QC/QA structures. Also specifications, instructions, test methods and standard operating procedures relating to the manufacture of  Digitek;  quality assurance/control and testing records for Digitek, and any of its component ingredients, including but not limited to records related to batch sampling, post-manufacturing testing and finished goods testing. 

The Order establishes a procedure for privilege logs. The parties were directed to reach an agreement concerning a document production protocol to include the production format of paper and electronic documents, objective coding and metadata, privilege logs and any other applicable issues. In the event the parties cannot agree, the issues will be presented to Magistrate Judge Stanley for resolution.

The PTO also sets deadlines for service of interrogatories, document requests, and company witness depositions. As to expert discovery: Plaintiffs shall serve their reports from liability experts no later than January 1, 2010. The parties shall complete their depositions of Plaintiffs’ liability  experts no later than March 12, 2010.  Defendants shall serve their reports from liability experts no later than March 31, 2010.  The parties shall complete their depositions of Defendants’ liability experts no later than June 11, 2010.

To efficiently manage discovery for all currently pending and future cases in the MDL, the cases will be divided into groups, with each group having a separate scheduling order. Following completion of the first wave of Plaintiffs’ Fact Sheets the Court shall schedule a hearing for purposes of  selecting the initial trial pool of cases (“Group 1”). No later than 5 days before the hearing, Plaintiffs shall select 15 cases and the Defendants shall select 15 cases, and each side shall exchange lists of such selections and submit them to the Court.  Within 10 days after the scheduled hearing, the Court shall select a total of no more than twenty of the proposed trial pool cases to constitute Group 1.

Case specific discovery is set up by Group, with staggered dates of initial discovery (DID),  corresponding discovery deadlines, and Daubert and dispositive motions deadlines 310 days after  DID.