eLessons

eLessons Learned EXCLUSIVE: Laura Zubulake Interview & Book Signing During Seton Hall Law School eDiscovery Course Zubulake’s eDiscovery: The Untold Story of My Quest for Justice

Following the recent ten year anniversary of the verdict in the Zubulake case (and the series of published court opinions preceding the verdict) that laid the groundwork for future eDiscovery cases, Ms. Zubulake took time from her busy schedule to meet with Seton Hall Law students.  Ms. Zubulake discussed her book that presents a first-hand account of her harrowing experience that culminated in a historic outcome—and in the process forever changed the United States litigation landscape. Ms. Zubulake imparted her knowledge and experience from her three year lawsuit with a group of Seton Hall Law School students enrolled in Adjunct Law Professor Fernando M. Pinguelo’s eDiscovery: Where Technology Meets the Law course. Each student asked thoughtful and pointed questions concerning many of the experiences Ms. Zubulake revealed in her book. One of the central points Ms. Zubulake focused on was the importance of organization. She described the daunting task of reviewing, organizing, and searching through massive amounts of data, including emails and other evidence produced to her and her legal team as searching for the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”  This was during a time when technology assisted review and other advancements in data review platforms were virtually nonexistent. To overcome this challenge, Ms. Zubulake believed organizing the evidence, including paper and electronic documents, was critical to preparing for depositions, drafting motion papers, preparing for trial, and presenting a clear timeline and sequence of events to the jury. Ms. Zubulake shared both her experiences that led to her decision to file suit alleging gender discrimination and retaliation and the fallout of her litigation, which carried over to her personal life. Ms. Zubulake confessed that she had been aware of allegations of gender discrimination in the financial industry early on in her career and acknowledged that she often felt that she had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts.  However, that position never bothered Ms. Zubulake until the situation became uniquely personal, leading her to conclude that something needed to be done. Once she felt her personal career was being compromised, Ms. Zubulake admited that she “couldn’t in good faith walk away from it.” While her decision to act was not an easy one to make at the time, she thought it was the right one—particularly because she raised her concerns through internal corporate channels that she had been led to believe were designed to address delicate, intra-personnel matters discretely and effectively. Ms. Zubulake’s book is a personal account of a long, grueling litigation process that resulted in her finally getting vindication and justice. She speaks of the process and admits that it was not easy. Ms. Zubulake knew that she served as a good, strong candidate to not only take a stand against what had happened to her personally, but also to challenge what had been in many respects an institutional problem. Ms. Zubulake’s case did not serve merely to right a perceived wrong in the context of gender discrimination in the work place, but it also sparked the establishment of several groundbreaking precedents regarding electronic discovery. Her book is not only an account of her determination, but also her acknowledgement that she never imagined her case would have had such an impact on a legal process that was virtually nonexistent at the time. Ten years later, we continue to see the impact and the relevancy of the Zubulake decisions. To learn more about Laura Zubulake and Zubulake’s eDiscovery: The Untold Story of My Quest for Justice, visit: http://www.laurazubulake.com/. Fernando M. Pinguelo, Esq., is a U.S.-based trial lawyer and devotes his practice to complex lawsuits with an emphasis on business disputes, cyber security, media and employment matters. Kristen Tierney, a Chief Blog Correspondent for eLessons Learned, is a History and Political Science double-major at at Rutgers University in New Brunswick (Class of 2016). Do you have any feedback, thoughts, reactions or comments concerning this topic? Feel free to leave a comment below and follow the twitter accounts @ellblog_dot_com, @CyberPinguelo, and @eWHW_Blog. To learn more about electronic discovery and technology’s impact on lawsuits and corporate governance, visit eLessons Learned – Where Law, Technology, and Human Error Collide and register to receive timely updates.  If you’re also interested in data privacy and security, visit eLLblog’s companion blog – eWhiteHouse Watch – Where Technology, Politics, and Privacy Collide (http://ewhwblog.com).

When Is An Employer Permitted To Monitor and Review An Employee’s Internet Activity and Usage?

