North Carolina's Revised Rules Of Civil Procedure Regarding ESI

Revisions to the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure became effective to actions filed on or after October 1, 2011. A blacklined version showing the changes wrought by a law titled  an  "Act to clarify the procedure for discovery of electronically stored information and to make conforming changes to the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure" is here.  

You all are probably  familiar with these amendments already, as I’m behind the curve on this subject.. There’s lots out there on the web, way earlier than this post, from other law firms. Like here, here and here.  There are at least 39 states which have addressed the issue of e-discovery.  Here's the most current listing I've seen.

On the subject of other North Carolina changes, the North Carolina Bar Association has put together a comprehensive bulletin which is a “summary of new laws affecting North Carolina lawyers.”  One of the new laws you should look at, beyond the ESI-specific changes, is North Carolina's adoption of the Uniform Interstate Discovery and Depositions Act as N..C. Gen Stat. §§1F-1 to 7.  The Act defines clear procedures for an out of state litigant to get a subpoena to depose a witness (or to obtain documents) in North Carolina.  It also elucidates the procedure for a  litigant to in a North Carolina case to send a subpoena outside of North Carolina.  These procedures kick into effect on December 1, and apply to actions filed on or after that date.

 Definition of ESI Includes Metadata 

Rule 26 now contains a definition of ESI, though it is limited to the subcategory of metadata and whether that should be included in production It says that only limited metadata must be produced, absent an agreement between counsel:

For the purposes of these rules regarding discovery, the phrase 'electronically stored information' includes reasonably accessible metadata that will enable the discovering party to have the ability to access such information as the date sent, date received, author, and recipients. The phrase does not include other metadata unless the parties agree otherwise or the court orders otherwise upon motion of a party and a showing of good cause for the production of certain metadata

Recovery of Costs Of Production Of ESI

In a change which is destined to become the source of a good bit of pretrial wrangling given the high cost often involved in the gathering and production of ESI, Revised Rule 26(b)(3) now empowers the Court to “specify conditions for the discovery,” specifically “including allocation of discovery costs.”

Protective Orders

If a protective order is sought on the basis that the ESI is not “reasonably accessible,” Revised Rule 26(c) says that the Court can still order production if the requesting party shows “good cause” and the Court takes into account the considerations of Rule 26(b)(2(iii)), which allows the Court to limit discovery if “the discovery is unduly burdensome or expensive, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, limitations on the parties' resources, and the importance of the issues at stake in the litigation.”

Privilege Issues

The revised rules amp up the obligations of an attorney withholding information on the basis of privilege. Revised Rule 26(b)(7)(ii) requires that the withholding party must “describe the nature of the documents, communications, or tangible things not produced or disclosed, and do so in a manner that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, will enable other parties to assess the claim.” That contemplates a privilege log.

Revised Rule 26(b)(7)(b) covers inadvertent production, and like Federal Rule 26(b)(5)(B), requires the party receiving the inadvertent production to promptly return or destroy  the material or to disclose it to the Court under seal so that the Court can rule on the claim of privilege,

New Discovery Conference Procedure

Another change in the NC Rules is that the attorney for a party may require a discovery conference to be held on a specified timetable (as soon as 61 days after the filing of the Complaint), and that the discovery plan should include a laundry list of items, including in the appropriate case “a reference to the preservation of [ESI], the media form, format, or procedures by which such information will be produced, the allocation of the costs of preservation, production, and, if necessary, restoration, of such information,. . . .”

Safe Harbor For Routinely Destroyed ESI

Revised Rule 37(c) provides a “safe harbor” from sanctions if ESI is destroyed as a result of “routine, good faith operation of an electronic information system.” The new Rule says that a court may not impose sanctions for a failure to provide what was routinely deleted, “[a]bsent exceptional circumstances.”
 

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