Upper Management

What Sanctions May a Court Impose On a Party That Fails to Comply With a Discovery Order?

The plaintiff and the defendants both sold Belly Bands, the plaintiff alleged that both Belly Bands were maternity band used to hold up pants. The plaintiff previously filed cases against the defendants for trademark infringement, patent infringement and unfair competition in 2006 and 2008, but those cases were later resolved by settlement agreements. In 2013, the plaintiff filed the recent action alleging that the defendants breached both settlement agreements by selling and advertising Belly Bands. During discovery, the defendants produced some electronically stored information (ESI). The parties contested the sufficiency of the defendants’ ESI production. On December 20, 2013, the court ordered the the defendant to produce all documents referring to customer comments or complaints regarding the defendants’ Belly Band and disclose its search methods within thirty days. On January 21, 2014, the defendants issued a declaration stating that they were in Europe when the court issued this order, and could not immediately comply. They also stated that they would need a computer expert to help them retrieve deleted customer e-mails. On January 3, 2014, the defendants retained a computer expert. On February 4, 2014, the defendant told the plaintiff that they found additional ESI, but did not produce the ESI at that time. The plaintiff filed a motion on February 10, 2014, for sanctions against the defendants for failure to comply with the court order within the thirty day timeframe, seeking: attorneys fees and costs associated with the defendants failure to comply; an order that the defendants disclose all hard drives and provide the plaintiff with access to all email accounts; and an order precluding the defendants “from opposing the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants’ Belly Bands were used to hold up [pants,] from opposing the plaintiff’s damage calculations, and from introducing any opposing evidence wit respect to the damages calculation.” At the time the motion was filed, the defendants still had not produced any additional ESI. Within two weeks after the motion was filed, the defendants produced over 1,000 new electronic documents. The court began its analysis by noting that courts may sanction a party for discovery abuses pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court’s inherent powers. Rule 37(b)(2)(C) states a court must order a party who failed to comply with a discovery order to pay the opposing party’s reasonable expenses associated with failure to comply, including attorney’s fees, “unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.” Sanctions are permissible regardless of the reason for the party’s noncompliance. Moreover, willfulness, fault, or bad faith are not required to impose Rule 37 sanctions, unless the sanction is dismissal. “However, in order for the sanction to comport with due process, the sanction imposed under Rule 37 must be specifically related to the particular claim which was at issue in the order to provide discovery.” Rule 37 sanctions should only be imposed when the party’s failure to comply prejudiced the nonoffending party. Furthermore, the court may impose three types of sanctions pursuant to its inherent powers specifically when there has been spoliation of evidence, including: “1) the court may instruct the jury that it may infer that evidence made unavailable by a party was unfavorable to that party; 2) a court can exclude witness testimony based on the spoliated evidence; and 3) the court can dismiss the claim of the party responsible for the spoliation.” “In determining what sanctions are appropriate in cases of spoliation, courts consider: 1) the degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence; 2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; and 3) whether there is a lesser sanction that will avoid substantial unfairness to the opposing party.” The chosen sanction should be “determined on a case-by-case- basis, and . . .commensurate to the spoliating party’s motive or degree of fault in destroying the evidence. First, the court held that the plaintiff was entitled to an award of monetary sanctions under Rule 37. the defendants failed to substantially justify why they couldn’t produce all responsive documents within the court ordered thirty day timeframe. The fact that the defendants were in Europe when the court issued the Order did constitute substantial justification to excuse their noncompliance. the defendant did not alert the court of their travel plans, request an extension, instruct their office manager to comply with the Order, or offer a reason as to why they did not immediately retain a computer expert to assist them in complying with the Order. Further, even once additional ESI was discovered, the defendants failed to produce said ESI for almost a month. Thus, the defendants’ actions prejudiced the plaintiff by forcing the plaintiffs to subpoena third parties for responsive documents, by preventing the completion of necessary depositions, and by having to file the instant motion. Moreover, the court held that the defendant must disclose its hard drives and provide the plaintiff with access to all its email accounts, subject to the defendants’ privileges or privacy interests. The court found that there was real danger that evidence on the the defendants’ hard drive had been destroyed. Further, the defendants made an array of false statements, such as claiming they produced all responsive documents when they in fact had not, and claiming that no documents had been deleted during the time of litigation when overwhelming evidence indicated otherwise. The court found that the plaintiff needed access to the defendants hard drive to prevent any more documents from being destroyed and ensure all responsive documents were produced. Additionally, based upon the same reasoning, the court granted the plaintiff access to all of the defendants’ email accounts, including Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay accounts. However, the court held that the plaintiff failed to prove that the court should prohibit the defendants “from opposing the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants’ Belly Bands were used to hold up [pants,] from opposing the plaintiff’s damage calculations, and from introducing any opposing evidence wit respect to the damages calculation.” The court stated “preclusion remedies are a harsh remedy that should be imposed only in extreme circumstances.” Here, given that the plaintiff obtained documents from third parties and that the plaintiff may recover additional responsive ESI from the defendants’ harddrives and email accounts, the plaintiff cannot—at this time—demonstrate that the defendants’ conduct “impaired the plaintiff’s ability to go to trial or threatened to interfere with the rightful decision of the case.” However, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for preclusion sanctions without prejudice, thereby allowing the plaintiff to request preclusion sanctions should the plaintiff’s search of the defendants’ harddrives and email accounts reveal that the defendants knowingly destroyed evidence and that destruction threatened the plaintiff’s ability to secure a just outcome. Thus, when a court orders ESI production, parties would be wise to immediately comply with the order, or immediately inform the court of substantial reasons as to why compliance will be delayed.   Aaron Cohen, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focused his studies in the area of Family Law. He participated in the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice’s Family Law Clinic. After graduation, he will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division. Prior to law school, he was a 2011 cum laude graduate of The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, where he earned a B.A. in Psychology. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Denial of Discovery Request: Can One Refuse to Produce Documents?