On March 10, 20108, Marc Liebeskind began working at Rutgers Facilities Business Administration Department.  By March 28 of that year, Liebeskind was terminated for lacking the basic skill set needed to perform his job in addition to having a poor attitude while on the job. Liebeskind’s supervisors had suspected he was spending an unreasonable amount of time on non-work related activities on his work computer. Having doubts about Liebeskind’s work performance, his supervisors reviewed the browsing history on Liebeskind’s computer by using an application called IEHistoryView. It is important to note that this search only entailed browsing history, and there is no evidence that Liebeskind’s supervisors were granted any access to his personal or password-protected information and accounts. After his termination, Liebeskind filed suit against Rutgers University and his supervisors, claiming invasion of privacy, among other claims. On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, which ruling struck down all claims that Liebeskind’s privacy was violated as a result of his supervisors’ investigating the browser history on his computer. The appellate court referenced the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Stengart ruling, which had set the precedent for an employer’s right to monitor employee Internet activity and usage. Closely followed in previous eLessons Learned posts, the 2010 Stengart ruling held that an employee’s email communication with her attorney, using a company-issued computer, but via a personal, password-protected email account was held to be protected by the attorney-client privilege. However, the court’s decision to uphold Stengart’s privacy was not intended to forbid employers from monitoring employees’ actions on company-issued computers or devices in the future. In Stengart, New Jersey’s highest court stated: “Companies can adopt lawful policies relating to computer use to protect the assets, reputation, and productivity of a business and to ensure compliance with legitimate corporate policies.” As noted in Liebeskind, Rutgers’ “Acceptable Use Policy for Computing and Information Technology Resources” was in effect during the time of Liebeskind’s employment. This policy expressly stated that an employee’s privacy “may be superseded by the University’s requirement to protect the integrity of information technology resources, the rights of all users and the property of the University.” Additionally, Rutgers University “[r]eserve[d] the right to examine material stored on or transmitted through its facilities.” Unlike the findings in Stengart, the court established that Liebeskind did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In addition, the court agreed that Rutgers had a “legitimate interest in monitoring and regulating plaintiff’s workplace computer.” All companies can learn from this case and the policies in place at Rutgers that protected its right to monitor and search an employee’s computer. One of the most important lessons to be learned here is the need for a written internet usage policy. At the very least, these written policies should mandate that employees are expected to use the Internet and their work issued computers for work related activities only. Additionally, the possible disciplinary actions for any violation of this policy should be made available to employees. As seen in in this case, the existence of an internet usage policy and the reserved right of a company to monitor its employee’s Internet activity is the key to eliminate an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

Thinking About Asking for More Discovery, Even After Disputes? Don’t Get Shut Down; Think Narrowly.

Many of you have been there. After months of discovery and the unavoidable disputes that accompany the process, you still need more. Do not make the same mistake that this lawyer made. In Herron v. Fannie Mae, the plaintiff sued the defendant Fannie Mae for alleged illegal termination. The plaintiff asserted that she was fired because she complained about the management and decisions, among other things. Throughout the proceedings of the case, there was a record filled with discovery disputes and discovery deadline extensions. The discovery process was dragging along until United States District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer put an end to all discovery in a single order titled, “ORDER ON ONE MILLIONTH DISCOVERY DISPUTE.” While there was not actually a million discovery disputes, the judge had become so fed up with the parties and their arguments that she was forced to take action. “Much as the Court admires the advocacy of counsel, it is exhausted with these disputes. Contrary to its usual practice, the Court will rule immediately.” The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was two separate requests from the plaintiff. Instead of seeking specific and narrow discovery, the plaintiff asked for “highly overbroad” depositions and document requests. For example, the plaintiff asked for the entirety of “confidential internal presentations and deliberations on executive bonuses by the Board of Directors for all of Fannie Mae’s executive staff for two years.” This request, remember, is coming from a plaintiff that is seeking an illegal termination claim. Judge Collyer stated that “these topics could have, and should have, been laser focused. They were not and will not be enforced.” Due to the overbroad nature of one parties’ requests, all future discovery for both parties was terminated. The major practice lesson that comes from this is two-fold. First, when seeking additional discovery after months of disputes, stay narrow and focused. Taking the extra time to efficiently state exactly what you are looking for could keep discovery on track (think pleading specificity standards). Plus, the judge will appreciate the candor and targeted nature of the request. Second, make sure that the discovery you are requesting is on point with what your case issue will allow. As seen in Herron, reaching for too much discovery that may be beyond your cause of action is a sure fire way to anger a judge. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

How Are Electronic Materials Slipping Through the Cracks? The Scope of eDiscovery Is Limited to Discovery Requests, Not search Terms

