Welcome to the new eLessons Learned

eDiscovery Written by Law Students

eDiscovery Written by Law Students

eLessons Learned features insightful content authored primarily by law students from throughout the country. The posts are written to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers, including those with little eDiscovery knowledge.

Law + Technology + Human Error

Law + Technology + Human Error

Each blog post: (a) identifies cases that address technology mishaps; (b) exposes the specific conduct that caused a problem; (c) explains how and why the conduct was improper; and (d) offers suggestions on how to learn from these mistakes and prevent similar ones from reoccurring.

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New to the eDiscovery world?

Visit our signature feature, e-Discovery Origins: Zubulake, designed to give readers a primer on the e-discovery movement through blog posts about the Zubulake series of court opinions which helped form the foundation for e-discovery. Go There

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Prophylactics Do Not Protect Pharmaceutical Companies From Data and Document Discovery Laws!

In this case, the Plaintiff Nicole Baker sues Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceutical Inc., complaining that the Bayer product Mirena was not adequately accompanied by warnings of its side effects. She asks Bayer to produce databases that contains sales calls made by the marketing and sales department to physician’s offices. The sales calls notes also contain conversations between sales representatives and healthcare providers. Bayer argues that only the sales calls notes concerning Baker’s treating physician are relevant. Bayer also argues that producing all the sales calls notes are unduly burdensome and excessive in light of the needs of the case. Ultimately, the court finds in favor of the Plaintiff, and finds that the databases containing all sales calls must be produced due to their relevance to the current case. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits “discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” The information sought “need not be admissible at the trial” so long as it “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The crux of the Plaintiff’s argument is that all the sales call notes, not just limited to those related to her physician, are relevant to her case because they would ascertain whether the pharmaceutical company is overpromoting the product Mirena. Overproduction would mean that there could be dilution or nullification of any warnings, thereby rendering the warnings inadequate. The Plaintiff argues that the volume and substance of the sales calls notes can establish whether there was a vigorous, aggressive sales campaign to the medical profession, leading to failure to heed written warnings. While this argument appears to be attenuated, it does fall under the standard of being reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The takeaway message is that the court thought although it was a burden to the Defendant, all of the sales calls notes are relevant to establishing if Bayer’s Mirena campaign was so pervasive that any doctor, including the Plaintiff’s, would fail to pay attention to warnings about the product’s side effects. 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

Adding Insult to Injury: Court Criticizes Plaintiff’s Improper Pleading in Process of Largely Denying Motion to Compel

