On December 1, 2015, the most significant amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure became effective since the 2006 amendments that made the eDiscovery era official. Among the rules revised was Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37, which governs discovery failures like spoliation and the associated sanctions. Among the changes was made was the replacement of the 2006 version of FRCP 37(f) with the new 2015 version of FRCP 37(e).
The amended version of FRCP 37(e) limits sanctions to situations where ESI that should have been preserved was lost “because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it.” Thus, the first question raised by the amended version of FRCP 37(e) is what qualifies as “reasonable steps to preserve” ESI. Unfortunately, the rule does not elaborate, but thankfully, the Advisory Committee Notes and subsequent cases do provide some guidance.
As we discussed, one of the things the amendments to FRCP 37(e) were intended to do was resolve a circuit split that had arisen regarding the level of culpability that must be shown for the application of severe spoliation sanctions. The amendments resolved that split in favor of the higher standard but, in so doing, created new questions about establishing intent to deprive.
As we discussed in the last Part, one of the primary goals of the December 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was to increase predictability and consistency for litigants by eliminating jurisdictional variations in ESI spoliation standards, their application, and the associated penalties. Ensuring predictability and consistency, however, would require foreclosing other alternatives for addressing ESI spoliation.
We have discussed the major questions of what qualifies as reasonable steps, what it is a sufficient showing of intent to deprive, and whether courts can opt for inherent authority despite FRCP 37(e). Beyond those major questions, there are others, of which practitioners should be aware, that affect whether and what sanctions are imposed, including: whether there has been irretrievable loss, whether there has been prejudice, and other factors.