The Zouras and Moremarrone law firms collaborated to win a Fair Labor Standards Act case that awarded $1.8 million in attorneys’ fees. The law firms celebrated their victory by engaging in a contentious dispute over how to equitably divide the awarded fees. This dispute led to Paintiff (Zouras) filing a lawsuit (Stephan Zouras LLP v. Marrone, 2022 BL 309833 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 1 2022)), alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conversion, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit against Moremarrone.
In discovery, Plaintiff requested all documents supporting the fee petition Defendants submitted in the FLSA litigation where the parties acted as co-counsel. Plaintiff moved to compel the production of documents, noting that, in response to their discovery request, Defendants produced only 13 documents. Defendants responded by asserting that the information sought was both irrelevant and unduly burdensome.
Magistrate Judge Carlson first found that the information sought was “relevant and discoverable” and that “all parties should be permitted to thoroughly examine the degree to which hours claimed by counsel have contemporaneous documentary support.” Defendants asserted that they would have to sift through 122,000 emails to find relevant records for production purposes. In response, the Magistrate Judge noted that “the Sedona Principles identify two specific, collaborative strategies: the use of relevant search terms or technology assisted review to cull ESI and ongoing sampling of data to assess the accuracy of search term searches.”
The Magistrate Judge rejected Defendants’ argument that searching through over 122,000 emails was “unduly burdensome” noting that “given the nature of the parties' dispute, a thorough examination of the documentary support for these fees and legal paternity claims is not only proportional; it is necessary.” Plaintiff’s motion to compel was granted as the Court noted that the reciprocal discovery demands sought by Plaintiff were proper and directly proportional to the discovery they produced to support their claims. Accordingly, he ordered the parties to “engage in the collaborative process outlined by the Court, consistent with the Sedona [P]rinciples.”
As my colleague Trish Antezana notes in the Exterro Case Law Alert, "Courts expect litigants to work cooperatively in discovery.”