Law Street Media

Juul and School Districts Dispute “Burdensome” Records Requests

A man exhales steam from his electronic cigarette

A bearded man in the clouds of steam from electronic cigarette closeup. vaping man

A joint letter filed by the plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel and counsel for Juul Labs, Inc. was filed in the Northern District of California case against Juul on Friday. In the letter, the plaintiffs asked the court to not allow Juul to “circumvent” an order from the court by requiring the school districts to provide discovery items, which were ruled to be burdensome. The discovery request asked for information about employees at the schools in the districts, information about suspensions, and documents relating to any research or studies related to e-cigarette products. 

Juul, conversely, said this request from the plaintiffs to not be required to produce the requested discovery was “unprecedented and unsupported.” It argued that the court could not take away the defendant’s rights to public records just because the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit requesting it. Juul argued that the information exchange already favors the plaintiffs as Juul has sent “over a million documents” already throughout the course of the lawsuits.  

“The public record requests marginally level the playing field through legitimate state-law records requests that (Juul) in many circumstances will have to pay for,” the defendant said in the letter. The party further purported that it gave the plaintiffs notice that it would be filing the requests and asked for input from the plaintiffs’ counsel, which agreed to the request and requested additional time for their response, thus the plaintiff’s complaints regarding the timing of the requests are a “meritless distraction.” 

The school districts claimed that after the parties conferred and submitted proposals, the court issued a ruling that the plaintiffs’ proposal would be the baseline for the proposal for settlement and that the court deemed the records requests served on the school district plaintiffs were overly burdensome. The attorneys for the plaintiffs explained that the request sent to each school district involved in the lawsuit contained 22 paragraphs of information. The court purportedly said it was not reasonable for school districts to be expected to pull all fields and compile numbers of suspensions, but the request asked for information on all suspensions, not just those related to e-cigarettes. 

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the discovery requests had a pattern of requesting more than the court authorized, specifically, information about alcohol and drugs, which the plaintiff alleged are beyond the scope of the lawsuit regarding vaping and e-cigarettes. The plaintiffs asked the court to “uphold the integrity of its prior Order … (and) quash all of these public records requests as violating this Court’s prior Order, or … order counsel for Defendants to withdraw these improper, unnecessary, and extraordinarily burdensome open records requests.” 

Various parties filed complaints in the multidistrict suit, including individuals, cities, and schools or school districts. The plaintiffs claimed that Juul’s marketing was misleading and led to death and injury to consumers who did not understand the harmful effects of its products. Schools and school district plaintiffs specifically mentioned in their complaints that Juul’s advertising appealed to youth and led to an “epidemic” of e-cigarette usage among school children. 

A hearing was held on Friday to discuss the issue, which led to an additional discovery hearing set for January 11, 2021. Juul Labs is represented in the suit by Kirkland & Ellis, which submitted Friday’s letter, along with other counsel. The co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Keller Rohrback, Lief Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Weitz & Luxenberg, and Girard Sharp

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