District Court Lets Air Out of Special Master’s Report and Recommendation
In re Takata Airbag Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 15-02599-CIV-Moreno, MDL No. 5-2599 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 1, 2016)
In this multidistrict class action involving a variety of claims relating to defective airbags, the court modified a Special Master’s recommendation regarding the redaction of irrelevant information from responsive documents, citing the concept of proportionality and the recently amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Special Master adopted a two-part proposal from the defendants, a group of car manufacturers, as part of a recommendation to the court. First, the Special Master recommended that the producing party be permitted to redact information relating to seven irrelevant categories of information, including pricing, nonpublic financial information, and products not sold in the United States. Second, the producing party could withhold irrelevant parent and other documents from responsive document families. The defendants argued that without the redactions, they might have to unnecessarily disclose “competitively sensitive information” to their competition or to the media.
The plaintiffs asked the district judge to reconsider the recommendation. The plaintiffs contended that the recommendation was inconsistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because it would “allow irrelevance redactions that will potentially allow redaction of highly relevant information from responsive documents.” They claimed the proposal was based on the “inaccurate premise” that the plaintiffs had consented to irrelevance redactions. Further, the redaction would “impair [their] discovery efforts” and would “lead to unnecessary litigation over the redactions.”
The court, reviewing the recommendation de novo, agreed with the plaintiffs that the Special Master’s conclusion regarding redaction was too broad. Interpreting the language of amended Rule 26(b)(1), the district court found that parties are “not entitled to receive every piece of relevant information.” Accordingly, it was “only logical” that receiving parties are not entitled to irrelevant information simply because it is in a responsive document. Here, the categories the Special Master outlined could contain “highly relevant” information, but the defendants raised a valid point about the potential sensitivity of some of the irrelevant information. To balance the parties’ “desire to protect their competitively sensitive information” against “the importance of the issues at stake in this action and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues at hand,” the court accepted the seven categories with the caveat that the defendants would not be permitted to redact any information in those categories that related to airbags.
The court’s decision on the first issue “largely moot[ed]” the second issue, finding “it would make little difference if the producing party provides a fully redacted document or does not provide the document at all.” Therefore, the court accepted the Special Master’s recommendation and permitted the parties to withhold parent documents, with the requirement that the defendants produce a list or slip sheet for the removed documents and share the context of any withheld parent document.
In re Takata Airbag Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 15-02599-CIV-Moreno, MDL No. 5-2599 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 1, 2016).
In ruling, the court noted U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s remarks on amended Rule 26(b)(1), which “‘crystallizes the concept of reasonable limits on discovery through increased reliance on the common-sense concept of proportionality.’” As this case demonstrates, parties will increasingly need to consider proportionality as they build their discovery plans. They should also use this case and its stance on proportionality as a strategy for shielding irrelevant yet sensitive information that might appear in otherwise responsive documents.