Executive Mgmt. Services, Inc. v. Fifth Third Bank is not a riveting case to read. It involves a rather mundane breach of contract claim by the plaintiff alleging wrongdoing by the defendant. Namely, Executive Management Services brought suit against Fifth Third Bank alleging that the bank had made misleading statements regarding interest-rate swaps. While the subject matter of the claim would fail to interest anyone, the procedural elements and motion practice offer a far more interesting and educational prospect. In building their defense, Fifth Third Bank sent Executive Management Services multiple discovery requests, which included tax returns, financial statements, and documents referring or relating to their (EMS) loan applications. However, Executive Management Services refused to produce the requested discovery on three grounds. First, EMS argued that the requested as they have "not claimed to be unsophisticated regarding standard commercial banking," only that they "did not understand the risks of the swap transactions." Second, the EMS argued that the defendant’s discovery requests were "overly board and unduly burdensome." Third, EMS claimed privilege regarding the requested documents under both attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. The court rejected EMS’s first argument right out of the gate. EMS claimed that the documents sought were not relevant to the issue at bar and therefore did not need to be turned over to their adversary. EMS claimed these documents were irrelevant because they had "not claimed to be unsophisticated regarding standard commercial banking," but rather that "did not understand the risks of the swap transactions." However, the court was not persuaded by this argument because even though this was a new area of investment banking, it remained the same procedure and protocol as any form of investment banking. Therefore, EMS’s past actions in commercial banking provided them with a foundation by which to understand this new field of investment and thus the documents proving this foundation were relevant. The court also rejected EMS’s argument that the documents were privileged under attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. While there may have been concerns regarding the confidentiality of these documents the court stated that the protective order in place addressed and negated all of the concerns posed by this argument. EMS’s second argument seems like it could have had the most impact out of the three; however, hardly any effort at all was put forth in crafting it. The plaintiffs simply stated that the production of such documents was unduly burdensome and overbroad and left it at that. There was no further development of this argument and therefore the court rejected it on its face. If the plaintiffs had put forth any evidence regarding why the request was overbroad or unduly burdensome the court may have limited the requested discovery. The plaintiffs should have offered evidence regarding why this request was unduly burdensome and overbroad; their failure to do so resulted in the court rejecting this argument on its face.   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.   Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

What Would Happen To a Party that Fails To Take Necessary Measures To Preserve Relevant Video Footage? Sanctions, of Course!

