Outside Counsel

How Can You Check if Your Insurance Customer is Faking an Injury? Get Evidence Before Requesting Access to Their Social Media!

A growing trend in insurance disputes is a demand for insurers to have access to the claimant’s social media content.  In January 2013, the District of Montana had to consider whether to compel a woman to produce all of her social media photos.  The court did not grant this request and the decision serves as a good example of what is, or is not, an effective way to request this information. In Keller, one of the plaintiffs claimed she injured her head, neck, and back in an automobile accident when the vehicle she was driving was struck from behind. Her mother also suffered injuries in the accident.  At the time of the accident, they were insured under an automobile liability policy issued by the defendant. The plaintiffs made a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under the policy. The defendant, under Federal Rule 37, moved for an order compelling the plaintiffs to respond to discovery requests for the production of their social network site content.  The defendant’s rationale for the request was the plaintiffs alleged a “host of physical and emotional injuries.”  In respect to the mother, the defendant argued “there is no good reason for her to shield information that might shed light on her or her daughter's injuries.”  This is the language of the request: Request for Production No. 18: Please produce a full printout of all of Plaintiff [driver]’s social media website pages and all photographs posted thereon including, but not limited to, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Tagged, Meetup, myLife, Instagram and MeetMe from August 26, 2008 to the present. Request for Production No. 19: Please produce a full printout of all of Plaintiff’s [mother's] social media website pages and all photographs posted thereon including, but not limited to, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Tagged, Meetup, myLife, Instagram and MeetMe from August 26, 2008 to the present. As you can imagine, the court felt these requests were overbroad.  It is well settled that social media content is discoverable, but the requestor must make a threshold showing that publicly available information on those sites undermines the plaintiff’s claims.  The defendant did not come forward with any evidence that the content of either of the plaintiffs’ public postings in any way undermined their claims in this case. Absent such a showing, the defendant was not entitled to delve carte blanche into the nonpublic sections of the laintiffs' social networking accounts, let alone all of them. This case should serve as a lesson to other insurance litigants.  You should only request access to social media accounts if you can make a threshold showing that the social media content will be relevant and hold admissible evidence.  Otherwise you will rightly be admonished for undergoing a “fishing expedition” and your requests will be promptly denied.

Federal Judge Sanctions Corporate Defendant and Its Counsel for Gross Negligence, Bad Faith, and Failure to Comply With Discovery Requests and Court Order