The court began its opinion by reciting the quote that “[d]iscovery relevance is minimal relevance,” leading most readers to presume the court was going to rule in favor of Plaintiff’s motion to compel.  However, after learning that Plaintiff sought “the entire claims file” of Defendant, that presumption slowly dissipates. The motion before the court involved Plaintiff’s request for an order compelling Defendant to produce documents that are responsive to certain of Plaintiff’s second, third and fourth sets of Requests for Production of Documents.  The Plaintiff alleged that Defendant’s objections are premised on unsupported claims of privilege and that the documents Defendant did turn over were excessively redacted.  After a back and forth regarding the concept of “privileged” the court rules that the real crux of the issue is the “point at which Defendant was reasonably anticipating litigation.” It is at this point that a privilege is created for the documents at issue based on the work product doctrine as outlined in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3)(A) at which point a privilege for the documents at issue based on the work product doctrine. Because insurance claims are of such sensitive and proprietary nature, the court holds that the question of whether insurer documents were created in anticipation of litigation “depends on whether the party seeking protection can point to a definite shift made by the insurer from acting in its ordinary course of business to acting in anticipating of litigation.”  Colloquially known as a “trigger” for document preservation, the burden is on the Defendant to establish the existence of such privilege in the face of litigation.  The court ultimately held that the relevant date was December 28, 2012, when Defendant sent a letter regarding a settlement check.  Thus, the court ordered that any information withheld on the basis of work product doctrine after that time must be produced. After serving its second set of discovery requests, the Plaintiff subsequently asked for the documents to be produced in native electronic format.  However, the Defendant had already produced documents in paper and PDF form, which Plaintiff alleged was not the form maintained by the Defendant “or in any reasonably usable form.”  Citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(D) and (E), the court noted that the rule allows, but does not require, the requesting party to specify the form in which it is requesting electronic data.  The court also noted there is nothing in the rule that prohibits a party from requesting different formats from one set of discovery requests to the next. Ruling in favor of the objecting Defendant, however, the court considered the “proprietary nature of certain software used by Defendant” and “Defendant’s right to withhold privileged information” as well as the “added costs of re-producing information already submitted to Plaintiff.”  Because the Defendant endured the time, effort, and expense of producing documents in PDF form as initially requested by Plaintiff, the court denied Plaintiff’s request to compel the native electronic forms of such documents. The Plaintiff’s motion to compel also sought all files containing “similar” claims.  While disregarding the Plaintiff’s motivations for requesting such documents, the court opined that the effect of requiring this production would be to “subject [Defendant] to undue burden in light of topics which, at best, have limited evidentiary value in this case given the broadly worded nature of the information requested.” Adding insult to injury, the court makes it a point to criticize Plaintiff’s complaint.  The cause of action was premised on a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing yet Plaintiff’s motion “continually” refers to this as a claim for “bad faith.”  Succinctly and sharply, the court imparts some legal education by bluntly stating that the two are not interchangeable.  After making its criticism of Plaintiff’s mischaracterization, the court writes that “even if such information were to be considered relevant, the requests, as written, are facially over broad.” The court broadly cites a “lack of specificity” before denying more than 25 of Plaintiff’s discovery requests.  Because Plaintiff “failed to provide a sufficient, substantive limitation,” the court ruled that these “generalized discovery requests” were “facially over broad as well as irrelevant.” Lastly, seemingly as a concession to the largely defeated Plaintiff, the court partially grants Plaintiff’s final discovery request.  Plaintiff sought the “complete personnel files” for certain claims handling supervising personnel involved in the claim.  As with the other requests, Defendant objected citing the “personal, confidential, private information” that these files held.  Significantly, the court recited that “‘confidential’ does not equate to ‘nondiscoverable’ or privileged.”  Thus, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel such personnel files, although it concluded this grant by limiting it to information from the files that specifically pertains to the employees’ “background, qualifications, training and job performance” and explicitly excluded any “sensitive personal or medical information” regarding these individuals. By the end of its succinct seven-page opinion, the District Court for the District of Kansas handed down many valuable lessons for future parties engaged in discovery-based litigation.  Among them:  (1) The work product doctrine will not prevent production if litigation is reasonably anticipated; (2) Request documents in the form desired or risk a landslide of “unusable” documents; (3) Be careful, diligent, and precise in your word choice – both in your pleadings and your document requests; (4) Private/Confidential does not mean Privileged/Nondiscoverable. 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.  She will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  After graduation, Nicole will serve as a clerk to a trial judge of the Superior court of New Jersey in the Morris-Sussex Vicinage. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

How Can One Secure An Order Protecting One From Producing Certain ESI?