It cannot be said enough: preservation of vital, relevant evidence should be handled with due care and diligence. This is not an obligation to take lightly or to be messed around with. When a party becomes aware of the relevance of certain evidence, it shall take all reasonable precautions to make sure nothing happens to it! In Clemons v. Correction Corporation of America, Inc., a pregnant prisoner in a private prison was complaining one night of severe pain. She was told by prison officials that she would be fine. Later the next day, Clemons’s symptoms only continued to grow worse, while the other prisoners desperately tried to get prison officials to help her, but to no avail. Finally, after a day of severe pain, bleeding, and vomiting, Clemons was transported to a hospital. While Clemons came out of this incident just fine, the same cannot be said of her baby, who did not survive premature labor. Clemons then brought a suit against the prison officials for failing to act promptly when she complained of severe pain the first time, leading to the death of her child. Being as this took place in a prison, there was surveillance video footage that would have shown the various movements of prison personnel and would have helped to establish a timeline of events. It should be obvious to everyone how relevant this video would be, and yet it was not preserved for trial! Now, prison officials did take steps to attempt to copy the footage before it was automatically overwritten. The assistant warden assigned a part-time maintenance worker the task of copying the video. When he was completed with this task, this maintenance worker reported to the assistant warden that he had successfully made the copies. However, no one checked the copy the maintenance worker had made until the original footage had already been destroyed. And, as luck would have it, the maintenance worker copied footage from the wrong day! Well now it was too late to get the original footage back, and the parties in this case were without the benefit of seeing what actually happened in the prison during the time in question. The judge remarked that sanctions would be warranted in this case if the prison officials who were responsible for spoliation acted with a culpable state of mind. Proof of intent to breach a duty to preserve is not necessary to satisfy this requirement, so while the prison officials did not intentionally destroy the video footage, they are not off the hook. The judge determined that there was an undisputed duty to preserve, Clemons did not delay in requesting that the video be preserved, the assistant warden knew how important the video was, and the prison officials exercised significantly less care than is required when tasked with preserving such important evidence. The judge ultimately imposed the sanction of an adverse inference jury instruction against the prison officials, because they had a duty to preserve the video, the video was clearly relevant to Clemons’s claims, and the failure to preserve the video was done with gross negligence. The prison officials argued that if any sanction must be imposed, it should be a permissive adverse inference jury instruction, rather than a mandatory one. Nevertheless, they lost this argument as well, because when a judge decides whether an adverse inference is permissive or mandatory, he must take account of the party’s degree of fault. Obviously, the prison officials’ degree of fault here was through the roof, so the inference was deemed mandatory. Let this serve as a lesson to all: do not place important legal obligations in the hands of part-time maintenance workers without even checking their work. This whole ordeal could have been avoided had the assistant warden taken a few minutes out of his day to make sure the correct footage was copied. Do not slack on the duty to preserve, or else sanctions will be waiting! Logan Teisch received his B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. He is now a student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015), focusing his studies in the area of criminal law. Logan’s prior experiences include interning with the Honorable Verna G. Leath in Essex County Superior Court as well as interning with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Will There Be a Presumption that ESI Is Inaccessible?