In Brown v. Tellermate Holdings Ltd., Tellermate Holdings, the defendant company, terminated two employees for allegedly failing to meet sales targets over several years.  The employees, feeling that they were wrongfully terminated due to their age, filed an employment discrimination action against the company as well as other entities and individuals associated with Tellermate. Throughout pre-trial proceedings, the case was plagued with numerous discovery mishaps.  The plaintiffs requested from the defendant company data stored and maintained by Salesforce.com,[1] which would, in theory, evidence plaintiffs’ sales records over the last few years in addition to allowing the plaintiffs to compare their sales figures with other (younger) employees.  However, even though numerous discovery conferences were held, numerous discovery motions filed with the court, and several discovery orders issued by the court, the defendant corporation failed to produce the requested data and documents.  Ultimately, the plaintiffs filed for judgment and sanctions under Federal Rule 37(b)(2); the court held a three-day evidentiary hearing on the matter. The presiding judge, United States Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp, identified three areas in which the defendant company or its counsel failed in its obligations to the plaintiffs and the court in relation to production of documents and data: Defendant’s counsel failed to understand how Tellermate’s data stored with Salesforce.com could be obtained and produced to plaintiffs, which resulted in counsel making false statements to the plaintiffs’ counsel and the court; By failing to understand how the defendant’s data was stored and maintained, defendant’s counsel took no steps to preserve the integrity of the information in Tellermate’s database located with Salesforce.com; Defendant’s counsel failed to learn of the existence of documents relating to a prior age discrimination charge until almost a year after plaintiffs requested the documents; Defendant’s counsel produced a “document dump” resulting from counsel’s use of an overly-broad keyword search that yielded around 50,000 irrelevant documents, which plaintiffs’ counsel could not review within the time period ordered by the court. The Salesforce.com Data Judge Kemp found that Tellermate’s failure to preserve and produce the data logged on Salesforce.com’s website irreparably deprived the plaintiffs of reliable information necessary in supporting their claims.  Although defendant’s counsel initially stated that Tellermate “does not maintain salesforce.com information in hard copy format,” “cannot print out accurate historical records from salesforce.com,” and that “discovery of salesforce.com information should be directed at salesforce.com, not Tellermate,” the court found such statements to be on their face false.  In fact, Tellermate did have access to the information sought by the plaintiffs as one, and sometimes two, of Tellermate's employees enjoyed the highest level of access to the Salesforce.com information.  The court determined that the information eventually produced by the defendants could not be trusted as “even a forensic computer expert has no way to detect hat changes, deletions[,] or additions were made to the database on an historical basis.”  Because of Tellermate’s failure to preserve the Salesforce.com data, Judge Kamp precluded Tellermate from providing evidence showing that the plaintiff-employees were terminated for their alleged underperformance. Counsel’s Obligations With Respect to ESI The court found that the defense’s counsel fell short of their well-established obligations[2] to critically examine the documents and data Tellermate provided to them.  Tellermate made false representations to its counsel about the data’s availability and therefore caused undue delay in document production as well as false and misleading arguments to be made to plaintiffs’ counsel and to the court.  Subsequently, the plaintiffs were forced to file discovery motions before the court to address these discovery issues which produced the Salesforce.com data that was never properly preserved albeit its significance to the plaintiffs’ case. Judge Kemp ultimately determined that counsel for the defendant conducted an inadequate investigation of Tellermate’s electronic data while simultaneously failing to understand the most basic concepts of cloud computing and cloud storage, which led to counsel’s failing to preserve key electronic data. Control of Data Stored in the Cloud As mentioned above, Tellermate and its counsel repeatedly represented to the plaintiffs and to the court that it did not possess and could not produce any of the Salesforce.com data requested by plaintiffs.  Additionally, the defendants asserted that in light of those facts, the defendants could not preserve the data stored on Salesforce.com’s databases at any point prior to litigation. Judge Kemp dismissed these claims.  The court concluded that, without any factual basis whatsoever, no substantive argument could be made that Tellermate was prohibited from accessing the information stored on the Salesforce.com databases or that Salesforce.com was responsible for preserving Tellermate’s information and data as it was the entity that maintained possession and control of the data. In reality, Tellermate was the custodian of the data stored on the Salesforce.com databases.  While information can be stored in locations outside the immediate control of the corporate entity by third party providers, it can still be under the legal control of the owner of the data and therefore must be produced by the owner under Federal Rule 34(a)(1)(A).  Additionally, had Tellermate’s counsel critically examined the agreement between Tellermate and Salesforce.com, it would have realized that Tellermate was the owner of all data created by its employees and that Tellermate could, at any time, download the data stored on the Salesforce.com databases for preservation and production purposes. Limitations on Document Production to Avoid “Document Dumps” Tellermate produced to the plaintiffs 50,000 pages of irrelevant documents, classified by Judge Kemp as a “document dump.”  Tellermate’s counsel refused to disclose which search terms it used in deciding which documents to produce to the plaintiffs, claiming that the search terms were privileged.  In actuality, the court discovered, Tellermate’s counsel only used the full names and nicknames of employees as its search terms, which obviously yielded irrelevant documents.  Without reviewing the returned documents, and because the court’s deadline for producing relevant documents was rapidly approaching, Tellermate’s counsel produced to the plaintiffs the documents as “Attorney’s Eyes Only.” The court recognized that a protective order was permitted only when counsel held a good faith belief that such information constituted a “trade secret or other confidential research, development, or proprietary business information, and that such material was entitled to a higher level of protection than otherwise provided in the protective order.”  Tellermate could not demonstrate entitlement to this level of protection with respect to the search terms used in procuring documentation for discovery: The alleged burden imposed by a high volume production does not provide the producing party or its counsel free reign to choose a given designation and ignore the Court’s order pertaining to that designation. First, the court looked to whether competitive harm would result from the disclosure of the types of documents produced by Tellermate to a competitor; however, Tellermate’s memorandum on the issue did not contain any evidence about the harm which might result if the plaintiffs were permitted to review any particular document that was labeled “Attorney’s Eyes Only.” Second, Tellermate’s argument as to the harm it would experience was entirely conclusory and was not supported by evidence: Apart from the general concept that disclosure of some types of sensitive information to a competitor may result in harm, it contains no particularized argument which is specific to [the plaintiff], the way in which he was competing with Tellermate, and how the disclosure of any one of the 50,000 pages marked as attorneys-eyes-only would harm Tellermate’s interests. The court was astounded that Tellermate continually failed to meet the burden required to designate the documents as “Attorney’s Eyes Only” and, up until the hearing date, made no effort the redesignate a single page of the 50,000 produced in order to permit the plaintiffs from viewing the documents. Sanctions The court had absolutely no qualms with an award of attorneys’ fees for all motion practice connected to the preservation and production of the Salesforce.com data.  “Had Tellermate and its counsel simply fulfilled their basic discovery obligations, neither of these matters would have come before the Court, or at least not in the posture they did.”  The court took great concern to the extraordinary lengths the plaintiffs had to go to in order to obtain the documents maintained by the defendant and, even after several rounds of motions, were not able to obtain all of them.  The “Attorney’s Eyes Only” designation on the 50,000 documents produced was also unfounded, the court held, and unduly precluded plaintiffs from necessary evidence that supported their case, which warranted fees under Federal Rule 37(a)(5)(A). Conclusion Tellermate provides a warning to all attorneys that the realm of technology in which their clients are constantly interact with is always changing.  Therefore, so does the practice of electronic discovery.  Counsel must always meet its duties with respect to ESI by engaging in discussions with its clients and opposing counsel about ESI; being aware, and perhaps even knowledgeable, of new and emerging technologies; and investigating and assessing with its clients the sources and status of potentially relevant ESI.  By forgoing these practices, counsel opens itself and its clients to easily avoided and costly sanctions. Daniel is the Editor-in-Chief of eLessions Learned and a third-year law student at Duquesne University.  To read more about him, click here. [1]       Salesforce.com is a cloud-based customer relationship management system with more than 100,000 corporate customers around the world.  Tellermate and its employees used Salesforce.com to track their sales and other interaction with customers.  The court recognized that each sales person using the Salesforce.com management system could add, remove, or otherwise change data on their sales account. [2]       See Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 382 F.Supp.2d 536 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (counsel had an affirmative duty to monitor preservation an d ensure all sources of discovery information were identified).

