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  • Jim Ferraro

Confronting a Classic ‘Document Dump’

DuPont had known for a long time that Benlate was dangerous.

There had been ongoing litigation over the same product for several years before we filed the Castillo case, because the harmful chemical was destroying farmers’ harvests.

Interestingly, the way Benlate extinguished crops mirrored the way it damaged human eyes. As a species, we have something in our cells called tubulin, which is also present in plants. Benlate is a spindle poison that inhibits the growth of tubulin. It finds the tubulin in the cells of fungus and kills it. Unfortunately for DuPont, it works on both humans and plants in the same way. That is exactly what showed up in the 1991 University of California study, too.

What I wanted to find out next was whether DuPont had done studies of its own that showed similar harmful results. After all, it had created the poisonous product. DuPont must have done some research or had some documentation that showed results similar to those of the University of California studies.

I knew DuPont had a document depository in Delaware, where its corporate offices were located, which it had created during the crop litigation. The company kept millions of documents filed there in a large warehouse building where lawyers could look for whatever they thought they needed for their cases. The depository was intimidating, imposing, huge, poorly organized (at least for us!), and very dusty. The first time I walked in I just wanted to turn around and go home. My only thought was that I could spend 10 years there and still barely make a dent.

To make matters worse, this was before the digital age, so all the files were paper files, which meant we had to physically wade through each and every potential page of evidence by hand. There were hundreds of thousands of pages, if not more, that we had to get through. The depository had a librarian on staff whose sole job was to make opposing lawyers’ lives miserable. She fit the classic librarian stereotype: gray hair, a bit frumpy. While she appeared to be kind and accommodating, her real mission was to confuse, mislead, and disarm the opponent. To her, anyone outside the DuPont family was the enemy.

While there was an index of documents, it was extremely difficult to understand, unless of course you were the one who compiled it. It made little sense to anyone other than the librarian and a handful of DuPont insiders. That was the point.

My team consisted of Marjorie Salem and myself. Marjorie was an associate who worked for me, and we spent endless hours delving into old boxes that had been hidden away for years. We could have sat there endlessly, with no promise of ever coming up with what we were looking for. Nothing was properly labeled or logically filed. There was no rhyme or reason to what was handed over to us, which I suspected was very much by design.

This is what is known as a classic document dump. Defendants are required to cooperate by giving you access to their documents, but they aren’t required to make it easy. “Here you go. You figure it out.”

Yeah, right.

Whenever we asked for a specific document, the librarian’s answer was always, “No, we don’t have that study,” or “If we do have that study, it might be in this area over here,” or “Did you look over there?” and she’d wave her hand in the general direction of more boxes taking up space in the large, dark, and dreary warehouse building. Sure, she provided some assistance, but nothing was ever where it was supposed to be.

Until we came up with a plan. I’ll write about that in my next post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever been confronted with a situation that required you to think beyond the obstruction to get what you needed? Thank you for sharing.


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