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N.D. Cal. - ESI Discovery Not Proportional From Custodians Who Only Had an Interest in Trade Secrets

Yesterday, Judge Virginia DeMarchi issued a order on a discovery dispute concerning the search for responsive ESI in the files of 33 of the defendant's data custodians. See, Alta Devices v. LG Elecs., No.18-cv-00404-LHK (VKD), 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27102 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2019). Alta alleges in this case that LGE misappropriated its trade secrets.

LGE contended that Alta's request was not proportional to the needs of the case, because some of the custodians were not directly connected to the events at issue. It argued that collecting the data would be burdensome because of its location and the number of custodians involved. In addition it invoked the apex doctrine pronounced in Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., 282 F.R.D. 259, 263-64 (N.D. Cal. 2012). This doctrine states that discovery can only be conducted for high level executives if they have unique knowledge of facts, and other discovery methods have been exhausted.

Judge DeMarchi agreed that discovery from 33 custodians would not be proportional. "Based on Alta Devices own discussion of relevance, it appears that the several of the proposed LGE custodians are on Alta Devices' list because they expressed interest in or requested information, and not because there is a factual basis to believe they actually obtained, used, or disclosed Alta Devices' trade secret information." Alta Devices, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27102, at *2.

Discovery was restricted to 10 custodians, including only those custodians who had some involvement in the issues at hand other than expressing an interest in them by setting up a meeting. The Court also found that the senior executive status of certain custodians was not a reason to exclude them from discovery.

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