Is Negligent Spoliation of Evidence Sufficient to Warrant Permissive Adverse Jury Instruction?

An employer doesn’t need an attorney to tell him or her that destroying evidence relevant to litigation may make the court very unhappy.  Often times, when a party acts in bad faith by intentionally destroying evidence, the court will impose a sanction such as an “adverse inference” jury instruction.  This type of instruction orders the jury to infer that the missing evidence would have been detrimental to the guilty party.  But what if a party did not intentionally destroy evidence in bad faith, but rather lost the evidence due to a negligent mistake?  Should the same adverse inference instruction be used? In Pillay v. Millard Refrigerated Services, the court held that even if a party is merely negligent in destroying evidence, a jury may presume that the evidence would have been unfavorable to that party.  This permissive adverse inference instruction differs from the circumstances where the court determines that the party acted in bad faith because the court gives the jury the option of making an adverse inference.  Typically, when bad faith is present, the court will instruct the jury that it should presume the missing evidence is detrimental to the party who destroyed it.  This instruction differs from the instruction in Pillay where the court gave the jury the option of making the adverse inference. The Pillay court imposed a permissive adverse inference jury instruction when an employer negligently deleted relevant information.  The employer claimed that it terminated an employee because the employee’s production levels were down.  The employee claimed that he was terminated for unlawful reasons and that the employer’s labor management system (“LMS”) would show that the employee’s production level exceeded expectations. The employer, however, no longer possessed the LMS data because of routine deletions of the data after one year.  The data was deleted despite opposing counsel’s numerous requests to preserve all relevant documents and evidence. The employer argued sanctions were not warranted because the LMS data was not deleted intentionally or in bad faith.  The court rejected this argument holding that even without a showing of bad faith, the court has the discretion to impose sanctions when a party’s negligence causes information to be lost.  The court sanctioned the employer with the following permissive adverse jury instruction: Pillay contends that Millard at one time possessed data documenting [an employee’s] productivity and performance that was destroyed by Millard.  Millard contends that the loss of data was accidental.  You may assume that such evidence would have been unfavorable to Millard only if you find by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) Millard intentionally or recklessly caused the evidence to be destroyed; and (2) Millard caused the evidence to be destroyed in bad faith. Moving forward, this case means litigants must be extra careful in preserving evidence that may be relevant to litigation.  One negligent misstep, even if done without any showing of bad faith, may be the cause of an adverse jury instruction that can potentially be the deciding factor in a lawsuit. E-DiscoParty, a Seton Hall University School of Law graduate (class of 2014), served on the executive board of the Seton Hall Law Review and is a member of the Interscholastic Moot Court Board. E-DiscoParty now clerks for a Justice on the Supreme Court of New Jersey. 

Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew: Requesting Party Does NOT Always Bear the Production Costs Related to E-Discovery

The plaintiff, Country Vintner, had an agreement with a winery (Esmeralda, who was not named a party to the action) to be the exclusive wholesaler of Alamos, which is an Argentinean wine, in North Carolina. A few years later, the defendant, Gallo, started supplying the wine to a variety of other wholesalers, but not to Country Vintner. The plaintiff sued Gallo for violations of the North Carolina Wine Distribution Agreements Act and for violations of the N.C. Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Inevitably, there were disagreements over discovery of Electronically Stored Information (ESI). The plaintiff wanted emails and other ESI that would establish that there had been some sort of collusion between Esmeralda and Gallo that ended up excluding Country from the distribution of Alamos. The parties agreed to narrow the discovery request to certain key words, date restrictions, employees, etc., in order to accommodate Gallo’s complaints of an undue burden and expense to produce the requested information.  After much deliberation, and accompanying motions, the district court decided to adopt Country’s proposal, ordering several search-narrowing guidelines. Gallo then collected more than 62 gigabytes of data and gave the data to their lawyers to process and review. The lawyers processed the data into a) searchable data, b) removed system files and exact duplicates, c) and ran several variations of the 19 proposed search terms and phrases. The district court eventually granted Gallo a motion to dismiss the complaint regarding the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and also granted them summary judgment for the remaining Wine Act complaint. Then, perhaps getting a little ahead of itself, Gallo sought to recover $111,047.75 for their eDiscovery work. They broke down the costs as follows: $71,910.00 – for “flattening” and “indexing,” basically making the files searchable and removing duplicate content; $15,660.00 – for extracting the metadata, facilitating data review and other such things; $178.59 – for the conversion from native format to a .tif or .pdf format; $74.16 – for electronically Bates stamping the information; $40.00 – for copying the data onto a disc; $23,185.00 – for ensuring the “quality” of the data and ensure proper preparation of the documents for opposing counsel. The court granted a drastically reduced ESI-related recovery in the amount of $218.59. This covered the costs for copying or duplicating the files but not for their preparation or anything else. The court relied on a 2012 Third Circuit decision (Race Tires Am., Inc. v. Hoosier Racing Tire Corp.) and interpreted the applicable statute (28 U.S.C. § 1920(4), a.k.a. the “taxation of costs” statute) to exclude ESI processing costs. When Gallo appealed this decision, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court proceeded to go through the history of taxation of costs, which hadn’t existed prior to 1853, and has been slowly added to our law over the years. The latest version of section 1920 was amended in 2008, and allowed for fees for “printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case;” and “fees for exemplification and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case.” The court cited a Supreme Court decision that discussed the purpose of section 1920, and said that taxable costs should be a small fraction of the overall costs in litigation, and therefore should be interpreted narrowly to include only what is written in the law. Therefore, “making copies” was interpreted quite literally to include only the costs of actually making the copies, which in this case meant conversion to PDF and TIFF formats, and copying them onto a CD/DVD. Interestingly, the court also responded to the claim that the current e-technology requires more extensive preparation and therefore greater costs, by saying that preparation of discovery documents was always a big cost, yet were not authorized by Congress to be “taxable.” Gallo also tried to argue that when the statute provided for “exemplification” to be included in taxable costs, that it would include the costs in this case, since they had to load the information onto a review platform. The court said that exemplification does not apply here, since it means “an official transcript of a public record, authenticated as a true copy for use as evidence.” In our case, the charges didn’t include either any public records to be authenticated, or any exhibits. So the costs did not qualify as exemplification. What can be learned from this case is that although there are many things that go into the preparation of any type of discovery, including ESI, the costs of that preparation are not always carried by the requesting party. Undoubtedly, the charges that the defendant was trying to tax onto the plaintiff were legitimate. However, the history of the taxable charges laws has shown that the costs of production of discovery have been greatly limited to the copying stage, and not to the production.  I would suggest, therefore, that before a party actually goes through the production and incurs its costs, perhaps they should include the costs into their discovery agreement. Akiva Shepard received his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014. Akiva has worked for a New York State Supreme Court Judge in Kings County and for a NJ real estate firm. 

eDiscovery Expertise: Is Knowing Too Much A Ground For Judicial Recusal?