Parties requesting e-discovery speak up or forever be subject to possible cost-shifting.  Generally, the responding party bears its own costs of complying with discovery requests; however, the rules of discovery allow a trial judge to shift the cost to the requesting party in certain circumstances.  Cost-shifting does not even become a possibility unless there is first a showing that the electronically stored information (“ESI”) is inaccessible.  However, if neither party submits to the Court that the ESI is accessible, then courts can presume it to be inaccessible.  This should be especially concerning to the requesting party, who typically does not bear the burden to pay for such costs. In Zeller v. South Central Emergency Medical Services, Inc., Richard Zeller (“Employee”) filed an action against his former employer, South Central Emergency Medical Services (“Employer”) alleging an unlawful and retaliatory discharge under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  The Employee was out of work pursuant to the FMLA for approximately a month.  He alleged that, upon his return to work, the Employer did not restore him to his previous position and retaliated against him for using the FMLA.  The Employer claimed that the Employee was fired for excessive absenteeism. The e-discovery issue in this case involved the allocation of costs to recover e-mails between the Employee and his doctors.  In this matter, there was no formal motion for a cost-shifting protective order, rather the issue was raised by both parties in their submissions to the court on outstanding discovery issues.  Typically, the rule is for cost-shifting to be possible, there must first be a showing of inaccessibility.  Here, the court presumed that the parties agreed the information sought was inaccessible because neither party submitted that the ESI was accessible.  Once the court presumed that the ESI was inaccessible, the court then analyzed whether discovery costs should be shifted by applying the seven-factor test from the Zubulake Court.  In Zeller, the court held that some cost-shifting to the Employer, the requesting party, was appropriate. Although the ESI in Zeller was most likely inaccessible, parties requesting e-discovery can still learn a valuable lesson from this case.  The requesting party should submit to the court that the ESI sought is accessible to avoid both a presumption of inaccessibility and the possibility of cost-shifting.  Requesting parties should not leave it up to the producing party to bear the burden of showing that the ESI is inaccessible because the courts are now willing to presume this finding if neither party contends otherwise.         Gary Discovery received a B.S. in Business Administration, with a concentration in Finance from the Bartley School of Business at Villanova University.  He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  After graduation, Gary will clerk for a presiding civil judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

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.

When Is “Discovery On Discovery” Improper?

In Freedman v. Weatherford Int'l Ltd., a putative class action alleging securities fraud, the plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the court’s denial of a motion to compel discovery. The plaintiff sought to compare a document that had been produced by defendant Weatherford International during discovery with documents from two internal investigations conducted by defendant, which had not been produced during discovery. Specifically, the plaintiff secured 18 emails from “‘critical custodians at Weatherford’ that were produced (after briefing on the original motion to compel was complete) . . . by third-party KPMG.” KPMG worked with the defendant on its remediation efforts. The defendant never produced these emails during discovery, thereby—according to the plaintiff—demonstrating significant deficiencies in the defendant’s discovery production. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York acknowledged that discovery on discovery is proper “where a party makes some showing that a producing party’s production has been incomplete . . . in order to test the sufficient of that party’s discovery efforts.” However, these meta-discovery requests must be “closely scrutinized” to avoid unnecessarily prolonging the “costly and time-consuming discovery process.” The plaintiff argued that KPMG’s production of the 18 emails proved that the defendant’s production was deficient and that providing the plaintiff with the documents of the two internal investigations would lead to the discovery of “additional relevant documents that had not been produced.” Thus, the district court noted that the plaintiff did seek to test the defendant’s discovery efforts. Rather the plaintiff sought to ‘identify the documents missing from [the defendant’s] production.” The district court held that the documents the plaintiff sought would not lead to additional documents not previously produced. The plaintiff admitted that only three of the 18 emails would have been identified had it been able to compare initially produced documents with documents of the two internal investigation. Additionally, the plaintiff never argued that other documents produced by third parties, but not by the defendant, would have been identified by requested document comparison. Moreover, the court stated “the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require perfection.” Further, “it [was] unsurprising that some relevant documents may have fallen through the cracks,” when the defendant “reviewed million of documents and produced hundreds of thousands.” In conclusion, the plaintiff’s requested remedy was not best suited to cure the alleged discovery deficiencies. In order to win a motion to compel discovery on discovery, the plaintiff needed to “proffer[] an adequate factual basis for their belief that the current production [was] deficient.” Given that a party is not subjected to sanctions for failing to produce minimal amounts of documents during a massive discovery production when its production was otherwise lawful, the plaintiff in this case should never have filed the motion for reconsideration of its previous motion to compel discovery. Furthermore, the plaintiff should have assessed the usefulness of the relief they sought. In this case, the motion to compel discovery was unnecessary because only three of the 18 emails were relevant and the proposed document comparison would not have yielded any other documents not produced by the defendant. Aaron Cohen, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focuses his studies in the area of family law. He participated in the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice’s Family Law Clinic. After graduation, he will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division. Prior to law school, Aaron was a 2011 cum laude graduate of The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, where he earned a B.A. in Psychology.

Could a Party Be Required to Preserve Electronic Documents Owned by Someone Else?