We have entered the age of information!  Every conversation, e-mail, text message, attachment, voicemail, and other electronic data are being stored all day, every day.  These types of electronically stored information (a.k.a. “ESI”) are regularly used during litigation.  So why is there a problem collecting information for trial?  Lawyers need to search through these massive amounts of ESI in order to provide the materials to the opposing party before trial.  This process is known as eDiscovery, or electronic discovery, and it has raised a number of issues regarding who, what, where, when, why, and how ESI is produced. The issue discussed here is what defines the scope of eDiscovery.  In ChenOster v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., the court made it clear that the scope of discovery, whether electronic or not, is still defined by traditional discovery requests and demands.  However, what brought forward this conclusion? Traditionally, the process of discovery is the period when lawyers exchange requests and demands for information, documents, and other materials that may be used in the case.  Generally, this can be broken down into three steps: (1) Requesting party will make a discovery request; (2) the opposing party will use any means she deems appropriate to find the materials; and (3) the opposing party will respond to the request in the form of producing the materials or an objection. However, in Chen-Oster, the parties deviated slightly from this traditional process.  Here, the requesting party, the plaintiffs, made traditional discovery requests for ESI.  Then the plaintiffs negotiated with the opposing party, the defendants, in order to determine what search terms would be used to filter through the enormous amounts of ESI available. Now, why is this different from a traditional discovery process?  This is different because both parties collaborated to determine how the ESI requested would be located. The issue presented in Chen-Oster begins upon production of the ESI by the defendants.  The defendants only produced the ESI they deemed to be relevant to the discovery requests set forth by the plaintiffs.  However, the plaintiffs intended to collect all ESI produced by the search terms they agreed upon. This brings us back to the main question:  what defines the scope of eDiscovery?  It is either all ESI located under the agreed upon search terms; or it is only ESI located under the search terms that are relevant to the original discovery request. According to Chen-Oster, an agreement to use specific search terms or discovery protocol does not override discovery demands and requests.  In other words, search terms used to filter through electronic data do not define the scope of discovery.  The scope of discovery is determined by the discovery requests rendered.    Victoria O’Connor Blazeski received her B.S. form Stevens Institute of Technology, and she will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  Prior to law school, she worked as an account manager in the Corporate Tax Provision department of Thomson Reuters, Tax & Accounting.  Victoria is a former D3 college basketball player, and she has an interest in tax law and civil litigation.  After graduating, she will clerk for the Hon. Joseph M. Andresini, J.T.C. in the Tax Courts of New Jersey.   Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Can Your Facebook Page Be Used Against You? Social Media and the Criminal Trial

We all have personal social media pages. No matter who you are, you likely have an online presence in the form of a profile on one of the many sites available on the Internet. One who simply forgets about a newly created social profile can be the subject of worldwide scrutiny—the page is available for all to see. Who cares, right? Most likely, you will not have anything important on there. However, what happens when you are facing a criminal charge and the prosecution uses your social media profile in order to prove your guilt? Meet Aliaksandr Zhyltsou, a Ukrainian native living his life in Brooklyn, New York. All was well until Zhyltsou allegedly furnished Vladyslav Timku with a forged birth certificate, which claimed that Timku was the father of a baby daughter. Timku, as a cooperating witness for the government, admitted that he had sought the forged birth certificate in order to skirt his responsibility to military service in his native Ukraine. During the trail, Timku offered testimony that Zhyltsou had sent him the forged document from the gmail account “azmadeuz@gmail.com.” However, the prosecution was unable to offer any other evidence other than Timku’s testimony that tied Zhyltsou to this e-mail address. Therefore, more evidence was necessary in order to corroborate Timku’s claim. Special Agent Cline, from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, provided the prosecution with the link between the e-mail address and the VK.com profile (the Russian equivalent of Facebook). Cline asserted that this profile on VK belonged to the defendant and was linked to the very same gmail account used to send the forged document to Timku. To prosecutors, it seemed like a slam-dunk:  here was the evidence needed to corroborate Timku’s testimony and sufficiently tie Zhyltsou to the Gmail account in question. Everything seemed in order; the profile contained a picture of the defendant, his work experience, and most importantly the “azmadeuz” Gmail account. Furthermore, the district court agreed that this was the Zhyltsou’s profile page and therefore the prosecution could use it as evidence to establish the link between the defendant and the gmail account. However, one pesky evidence rule could ruin it all in an instant, Federal Rule 901. Simply, Federal Rule 901 requires that in order to “authenticate or identify” a piece of evidence, a proponent asserting any form of evidence “must produce evidence sufficient to support a finding that the evidence is what the proponent claims it is.” Therefore, in the instant case, the prosecution had the duty to prove that this VK profile page belonged to Zhyltsou alone and was not created by any other person. However, in his haste to provide this vital piece of evidence, the prosecutor failed to adhere to this rule and the case was ultimately overturned on appeal. This case is a prime example of the need for all lawyers to have a firm understanding of electronic discovery. While it may be easy to access social media profiles and the like in order to obtain evidence against an opponent, that is only part of the process. It must be proven that the profile actually belongs to your opponent before you may use it against them as evidence in a court of law. In today’s world, it is not difficult to create fake profiles on such sites and therefore the court was correct in overturning this ruling. However, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that the prosecution could have tied Zhyltsou to this VK profile, it would have simply taken a little more digging and investigative work. A.S. Mitchell received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Central Florida (2008). He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently, A.S. clerks for the Monmouth County Office of the Public Defender.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