Just like TNT, the Second Circuit sure knows drama.  After years of protracted litigation, the Second Circuit finally put an end to an attempt to recuse a judge for knowing too much about eDiscovery and predictive coding. On April 10, 2013, in an incredibly brief order most likely meant to send a message deeper than its two sentences, a Second Circuit Judge denied a request for the recusal of Judge Andrew J. Peck from an ongoing employment discrimination case.  According to Judge Jane A. Restani, “Petitioners have not ‘clearly and indisputably demonstrate[d] that [Magistrate Judge Peck] abused [his] discretion’ in denying their court recusal motion… or that the district court erred in overruling their objection to that decision.” The contentious attempts to recuse Judge Peck stemmed from a discovery dispute after Judge Peck ordered the parties to use a method of predictive coding during discovery.  Although the parties seemed to agree that predictive coding should be used, they could not agree on the methods of predictive coding that would be implemented.  The plaintiffs believed that Judge Peck favored the defendants in his order, and therefore they moved to recuse the judge because of his established history with eDiscovery and more specifically, his history of actively advocating predictive coding. Judge Peck has a long history of participating in eDiscovery conferences  and was considered one of the Court’s “experts in e-discovery.”  National Day Laborer Organizing Netwrok v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, 2012 WL 2878130, 11 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).  Judge Peck was even involved in one of the first cases to order the discovery of electronic data.  Atlantic-Monopoly, Inc. v. Hasbro, Inc., 958 F.Supp 895 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). Despite the strong undertones of the order’s brevity, the plaintiffs continued to fight this seemingly uphill battle and later filed a cert petition to the Supreme Court. Rather than attacking Judge Peck’s background and connections to the eDiscovery community, the plaintiffs in this case should have instead accepted that judges need to actively participate in conferences and seminars to better understand the technology implicated in eDiscovery.  Just as attorneys can no longer ignore the ramifications of eDiscovery, judges too must enhance their knowledge to further develop this complicated area of law and readily adapt it to continually changing technology.  Judges should not be punished or accused of bias for engaging in programs geared towards teaching them about technology and its implications on eDiscovery.  If this were at all all permitted, judges would be afraid to participate in seminars and review panels, which would stagnate the development of the law, a process that is already far-behind the rapid progress experienced by technology. Jeffrey, a Seton Hall University School of Law graduate (Class of 2014), focused his studies primarily in the area of civil practice but also completed significant coursework concerning the interplay between technology and the legal profession.  He was a cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut in 2011, where he received a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurial Management. 

Proof and Prejudice: Court Refuses Adverse Inference Sanction Due to Lack of Proof of Prejudice, Despite Proof of Spoliation

One might think that in a lawsuit if your adversary is caught breaking the rules there might be some penalty. However, in Cottle-Banks v. Cox Communications, the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel of the District Court for the Southern District of California held otherwise, allowing the defendant’s misconduct to go unpunished. This case started when Brittini Cottle-Banks alleged “that Cox has violated the negative-option-billing provision of the federal Cable Act by failing to disclose and obtain customers’ consent to be charged for monthly rental fees associated with their cable set-top boxes.” Due to this allegation, Cox had a duty to preserve any potentially relevant evidence. The evidence in question consists of records of telephone calls made to Cox by customers. Despite being put on notice that they had a duty to not record over the records of these calls, Cox did just that. This taping over resulted in about 6 months worth of calls being taped over. With proof of this spoliation of evidence, Cottle-banks moved for an adverse inference sanction; an order from the court instructing a jury to assume that whatever was deleted was evidence against Cox. However, the 9th Circuit does not have a rule on this sanction so Judge Curiel used the standard from the second circuit. For an adverse inference sanction a party must establish that their adversary: had control of the evidence, a culpable state of mind, and the spoiled evidence was relevant and supportive of a party’s claim or defense The evidence of these first two elements is clear. Cox clearly had control and their failure to preserve despite being put on notice is indicative of a culpable state of mind. However, because “the burden falls on the ‘prejudiced party’ to produce ‘some evidence suggesting that a document or documents relevant to substantiating his claim would have been included among the destroyed files.” Since Cottle-Banks had no proof that she was prejudiced by Cox’s spoliation of evidence, the Court refused to grant an adverse inference sanction. Thus, if you are going to move for an adverse inference sanction, be sure to have some proof of prejudice. Matthew G. Miller, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2014), focuses his studies in the area of Intellectual Property. Matt holds his degree in Chemistry from the University of Chicago. Currently, Matt works as a legal intern at Gearhart Law.