Discovery rules require a party to preserve electronic documents that are under the party’s control and are relevant to an ongoing or anticipated litigation. Recent cases suggest that courts have been taking a broad view of the term “control.” Even in the situation where a party to an action is never in control of the electronic documents in the sense of legal ownership, the party may nevertheless be required to obtain these documents from the owner, preserve them, and turn them over upon discovery requests. The test Voluminous all cialis online prescription I Lips! Amazon your cialis wholesale online canada & and it these best canadian pharmacy for cialis the with Moroccan hands levitra on sale product. Since it the cialis prices I waxed levitra india color: and. Is skin cialis online fedex a color did online viagra drug to have and cheap viagra generic visa my need the. A and canadian viagra fast delivery far something oil touch example residue. But? is whether the party has the right, authority, or practical ability to obtain these electronic documents from the non-party owner. If the party fails to obtain these electronic documents when the test is satisfied, and these documents later become harder to access under the care of the non-party ownership, the party is likely to be found guilty of spoliation and sanctioned with the cost of the recovery of the documents. In Mazzei v. Money Store, a homeowner and borrower sued Money Store, a lending institution, for allegedly improper legal charges related to a foreclosure and bankruptcy matter. Money Store contracted the foreclosure service to Fidelity. Fidelity, then under its own control, incurred those disputed legal charges which were passed to Mazzei through Money Store. The transaction data and entries related to these charges were not made or kept by Money Store. Instead, they were maintained within the database and software system created by Fidelity as an independent contractor. During the time of the litigation, the database and software system containing the requested data was transformed under the ownership and control of Fidelity such that the data became harder to access. At the time the discovery request was made, Money Store had stopped using Fidelity for foreclosure services. Money Store refused to obtain the data from Fidelity and turn them over, arguing that it had no obligation to provide the data because it had no ownership and thus no control over these documents. Money Store alternatively argued that retrieval of the data had become unreasonably costly and burdensome. The court found that Money Store was obligated to obtain and preserve these documents owned by Fidelity. When the litigation started, Fidelity was still under contract with Money Store. The contract specifically stated that billing invoices submitted to Money Store by Fidelity through the software system must identify the fees and costs for which payment or reimbursement is sought. Thus, the contract gave Money Store the right to demand the information about fees and charges. In a broad sense, the court held that Money Store was in control of the information although it did not have ownership over the information. Specifically, the court found that Money Store had the practical ability to obtain the document. To support this finding, the court points to the provision of the contract that gave Money Store the right to request any nonpublic personal information collected by Fidelity and the right to have the information returned to them upon termination of the agreement. This overrides any claim that such information is confidential. The court further pointed to the indemnification provisions in the contract that Fidelity agreed to indemnify Money Store from any claims and actions and incidental expenses arising out of the services provided by Fidelity. Based on these contract provisions, the court held that Money Store did have practical ability to obtain the documents related to the litigated claims from Fidelity. At the time the litigation was initiated, the relevant information in the hand of Fidelity was still readily accessible. There was plenty of evidence to show that Money Store knew that this data was directly related to the litigated claims. However, Money Store did not try to obtain the data from Fidelity. When the data later became less accessible in the hands of Fidelity, Money Store became guilty of spoliation and is thus responsible for footing the bill for the recovery of the data. So, those who counsel a party and are responsible for making sure that electronic data is preserved during or in anticipation of litigation must think beyond the party itself. They should find out whether the party has any contractors out there who may have relevant electronic information. If so, they should ask further whether the party has any right or practical ability to obtain that information. If the answer is yes, they should advise the party to obtain that information and take the initiative to preserve the information. Gang Chen is a Senior Segment Manager in the Intellectual Property Business Group of Alcatel-Lucent, and a fourth-year evening student at Seton Hall University School of Law focusing on patent law. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

When Can Spoliation Result in an Adverse Inference Jury Instruction? Where there was an Obligation to Preserve, a Culpable State of Mind, and Destruction of Relevant Evidence.