What Happens When ESI Is Lost?

Willfully destroying evidence? Failing to preserve materially relevant evidence? These are just two of the allegations Lisa Alter has made against the Rocky Point School District. Prior to submitting her complaint, Ms. Alter had accused the school district of similar wrongdoings. Alter worked for the Rocky Point School District holding various positions over the years. While employed as the Coordinator of Central Registration/Administrative Assistant within the Human Resources department, Alter alleges that she was subject to a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender. Further, Alter claims that she was retaliated against for complaining to the School District about it. The opinion here is related to a matter regarding electronic discovery in this case. The plaintiff filed a motion to compel discovery and for sanctions. After taking several depositions, plaintiff claims to have discovered new testimony relevant to her most recent motion to compel discovery. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that: “(1) Defendants both failed to preserve and willfully destroyed evidence, and (2) Defendants continue to intentionally withhold relevant evidence despite repeated demands for production.” The school district had a system for overwriting backup drives. The plaintiff contended that by not stopping the overwriting of the backup drives that it constituted a breach of the defendant’s preservation obligation. The defendant claimed that all information relevant to this case (i.e., emails stored on the school’s employee email system). The duty to preserve arises when litigation is “reasonably foreseeable.” The party that has control over the evidence has an obligation to preserve it. Once evidence is lost, the court then looks to the obligor’s state of mind to determine culpability. Here, the court determined that the defendants did not intentionally lose the data. The burden then shifted to the plaintiff to prove that the lost data was relevant.[1] In the instant case, the court did not find bad faith; thus, it was up to the plaintiff to then prove the relevance of the lost data. Ultimately, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion. The court found that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of showing that the lost documents were relevant. However, the actions of the defendants that lead to losing materials placed the plaintiff in a position to have to file this motion. Thus, sanctions were awarded in the amount of $1,500.00. The moral of the story: When litigation is pending, or likely to begin, preserve or pay the price. Jessie is a third year student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015). She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2012 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Political Science.   Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here. [1] When the breaching party acts in bad faith, relevance is assumed.

Cornell Law and Business Grad Gets Spanked By Judge for Violating Basic Ethics and Evidence Rules