California District Judge Allows Infringement Charts as a Response to Interrogatories

This particular dispute revolved around ProconGPS, Inc.’s, the plaintiff, desire to introduce infringement charts or alternatively to amend its infringement contentions pursuant to Patent Local Rule 3–6 so the contentions were consistent with its infringement charts.  The Northern District of California issued an opinion without oral argument granting the plaintiff’s motion to compel. These charts were provided as an answer to Skypatrol, LLC’s, the defendant, interrogatories asking for ProconGPS's evidence that the defendant performs, induces, and/or contributes to the infringement of each of the asserted claims of the patents-in-suit.  The defendant argued the charts expanded the scope of allegations.  Conversely, the plaintiff responded that the charts simply provided in more detail the information it obtained during discovery. The dispute is governed by Patent Local Rule 3-6 which stated: Amendment of the Infringement Contentions or the Invalidity Contentions may be made only by order of the Court upon a timely showing of good cause. Non-exhaustive examples of circumstances that may, absent undue prejudice to the non-moving party, support a finding of good cause include: (a) A claim construction by the Court different from that proposed by the party seeking amendment; (b) Recent discovery of material, prior art despite earlier diligent search; and (c) Recent discovery of nonpublic information about the Accused Instrumentality which was not discovered, despite diligent efforts, before the service of the Infringement Contentions. The court focused on section (c) and determined that the plaintiff had been diligent.  The defendant had produced its discovery documents very slowly.  Only 2,478 pages of documents were produced by December 7, 2012.  About 500,000 more pages were produced in 2013 and the defendant’s source code was not made available until January 30th with paper copies produced in February.  Additionally, the plaintiff proved the information was nonpublic because it was almost entirely made up of material that Skypatrol has designated “Highly Confidential–Attorneys' Eyes Only.” The defendant tried to argue the inclusion of the charts would prejudice it.  However the defendant could not sway the court as it was not subject to any further discovery requests and no new products were added to the infringement claim.  It appears that this is simply a case where Skypatrol could have prevailed had it provided its documents in a more timely fashion.  Since the defendant did not produce everything before the Infringement Contentions as described in Patent Local Rule 3-6(c), the plaintiff was able to utilize Patent Local Rule 3-6. George is a graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2014).  George complated both the Health and Intellectual Property Concentrations and is especially interested in patent law.  He received both a B.E. and M.E. at Stevens Institute of Technology in Biomedical and Systems Engineering, respectively.  During his time at Seton Hall, George worked as a law clerk at Stone Law in Colts Neck, NJ, where he assisted in the drafting of litigation documents and Office Actions with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

How Can You Check if Your Insurance Customer is Faking an Injury? Get Evidence Before Requesting Access to Their Social Media!

