Case Law: DL v. District of Columbia

Friday, May 13, 2011 by Thought Leadership Team

Court Imposes Sanctions for Extreme “Unheard Of” Discovery Abuse

DL v. District of Columbia, No. 05-1437 (RCL) (D.D.C. May 9, 2011). In this class action dispute concerning free public education under the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act, the defendant filed a motion to reconsider the grant of the plaintiff’s motion to compel production and the court’s determination that privilege was waived for all e-mails yet to be produced. On the day the court was scheduled to issue its opinion, the plaintiffs’ counsel informed the court the defendants had produced thousands of e-mails days before trial and were continuing to “document dump” after trial concluded. The defense counsel claimed the District was understaffed, committed supplemental searches that yielded tens of thousands of additional e-mails, discovery was voluminous and there were not “enough bodies” to complete the process before trial. Denying the defendants’ motion, the court cited the “repeated, flagrant, and unrepentant failures to comply with Court orders” and “discovery abuse so extreme as to be literally unheard of in this Court.” The court also repeatedly noted the defendants’ failure to adhere to the discovery framework provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and advised the defendants to invest time spent “ankle-biting the plaintiffs” into shaping up its own discovery conduct.

Notable Quotes

This opinion contained quite a few notable quotes that were not incorporated into the case summary. Here are some of the court’s words that explain the magnitude of its displeasure with the defendants’ discovery shortcomings.

  • “April 6, 2011, though, turned out to be only the beginning of the next outrageous chapter in the ongoing discovery saga that has come to define this case.”
  • “[E]xpeditious and just resolution of cases and controversies is this Court’s abiding lodestar.”
  • “Yet even after being called out in a [2008] Court order, the District – its head apparently buried in the sand – remained committed to its corrupt production strategy.”
  • “Discovery disputes are ‘for better or worse, the daily bread of magistrate and district judges in the age of the disappearing trial.’” (Citing Lee v. Max Int’l, LLC, 2011 WL 1651640, at *2 (10th Cir. May 3, 2011).
  • “But as bad as the District’s violation of multiple discovery orders was, that wasn’t its most appalling discovery abuse in this case. That ignominious designation is reserved for the District’s violation of Rule 26(e)’s duty to supplement its discovery responses.”
  • “The District’s complaints of lack of resources and time pressure fall on deaf ears because it failed to seek relief through any of the Rule-based mechanisms…”
  • If the court had not ordered the defendants’ privilege waived, “the delay would have overcrowded this Court’s already congested trial calendar and simultaneously and unfairly increased the costs for both parties…”
  • “The District had countless opportunities to stop ignoring its discovery obligations. It chose not to, and it should not be surprised that its misconduct has caught up with it.”
  • “Disciplined adhered to [the Federal] Rules and [court] Orders on the part of courts as well as parties is the only tool our system has to wrangle the whirlwind as it were and tame an otherwise unmanageable part of the litigation process.”
  • “The District would be well-advised to invest the time it’s spent ankle-biting the plaintiffs for various alleged discovery abuses in bringing its own conduct in line…”
  • “In short, this is a prime example of the lesson many learn as children: When you point one finger at another, three point back at you.