If you are involved in a lawsuit you may not destroy relevant evidence, inadvertently or purposefully, without facing consequences. In this lawsuit, the defendant, who is the owner of the company and a lawyer, destroyed possibly more than 10,000 relevant e-mails after receiving notice of a copyright infringement suit against him. The court found the defendant’s efforts to “remedy” the error disingenuous; the destruction of evidence was found to have been done maliciously and purposefully. When the litigation commenced, the plaintiffs sent the defendant a document request and repeatedly asked for any and all electronic files, e-mails included, that the defendant had created or sent to others. About a year after the suit had commenced, defendant’s counsel, who later withdrew from the case, notified the plaintiffs that the defendant had ended his account with a third-party web supplier and thus defendant’s website and e-mails were all destroyed. This was done two months before the account was set to expire even though it was already fully paid for. The defendant also admitted to deleting sent e-mails as part of his ordinary practice and did not change that practice after the lawsuit was filed. Furthermore, he also admitted to manually deleting e-mails after and in response to a cease and desist demand, after his deposition, and multiple times during the course of litigation. The court found that he had acted in such a manner to prevent plaintiffs from accessing the e-mails, which were an integral part to the litigation. The defendant’s actions were a clear violation of ethics and evidence rules. The court found particularly egregious that the defendant, a Cornell law and business graduate, claimed to not know that there was an obligation to maintain all documents. He claimed this even though he had passed the New York State Bar exam and received a document request from the plaintiffs stating which documents were needed for the litigation.  Moreover, the third party web supplier testified that when the defendant originally closed the account, the defendant then called to ensure that the e-mails had been deleted. It was only after the defendant received a deposition notice on the spoliation (the destruction of evidence) that he then called the web supplier to ask if there was any way to retrieve the e-mails. This was nearly a month after he had called to ensure they were fully removed from the systems. The defendant then reactivated the account only to set it to automatically terminate in less than a month. The third party supplier testified that once the account was terminated there was no way to recover any e-mails…so why did defendant reactivate his account? The court determined that this was done to show a “selective repopulation” of e-mails from the first termination. The defendant conceded that he had manually repopulated the account with e-mails that he was able to obtain from one of his recipients. These e-mails that were now “found” in the reactivated account were merely the ones manually selected for repopulation by the defendant. The court was also thoroughly displeased with the defendant because after the second termination of the account, the defendant repeatedly called the third party supplier in an attempt to create a false record that the supplier had terminated the account and not he himself. Due to the defendant’s actions, the court not only found that spoliation of evidence had occurred and that the defendant had acted intentionally, but also that the plaintiff was clearly prejudiced by the defendant’s intentional destruction of evidence.  The court thus imposed the harshest sentence allowed against the defendant: a terminating sanction. This sanction is the harshest penalty as it is a punishment for grossly improper litigation behavior that ends the offending party’s participation in suit, usually then dismissing or finding for the opposite side. In this case, judgment was granted to the plaintiff due to the defendant’s intentional destruction of evidence and attempt to create a false record. What the defendant should have done was save all the e-mails and turn them over to the plaintiffs. Instead, by intentionally destroying evidence and attempting to improperly lay blame, the court imposed the harshest punishment on the defendant. Knowing the risks and punishment involved with intentionally destroying evidence it is unclear why the defendant did what he did. Ms. Mansour is a Seton Hall University School of Law Student (Class of 2015). She has taken a sampling of courses across various disciplinary areas and participated in a variety of externship programs in addition to being on Legislative Journal. She graduated from Rutgers University with a concentration in Psychology and has her M.A. in Translation and Translation Studies from UNC – Charlotte. She currently is a legal intern for the King’s County District Attorney’s Office. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Does Forwarding Emails To An Opposing Party Qualify As A Sufficient Method of Transfer for Discovery Purposes?

The employee in this case was not an inexperienced layperson, but rather a seasoned and accomplished trial attorney. Yet even with her wealth of knowledge regarding discovery, she was nearly cited for contempt of court as a result of her unfamiliarity with electronic discovery obligations. When obligated to turn over emails to your opposing party during discovery, it is not enough to simply forward the email. Courts require the emails to be in their native form, which means containing the crucial metadata contained within the original email. In Sexton v. Lecavalier, the plaintiff, Byron Sexton, subpoenaed all documents in the defendant’s possession regarding several business entities. The subpoena provided that if these documents were in electronic form, the copies produced must be in their “native” format. In response to the subpoena, the defense attorney produced numerous documents including eleven emails that had been forwarded to her from her client’s Gmail account. The defense attorney claimed that she could not access the emails in their original format and even had an IT expert testify that the emails could not be accessed in their native format because the infrastructure for the email is controlled by Google, who does not allow its users to copy emails in native format. The issue in this case is that the emails were located in the “cloud,” and thus stored with a third party. However, even though a third party held the emails, the plaintiff argues that there are two ways to preserve the crucial metadata. (1) Emails can be downloaded to an email client such as Microsoft Outlook and then saved onto a computer in the format used by the client; and (2) Gmail emails that have been displayed in their “original” format by clicking “show original” and then saved as a PDF. The court held that even though the plaintiff currently lacked access to the files in their native format, this fact does not absolve counsel of her discovery obligations. A growing number of attorneys and courts are realizing the evidentiary value to metadata and as this trend continues, it is becoming crucial for parties to preserve all relevant electronic data. There is currently electronic discovery software in existence, which makes preservation of data a whole lot easier (http://www.ediscovery.com/solutions/collect/ is merely one example of such software). The presiding judge went on to scold both parties for even bringing this discovery disagreement in front of the court. The judge stated that the parties should have resolved this matter outside of court and that the defendant could have provided the emails in a correct format with minimal cost. However, the judge believed that the defense attorney had a good faith belief that the emails could not be provided in their native format and refused to hold her in contempt. It seems that ignorance was the defense attorney’s saving grace. Any practitioners reading this will not have the luxury of such a defense. In order to avoid charges of contempt being levied against you in the future, it would be wise to invest in electronic discovery software. At the very least, you should download Microsoft Outlook and save all of your emails in a format that preserves metadata such as .eml or .msg. As less paper copies of documents are being utilized, and as electronic storage is becoming more prevalent, native documents are going to become an issue increasingly seen by courts. Additionally, resolve any such discovery issues with your opponent. No judge wants his or her time wasted with similar motions compelling discovery. Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently, Daniel is serving as a legal intern in the Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

