Court of Appeals Affirms Sanctions Following Metadata-Related Discovery Abuses
In Long Bay Management Co., Inc. et. al. v. HAESE, LLC et. al., Case No. 14-P-991 (Mass. App. Ct., Nov. 17, 2015), Plaintiffs sued Defendants, their former legal counsel, for overbilling after a former associate of Defendants informed Plaintiffs that his billing records had been altered without his knowledge. The court entered judgment against Defendants in December 2013 after an order of default sanctions and an order assessing damages. Defendants appealed entry of the judgment, claiming that the court had abused its discretion.
The court entered the default sanctions order after finding that Defendants had “repeatedly abused the discovery process” by seeking nondiscoverable information and sending subpoenas to individuals without relevant information. The court also found that Defendants had stymied Plaintiffs’ efforts to obtain discovery, failed to respond to discovery requests, had ignored court orders, and missed multiple hearings.
Plaintiffs sought records of billing entries, including the billing metadata to determine whether the records had been altered, but Defendants never produced the metadata, with the court finding that Defendants had used “delay tactics” such as claiming privilege where none existed to avoid producing the metadata and claiming to be unable to separate the metadata for Plaintiffs from other client files. The court concluded that this constituted strong circumstantial evidence of spoliation by the principal of the corporate Defendant.
The appeals court held that court had not abused its discretion in ordering sanctions and assessing damages. Finally, the court ordered that Plaintiffs could submit a petition for appellate attorneys’ fees incurred in responding to the appeal.