Defendants’ Unilateral Relevancy Redactions Leads To Monetary Sanctions
- ILS Team
In Cuppels v. Mountaire Corporation, C.A. No.: S18C-06-009 (Del. Sup. Ct. June 29, 2020), the Delaware Superior Court awarded monetary sanctions to Plaintiffs as a result of Defendants’ inappropriate redactions.
The case arose from claims made by Plaintiffs related to the operation of a chicken processing facility. Following Defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court entered an order permitting limited discovery relating to, among others, whether Defendants maintained sufficient contacts with Delaware to permit the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over it.
Following the appointment of and a decision by a Court appointed special discovery master as well as the adoption of the special master’s recommendation by the Court regarding the permissibility of the jurisdiction related discovery, Defendants eventually provided responses to Plaintiffs’ jurisdictional discovery requests. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs complained of extensive redactions undertaken by Defendants. Although Defendants produced a redaction log, Plaintiffs found Defendants’ redactions to be “improper and unsupported” and demanded unredacted copies of documents identified in the log.
Plaintiffs subsequently moved to compel Defendants’ production of the unredacted copies of documents in the redaction log along with unredacted copies of minutes from Defendants’ shareholder and board of director meetings. Plaintiffs’ motions were granted by the special master and affirmed by the Court. Plaintiffs’ review of the subsequently produced unredacted documents then prompted their motion for sanctions.
As part of Plaintiffs’ sanctions motion, Plaintiffs provided a side-by-side comparison of the documents in redacted and unredacted forms. As stated by the Court following that comparison: “Even a cursory examination shows that the redactions were of information which clearly and obviously covered issues required by [the special master’s] Order to be produced, and which bear directly on the jurisdictional issue, the same jurisdictional issue which has caused substantial delay in the case. Had the documents in unredacted form been produced when they should have, the case would be far closer to resolution.”
The Court rejected Defendants’ arguments that its line-by-line redactions were appropriate and based on good faith interpretations of prior discovery orders. The Court found that none of any prior orders “authorize[d] Defendants to redact information in those documents, which they deemed responsive, based on their unilateral determination that portions of such responsive documents were irrelevant or nonresponsive.” As a result, although the Court declined to find liability as a sanction against the Defendants as requested by Plaintiffs, the Court imposed a monetary sanction for portions of Plaintiffs’ fees incurred as part of the document dispute, as well the billings by the special master to address the same.