Employers should take note: erasing and taping over messages that relate to a fired employee is never a good idea. Employers who engage in this type of practice will never escape the wrath of a judge when the fired employee inevitably brings a wrongful termination. Eventually, such action catches up with the defending company and they will have to pay a steep price. Take, for instance, the case Novick v. AXA Network, LLC. The plaintiff was asking the judge for sanctions to be imposed on the defendants because he claimed that the defendants spoliated audio recordings and emails from an eight-week stretch, which ran from late August until early November 2006. The defendants admitted that recordings from this time period were likely erased and taped over. The problem here is that this stretch of time covers the time directly before and directly after Novick’s termination. It should seem obvious to anyone that a company’s failing to preserve any recordings regarding a former employee’s termination is a terrible idea and will likely hurt one’s case in court. It should instead be common sense that when an employee is terminated, and certainly when that termination is contentious, a lawsuit is foreseeable.  Thus, the employer should take care to preserve anything that might come into play at trial. Novick asked the judge to sanction the defendants for the spoliation of emails. The defendants could not produce any emails between the two employees at AXA Network, who took over Novick’s accounts, and Novick’s former clients. If these employees were involved with Novick’s clients after Novick was fired, it is only logical that there would have been emails taking place between these employees and those clients! Nevertheless, the defendants could not produce a single e-mail. Sanctions can be imposed on a party for spoliation in violation of a court order under Rule 37(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, where there has been no violation of a court order, a judge can impose sanctions for spoliation under the court’s “inherent power to control litigation.” West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999) (emphasis added). For the court to exercise its inherent power, there must have been a showing of bad faith. United States v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 948 F.2d 1338, 1345 (2d Cir. 1991). The Novick court in this case found that the defendants did spoliate the audio recordings because they were notified in October 2006 to preserve the recordings for future litigation and to produce those recordings  to the plaintiff. In addition, the defendants provided no reason for why or how these recordings were missing. Unsurprisingly, the court suggested that such behavior indicates that the company acted deliberately and therefore possessed a culpable state of mind. The defendants acted in bad faith. The court did not find that the defendants spoliated the email messages, but it still believes they acted in bad faith with respect to the production of the emails because the company failed to search one of their email archives for months due to what was claimed as “human error.” This was clearly a delay tactic, further warranting sanctions. The court invoked its inherent power to control litigation because the defendants acted in bad faith, employed delay tactics, caused substantial costs to be incurred by the plaintiff, and wasted the court’s time. The court imposed an adverse inference jury instruction. Adverse inference instructions can be imposed against a party who had an obligation to preserve evidence at the time it was destroyed, who destroyed the evidence with a culpable state of mind, and who destroyed evidence that was relevant to the opposing party’s claim or defense. Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2002). The clear takeaway from this case is that it is better to be safe than sorry; if it is reasonable that a lawsuit may be brought against you, take all measures to preserve any evidence that might have anything to do with that future case. Preserving the evidence will not hurt, but failing to do so will. Logan Teisch received his B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. He is now a student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015), focusing his studies in the area of criminal law. Logan’s prior experiences include interning with the Honorable Verna G. Leath in Essex County Superior Court as well as interning with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Will A Tangled Web of Preservation Failures Lead to Sanctions?