A growing trend in insurance disputes is a demand for insurers to have access to the claimant’s social media content. In January 2013, the District of Montana had to consider whether to compel a woman to produce all of her social media photos. The court did not grant this request and the decision serves as a good example of what is, or is not, an effective way to request this information. One plaintiff claimed she injured her head, neck, and back in an automobile accident when the vehicle she was driving was struck from behind. Her mother also suffered injuries in the accident. At the time of the accident, they were insured under an automobile liability policy issued by the defendant. The plaintiffs made a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under the policy. The defendant moved under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 for an order compelling the plaintiffs to respond to discovery requests for the production of their social network site content. The defendant’s rationale for the request was the plaintiffs alleged a “host of physical and emotional injuries.” In respect to the mother, Defendant argued “there is no good reason for her to shield information that might shed light on her or her daughter's injuries.” The request stated as follows: Request for Production No. 18: Please produce a full printout of all of Plaintiff [driver]’s social media website pages and all photographs posted thereon including, but not limited to, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Tagged, Meetup, myLife, Instagram and MeetMe from August 26, 2008 to the present. Request for Production No. 19: Please produce a full printout of all of Plaintiff’s [mother's] so-cial media website pages and all photographs posted thereon including, but not limited to, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Tagged, Meetup, myLife, Instagram and Meet-Me from August 26, 2008 to the present. As you can imagine, the court felt these requests were overbroad. It is well settled that social media content is discoverable, but the requestor must make a threshold showing that publicly available information on those sites undermines the plaintiff’s claims. The defendant did not come forward with any evidence that the content of either of the plaintiffs' public postings in any way undermined their claims in this case. Absent such a showing, the defendant was not entitled to delve carte blanche into any of the nonpublic sections of plaintiffs' social networking accounts, let alone all of them. This case should serve as a lesson to other insurance litigants. You should only request access to social media accounts if you can make a threshold showing that the social media content will be relevant and hold admissible evidence. Otherwise you will rightly be admonished for undergoing a “fishing expedition” and your requests will be promptly denied.

Heavy Sanctions Can Be Levied Against Litigants Sitting on Discovery Information

Although this case does not deal directly with e-discovery, the ruling can have major e-discovery ramifications. Skipping to the end of this very long and complicated decision in Flinthill, the Judge’s conclusion was that the plaintiff in this case was trying to exact revenge on those she felt had wronged her in a messy divorce proceeding. For our purposes, however, the plaintiff and her counsel should have reviewed the discovery they got before bringing a lawsuit and claiming they never got that same discovery. A condensed version of this soap-opera case is as follows: Plaintiff filed for divorce from her husband (Wagner) in 2005, in aMarylandcourt.  He was a minority interest stockholder in the company “Spacelink International LLC.” In 1998, “Flinthill Trust” was established to receive the payments for the disbursements of this stock interest. Spacelink was sold in 2005, which left Wagner with around $13 million. $10 million of these funds were evenly divided between Plaintiff and her husband on September 1, 2005. The Plaintiff then filed to freeze Wagner’s interests. TheFairfaxCountycourt issued three orders:  1) prohibiting the trustee of the Flinthill trust from transferring trust assets for at least 60 days; 2) to provide an accounting of all the trust’s assets; and 3) prohibiting any further distribution of funds unless otherwise agreed upon. A stipulation was agreed upon and signed by both parties agreeing to Wagner’s providing two separate accountings of the trust’s comings and goings. Both of those accountings were dutifully made. In addition, a large amount of financial material was exchanged during discovery leading up to a hearing in May of 2006. During that time, Plaintiff did not make any requests to compel discovery, nor did she claim that any of theFairfaxcourt orders were not complied with. The record showed that Wagner and his lawyers repeatedly invited the plaintiff and her lawyers to meet with the trustee to go over the finances of the trust to make sure everything was kosher. Instead of taking them up on their invitation, she brought sixteen months-worth of litigation, which was ultimately deemed by the court to be frivolous and sanction-worthy. The four claims that the plaintiff brought were: 1) Breach of Contract (against Wagner and his people); 2) Breach of Fiduciary Duty (against the trustee); 3) Conspiracy (against various individuals); and 4) Conversion (also against various people). The claim that we are going to focus on, as it deals directly with discovery, is Count 1. In it, she alleged that Wagner breached the stipulation by “frustrating the accounting of trust assets . . . .” Defendants argued that there were four volumes that were transferred to Plaintiff that fully included all of the proper accounting information. The plaintiff’s lawyer claimed that they needed to get a report that was “based on generally accepted accounting principles, and not a compilation of documents,” and the failure to condense those documents constituted a breach of contract. The problem was that the plaintiff’s attorney clearly admitted to not reading the accounting documents that were provided to him, and to not bothering to read any of the ten to thirty boxes of materials relating to the trust that were in the plaintiff’s home. The court took particular offense to this, admonishing “how do you know you are missing something if you do not bother to look at what you have?” Curiously, Plaintiff’s attorney was unable to specifically identify, even two years later, any gaps in the documents that he was litigating about. The court made it clear that the plaintiff and her lawyer were responsible to review the documents already in their possession. If they lack the particular expertise required to do such a review, they were to hire an expert who was capable of the job. The defendants then went on to request for sanctions to be levied against both the plaintiff and her attorney for either willfully or negligently conducting a reasonable inquiry. Additionally, they could not have reasonably believed that this breach of contract suit was grounded in either fact or law. The court then carefully went through the other 3 claims by the plaintiff, and found that they were equal in their egregiousness for either outright lying to the court or failing to reasonably base their case in law. In the end, the court sanctioned the plaintiff and her attorney to the tune of $884,627.26 to cover the defendant’s attorney costs and witness fees. This ruling can have some serious ramifications for plaintiffs in cases with e-discovery. Much discovery material these days is in the form of Electronically Stored Information (ESI).  ESI can be particularly volume-heavy, and, therefore, costly to thoroughly review. The information that can be stored on one memory stick is vastly larger than the 10-30 boxes of papers discussed in this case.  Still, the court held that it was the responsibility of the requesting party to review the information they receive. If they can’t, they need to hire someone who can.  By no means should that party bring a law suit claiming they didn’t get that information.  It could end up being very costly for them. Akiva Shepard received his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014. Akiva has worked for a New York State Supreme Court Judge in Kings County and for a NJ real estate firm.  