This matter came before the court upon Plaintiff Black & Veatch’s Motion for Protective Order and Request for Discovery Conference. B&V entered into a series of agreements wit American Electric Power Services (“AEP”) and other companies (collectively, the “Owners”) to engineer, procure material, and construct wet flue gas desulfurization systems (also known as JBRs). The Owners claimed the JBRs were defective. B&V paid several millions of dollars to repair and replace the JBRs. To recover some of the incurred costs, B&V filed a claim with its professional liability carriers, filed suit against a subcontractor, and filed a breach of contract and declaratory judgment action against various insurance providers relating to the relevant insurance policies. B&V alleged it maintained Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) relating to the JBRs on Documentum—an electronic document management program, custodian hard drives, and Accounting and Field Management System. B&V produced 448.7 gigabytes of data to the Defendant. However, B&V withheld additional relevant ESI, arguing that the Defendants’ proposed search terms were too board and producing discovery pursuant to those search terms would be unreasonable and excessively expensive. B&V was unable to estimate the cost of producing the ESI. B&V sought a protection from producing this additional relevant information. In the alternative, B&V proposed to shift some of the cost in producing the ESI to the Defendants. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) states, “a court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense. The movant bears the burden of establishing good cause by making a particular and specific demonstration of fact. A mere conclusory statement that ESI production would cost a party tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars does satisfy a movants burden to make a specific demonstration of fact in support of a protective order. The court held that B&V’s undue burden and expensive argument to be unsupported and conclusory. B&V failed to provide any hour or cost estimate. Thus, the court denied B&V’s Motion for Protective Order.  Additionally, the court refused to grant the protective order because the Defendants’ search terms were overbroad, noting that Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) only allows protective orders when the movant proves the order is necessary to protect the party from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden. Over breadth is not an enumerated category. The court also denied B&V cost shifting proposal. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii) allows the court to impose cost shifting measures when the party from whom discovery is sought demonstrates that the information is reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. B&V failed to show that the ESI production was inaccessible because of undue burden or cost because B&V’s only mention of cost to produce ESI was conclusory and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, the court stated that the parties were free to enter into a clawback agreement, which would compel the parties to return inadvertently produced privileged documents. B&V also sought protection from producing ESI from the custodian hard drive, arguing that that data produced pursuant to Defendants’ search terms would be unrelated or duplicative. Moreover, B&V argued that a Defendant’s proposed list of custodians was overly broad. Defendant argues that the proposed list is reasonable on its face given that the case involves a $70 million coverage dispute. The court again denied B&V’s Motion for Protective Order because B&V failed to substantiate its claim that the production of ESI from the custodian hard drives pursuant to proposed search terms will yield unrelated or duplicative data. B&V also failed to substantiate its claim that Defendant’s proposed list of custodian hard drives was unduly burdensome because it was without any information regarding the custodians’ job duties, their involvement with the facts at issue, or whether they had potentially relevant information on their hard drives Finally, B&V sought protection from producing electronic interim accounting reports regarding the cost of the JBR projects, arguing that such production would be wasteful, expensive, and burdensome. B&V stated that only the final accounting costs were necessary to determining damages, and a final cost accounting report was previously produced to the Defendants. The electronic interim accounting reports requested by the Defendants are adjusted monthly, and do not represent final costs needed to determine damages. Defendants argued that the report produced did not include the final cost documents, and the lack of information prevents them from properly assessing damages. The court again denied B&V’s Motion for Protective Order because B&V did not substantiate how producing the electronic interim accounting reports would be unduly burdensome or expensive. B&V’s assertion that monthly-adjusted accounting reports will not provide final cost information was conclusory. 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.

All That Glitters is NOT Gold

Plaintiffs asked Defendants for documents to be scanned and produced as searchable PDFs.  Defendants did exactly that.  So, there’s no problem, right?  Wrong.  Plaintiffs felt a little slighted, to say the least, after receiving the unorganized files.  If only they asked for hardcopies instead. The court found that the term “documents” as defined in FRCP 34(b)(2)(E)(i) does not include ESI, so the rule’s requirement that documents be produced either in the usual course of business or labeled to correspond to categories in the request does not apply to ESI.  Once the parties agreed to transfer hard copy documents in an electronic form, that means of production is governed by the rules for ESI, and Plaintiffs in this case met their obligations under this rule without organizing or labeling the disclosed ESI. Plaintiffs wanted Defendants to identify the particular discovery request to which each document responds, but to be fair, Defendants already went through the effort of scanning the approximately 20,000 documents.  Plaintiffs tried to argue that Defendants’ storage of the documents in hard copy meant that scanning the documents in order to produce them for discovery should not abdicate Defendants’ responsibility to produce them as organized in the ordinary course of business.  It may seem surprising this argument was unsuccessful, but is it really? The court found that the parties stipulated out of FRCP 34(b)(2)(E)’s default provisions when the Plaintiffs’ requested items in scanned electronic form, and that Plaintiffs technically received exactly what they asked for.  Another hang-up for the Plaintiffs was FRCP 34(b)(2)(E)(iii) not requireing a party to produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form, which includes hardcopies. Beyond the facts and the ruling, this case should stand for the proposition that blindly requesting ESI is ill-advised.  Parties should know enough to know exactly what they need from a discovery request, and how to make that request as accurately and effectively as possible.  This decision may not exist if Plaintiffs simply asked for the documents to be scanned and produced in the usual course of business.  While Defendants may not have eagerly acceded to such a request, the request’s denial would have raised some red flags for Plaintiffs and forecasted what would be their eventual dissatisfaction if they merely asked for the documents to be scanned as searchable PDFs. Samuel is in the Seton Hall University School of Law Class of 2015 pursuing the Intellectual Property concentration. He received his master’s from the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and became a registered patent agent prior to entering law school. 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 Can Inadvertent Disclosure Constitute Waiver of Privilege? Factors To Ensure The Maintenance of Privilege