Erasing Videotapes Can Be Dangerous for Everyone, Not Just Politicians!

In McCann v. Kennedy Univ. Hosp., Inc., the plaintiff Robert McCann sued Kennedy University Hospital, asking the court to sanction the hospital for intentionally or inadvertently destroying necessary videotapes.  The plaintiff contended that the videotapes contained an account of the defendant’s emergency room lobby on the night the plaintiff claims to have been mistreated by the defendant’s staff. The plaintiff argued that the defendant knew or should have known that the video tapes were discoverable material and that there was actual withholding or suppression of the videotapes, which constituted spoliation. On December 21, 2011, the plaintiff was transported to the hospital after suffering extreme rectal pain and trouble breathing. The Plaintiff claims to have been in excruciating pain while he was waiting to be seen by the hospital staff. He states that he was ignored and neglected for at least seven hours. During the time that he was at the hospital, the plaintiff claimed to have collapsed on the floor and was left lying on the floor for over ten minutes, while staff walked over him without offering assistance. McCann also claimed that when he was eventually seen by the hospital staff, they treated him in ways that made him feel humiliated and uncomfortable. The hospital allegedly refused to treat McCann because he did not have insurance. On December 23, 2011, the plaintiff sent an e-mail to Renae Alesczk, the assistant to the Senior Vice President of the Kennedy Health System, complaining about his experience at the hospital while also threatening to sue. A few hours after the email was received, Aron Berman, formerly employed as the defendant’s Director of Guest Relations and Service Improvement, forwarded the McCann’s e-mail to Kim Hoffman, the Corporate Director of Patient Safety. The defendant claimed to have conducted an internal investigation of the complaints at that time, and notified the plaintiff that his complaints were being addressed. The hospital staff then stated that the investigation showed that the hospital staff acted appropriately and managed the patient’s clinical care in a professional manner. So far, so good. However, the plaintiff’s attorneys requested videotapes of the emergency room lobby, which showed the plaintiff waiting without being treated by staff. The defendants claimed that there was no videotape footage because they did not have enough disc drive space to keep all their video footage and had already erased the footage from the night in question. The plaintiff argued that the defendants knew or should have known that the videotapes would be requested in discovery, and that the defendants should not have destroyed the videotapes. The plaintiff claimed such activity as obstruction of justice and an intentional spoliation of evidence. The defendants argued that the tapes only show the time period during which the patient was in the waiting room, and are irrelevant to the plaintiff’s complaints about the treatment by staff when he was seen in the hospital. The Third Circuit has adopted a four-factor test for evaluating spoliation claims, finding that spoliation occurs where: “(1) the evidence was in the party's control; (2) the evidence is relevant to the claims or defenses in the case; (3) there has been actual suppression or withholding of evidence; and (4) the duty to preserve the evidence was reasonably foreseeable to the party.” Here, there is no argument that the tapes were in the party’s control. The court found that the tapes were not relevant to the plaintiff’s claims and that the defendant did not have a duty to preserve the video tapes at issue.  Therefore, there had not been actual suppression or withholding of the evidence. The takeaway from this case is that the court found it was reasonable for the hospital to destroy the videotapes because the plaintiff’s claim was specifically in regard to his being treated while at the facility, NOT his experience while waiting in the lobby. However, to be safe, videotapes of the night in question should be preserved to avoid this kind of confusion. Rebecca Hsu, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focuses her studies in the area of patent law, with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She is also certified in Healthcare Compliance, and has worked in Compliance at Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals, Inc.  Prior to law school, she graduated, cum laude, from UCLA and completed graduate work in biomedical science. She has co-authored two medical science research articles, as well as completed fellowships through UCLA Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In addition to awards for her academic achievements, Rebecca has been honored by awards for her community service with disadvantaged communities. In her spare time, Rebecca regularly practices outdoor rock climbing, and can be found camping in the Adirondacks. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

