Eighth Circuit Finds No Prejudice as to Exxon’s Late Document Production
In Webb et. al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp. et. al., Case No. 15-2879 (8th Cir., May 11, 2017), a class action suit brought by landowners who entered into easement contracts with Exxon for the construction of a pipeline to transport oil from Texas to Illinois, Plaintiffs sued Defendants for breach of those easements for failure to maintain, operate, and repair the pipeline, seeking rescission of the easements or, in the alternative, damages. After class certification, the District Court de-certified the class and entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants.
After the court granted summary judgment, Plaintiffs moved to amend the judgment, arguing that Exxon had withheld important documents until immediately before the summary judgment entry and that the documents provided newly-discovered evidence. The District Court denied the motion, finding that after a year in litigation, significant discovery had already occurred and that the “new evidence” did not address the “heart” of the summary judgment order, and thus Plaintiffs were not actually damaged by the new information. Plaintiffs appealed the de-certification of the class as well as the denial of the motion to alter the judgment.
In their appeal as to the motion to alter the judgment, Plaintiffs argued that Exxon’s “delayed responses and refusal to agree to electronic search terms” unfairly prejudiced Plaintiffs in their attempts to create an adequate record to defendant against summary judgment. Plaintiffs argued that Exxon had made a document dump during discovery and would not agree to search terms or predictive coding terms. In 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel Exxon to agree to predictive coding (i.e., technology assisted review or TAR) but the District Court denied that motion.
The 8th Circuit held that Plaintiffs failed to explain why the late document production would have changed the result of the summary judgment motion, and there was thus no basis for the reversal of the trial court’s decision.