Court Rules In Favor for Precision in Regards to Limited Search Terms Used for Screening Privileged Documents

Whoever thinks that the legal world does not involve math is proven wrong through the Special Master’s analysis in Dornoch Holdings Int’l, LLC v. Conagra Foods, Lamb Weston, Inc. The heart of the opinion involves a percentage breakdown of search terms and their correlation of precision in regard to privileged documents. In Dornoch, the defendants objected to the privilege log of documents for three reasons: 1) the documents on the privilege log, except for communications between the plaintiffs and their outside litigation counsel dated after March 22, 2010, have not been established by the plaintiffs to be privileged; 2) The privilege log was created using overly broad search terms and has not been substantively reviewed, thus, the log contains numerous non-privileged documents; and 3) Non-correspondence documents listed on the privilege log are not privileged. In response to this objection, the court allowed the Special Master to make a recommendation on these objections, specifically allowing the Special Master to review “a statistically significant number of randomly selected documents to confirm the accuracy of the screening method.” The privilege documents log was assembled using search terms created and limited by plaintiff’s counsels and an eDiscovery technology consulting firm. And so, the Special Master did as the Court requested and took a sampling from the log to determine the effectiveness of the screen’s search terms. The consulting firm determined that “1,740 documents would need to be human reviewed” to determine whether the log was effectively precise. The Special Master decided to review 1,813 documents just to ensure it was an effective review. After explaining that Idaho law regarding attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine apply, the Special Master reviewed the documents and determined that 1,249 were not privileged documents and 564 were privileged. The Special Master also went into much detail about the effectiveness of the specific search terms that were used. Specifically, the Special Master determined that 73 percent of the search terms were highly correlated to actual privileged documents. Additionally, the Special Master determined that “those terms which identified a correlation with actual privilege of 59 percent or greater, showed a strong correlation with privilege.” Once the Special Master completed this analysis, the Special Master recommended that the documents that fall below that 59 percent correlation should be released and not kept private. Then, the plaintiffs could also decide to conduct another review of the remaining privileged documents to figure out if more should be released. Finally, the Special Master noted that it does not matter whether documents are listed as “correspondence” or “non-correspondence” for them to be determined to be privilege or not. These documents should be reviewed just as the others. Overall, the Special Master recommended that the court sustain the first objection, and overrule the third objection. As to the second objection, the court recommended the following: “(1) Concur with the selection of a 59% or greater correlation of search term precision for a document to remain withheld as privileged; (2) Allow Defendants the opportunity to further challenge the assertion of privilege above that 59% threshold, if they so choose, by requesting that the Special Master conduct a further targeted review for privilege and release any non-privileged documents discovered. The Defendants will be responsible for cost of this further analysis, if requested; (3) Release the documents associated with the less precise terms that fall beneath the 59% correlation threshold and remove them from the privilege log; (4) Prior to that release, allow Plaintiffs the opportunity to conduct a privilege review of all or a portion of the population to be released and create a supplemental privilege log. The Plaintiffs will be responsible for cost of this further analysis, if Plaintiffs chose to conduct it.”