Court Protects Against Requested Deposition of An IT Witness for Fear of Opening Floodgates

Philips and Hunt may have been debating the ownership of the tagline “Sense and Simplicity,” but it seems the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey was more interested in exploring the sense and simplicity of Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when it handed down the ruling in Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Hunt Control Systems.  After noting that Rule 26 permits a broad scope of permissible discovery, Magistrate Judge James B. Clark, III held that a responding party need not use every tool in their toolbox in order to comply with a Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) deposition request. In his memorandum opinion, Judge Clark held that an alternative approach to ESI collection, as requested by Hunt, was burdensome and likely to be unproductive.  The collection was such a burden, in fact, that Judge Clark granted Philips’ motion for a protective order against further such requests. Hunt had previously interviewed “a Philips IT/ESI discovery professional” regarding Philips’ ESI practices.  Months later, Hunt noticed a deposition for an IT witness claiming that Philips’ responses for eight questions were not adequately answered by the interviewee.  Philips objected to the deposition request and petitioned the court for a protective order. Hunt argued that the IT deposition was necessary in order to discover whether Philips was using appropriate search tools for the ESI discovery requests.  Hunt’s argument was supported by an IT professional who opined that Philips’ “cloud-based IT structure” and Philips’ “sophisticated and comprehensive state-of-the-art document search and location tools” meant that Philips was obligated to use a particular method to accommodate Hunt’s electronic discovery requests.  Hunt further argued that the deposition did not create an undue burden on Philips so as to outweigh the likely benefits. In seeking a protective order, Philips counters that the provided answers were accurate and that Philips has consistently used “a custodian-based approach to collecting ESI” and thus, shouldn’t be required to employ alternative approaches at the request of Hunt.  The court agreed with Philips, citing three individual reasons.  First, the Court found that Hunt failed to carry its burden of showing that Philips’ production has been materially deficient.  Significantly, Judge Clark wrote that just because Hunt was dissatisfied with the result of Philips’ production, such dissatisfaction was “not enough to reopen the door to the collection of ESI discovery under an entirely different method.”  Because Philips’ responses were true and accurate, there was “no compelling reason” to force Philips to use Hunt’s preferred method of production. Second, the court held that even if an alternative approach to ESI collection was more appropriate than Philips’ “custodian-based” search, Hunt still failed to produce evidence showing that conducting another search under their preferred methods would substantially alter the results Philips already produced.  Again, Judge Clark takes the opportunity to emphasize that employing multiple methods of production would be “duplicative” and “an inefficient use of time and resources.” Third, and most importantly for future cases involving these circumstances, Judge Clark wrote that it was not Hunt’s requested deposition that caused an undue burden on Philips, but rather “the possibility of opening the door to more (and likely unproductive) discovery with no apparent end in sight.” Putting a stern period on the end of a judicial statement, Judge Clark concluded by noting that the proposed deposition contained only a “marginal benefit” to Hunt that is “heavily outweighed” by the “tremendous burden” to Philips.  Judge Clark made it clear (and seemingly warned future litigators) that the court will not entertain duplicative and seemingly petty disputes over the method of e-discovery production, so long as the information produced is not “materially deficient.” In light of this decision, parties requesting discovery would be wise to make their requests as specific as possible in the first instance, including a specified or desired approach to collecting ESI.  Such specificity (accompanied with reasonability) may result in more beneficial discovery as well as preventing the scorn of wasted judicial time. Nicole was a 2010 magna cum laude graduate of Northeastern University located in Boston, Massachusetts, where she earned her B.A. in English and Political Science.  In 2015, Nicole will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law.  After graduation, Nicole will serve as a clerk to a trial judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey in the Morris-Sussex Vicinage.