Preserving electronic data can be a challenge for companies with multiple data centers.  However, what we have here is a failure to communicate.  The case at issue is an ERISA class action against UnumProvident. On November 26, plaintiffs' counsel wrote to request a conference to present their request for a preservation. The court then outlined principles that would serve as the basis for the parties' draft of a proposed order. The court observed, without contradiction from UnumProvident, that UnumProvident already had a duty to preserve any tapes containing emails as of November 4, the date litigation commenced. The order required all back-up tapes or other back-up hard drives, disks or other hardware containing material back-up by the defendants regarding Y2K, regardless of the date or dates of the internal or external e-mails, computer information, or electronic media contained thereon to be preserved.  Specifically the plaintiffs requested all internal and external e-mails, generated, created, or dated October 14, 15, and 16 of 2002, and November 18, 19, and 20 of 2002.  If the defendants alleged these e-mails were no longer in existence due to routine destruction or otherwise, the defendants had to provide an affidavit explaining circumstances of the unavailability. UnumProvident’s Enterprise Security Architect decided instead of preserved the data to implement a special “snapshot” back-up which would back-up those emails that were on the system as of the day or days the snapshot was taken.  UnumProvident could also have directed IBM, their data vendor, to copy email back-up tapes from existing unexpired tapes to other back-up tapes that would contain no expiration date. Similarly, it could have copied the data onto a hard drive or into other computer media.  Instead, this snapshot inadvertently caused all of the data on the back-up tapes to be overwritten. The court found that no enterprise officers of UnumProvident had sufficient expertise to discuss the preservation project in a meaningful way. Neither of them took the steps that they needed to take to get sufficiently informed advice on the issues involved. Similarly, there was insufficient supervision of the Enterprise Software Architect's efforts.  The officer had also never ordered IBM to preserve emails regarding the six dates. Additionally, the law department of UnumProvident never instructed its officers to confirm that email for the six days had been preserved by IBM. As this issue developed relatively early in discovery, the court found it difficult to determine the extent to which the plaintiffs have suffered any prejudice from the failure to capture all of the UnumProvident emails for the six days.  Throughout the whole opinion, the court was very skeptical of the testimony of UnumProvident’s officers.  The court determined most of UnumProvident’s actions were inadequate.  However, it also determined the accelerated expiration problem that occurred because of the creation of the snapshot was inadvertent and unintended.  Therefore, the court did not award any sanctions.  It can still be assumed the court would be less trusting of UnumProvident after this debacle and less likely to give them the benefit of the doubt.

How Can You Be Found Guilty of Computer Sabotage When You’re No Longer Working For the Company? Easy; Put A Timed Virus Into The System Before You Leave.

On July 31, 1996, plaintiff Omega Engineering Corp. ("Omega"), a New Jersey based company, lost its computer programs relating to design and production permanently from its system. Omega manufactured “highly specialized and sophisticated industrial process measurement devices and control equipment” for NASA and the United States Navy.  The deletion of these programs debilitated their ability for manufacturing as well as costed the company millions of dollars in contracts and sales. From 1985 to July 10, 1996, defendant Timothy Lloyd worked as the computer system administrator at Omega.  He trained with the Novell computer network and installed it to Omega’s computer system.  The program worked to ensure that all of Omega’s documents could be kept on a central file server. Lloyd was the only Omega employee to maintain the Novell client and have “top-level security access” to it; however, the defense asserted that others at the company had access.  According to a government expert, access "means that ... [an] account has full access to everything on the server."  Lloyd was also the only employee in charge of backing up the information to the server. In 1994 or 1995, Lloyd became difficult.  The company moved him laterally in hopes of improving his behavior. A government witness testified that even though it was a lateral move, it was in fact, considered a demotion by the company.  Lloyd’s new supervisor asked him about the back-up system and wanted him to loop a couple more people in but he never did.   Moreover, he instituted a company-wide policy that employees were no longer allowed to make personal backups of their files. On top of the above issues, there was also a “substandard performance review and raise.”  The combination of the two factors, according to the government, showed Lloyd that his employment with the company would soon be terminated.   This established Lloyd’s motive to sabotage the Omega computer system.  On July 10, 1006, Lloyd was terminated. On July 31, 1996, Omega’s file server would not start up.  On July 31, “Lloyd told a third party, that "everybody's job at Omega is in jeopardy.” days later it was realized that all of the information contained on it were permanently lost.  More than 1,200 of Omega’s programs were deleted and, as per Lloyd’s policy, none of the employees had their own personal backups.  There was no way for any of these programs to be recovered. A search warrant conducted on Lloyd’s house turned up some backup tapes and a file server master hard drive.  Experts hired by Omega found that the deletion of information was “intentional and only someone with supervisory-level access to the network could have accomplished such a feat.”  The commands necessary to pull off such a purge were characterized as a “time bomb” set to go off on July 31st when an employee logged into the system.   There was evidence found by these experts of Lloyd testing these specific commands three different times.  This string of commands was further found on the hard drive that was in Lloyd’s home. Lloyd was convicted of a federal count of computer sabotage.  It was remanded due to a jury member’s claimed use of outside knowledge during deliberations. Julie received her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014. Prior to law school, she was a 2008 magna cum laude graduate of Syracuse University, where she earned a B.A. in History and a minor in Religion and Society. After law school, Julie will serve as a law clerk to a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

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