The attorney-client privilege is not as inclusive as some may think. The privilege protects confidential communications between attorney and client in order to “encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients.” The attorney-client privilege only applies if the following conditions are met. The asserted holder of the privilege is or sought to become a client; The person to whom the communication was made is an attorney; The communication relates to a fact of which the attorney was informed; (a) By the client, (b) Without the presence of strangers, (c) For the purpose of securing an opinion of law or legal services; and The privilege has been claimed and not subsequently waived. Commonly, disclosure of confidential information functions as an abdication of attorney-client privilege. Unintentional disclosure, however, does not constitute a waiver of the attorney-client privilege if: (1) the disclosure is inadvertent; (2) the holder of the privilege or protection took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure; and (3) the holder promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error. Courts also look to factors such as the quantity of the disclosure and the overriding interests of justice when determining whether the attorney-client privilege was inadvertently waived. In this case, a discovery dispute arose because the defendant unintentionally disclosed two privileged documents to the plaintiff. The first document was a letter from the defendant to an attorney for the purpose of soliciting legal advice. The second document was a response letter from the attorney providing counsel to the defendant. The court here found that these two documents are clearly covered by attorney-client privilege. So, the issue then became whether or not the defense waived attorney-client privilege when the party unintentionally disclosed the privileged documents. The court first considered the precautions taken by the defense to prevent accidental disclosures and discovered that there were none. For one, the defendant did not maintain a privilege log. Additionally, the defense did not even mark or designate the letters as confidential. For purposes of maintaining privilege, this factor weighed heavily against the defendant. The next factor the court looked to was the number of inadvertently disclosed documents. These documents were a mere three pages among a total of 3,500 pages of discovery documents. This factor weighed in favor of maintaining privilege. The third factor considered was the extent of privileged information disclosed. This factor weighed in favor of waiver because the information contained on the letters was clearly privileged. The court reasoned that the extent of the defendant’s carelessness weighed against maintenance of attorney-client privilege. The fourth factor considered was the extent of any delay in correcting the inadvertent disclosure. Since the defense took more than three months to attempt to rectify their mistake, this factor was found to be in favor of waiver. As to the last factor, the court stated that the defense did not offer any explanation as to why, in the overriding interest of justice, the letters should still be privileged. Since the majority of factors were found to be in favor of the waiver of attorney-client privilege, the court held that the defense has waived attorney-client privilege with respect to the letters. It is imperative to keep in mind that the attorney-client privilege can be waived unintentionally. One of the most effective ways to prevent an inadvertent disclosure is to maintain a preventative mechanism. Mark all privileged documents as privileged, keep a detailed privilege log, and constantly double check all disclosed documents so any mistake can be corrected quickly. If these steps are followed, a party will likely be able to maintain privilege even if the party inadvertently discloses privileged documents. 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

What Happens When Video Evidence Is Changed, But Not Deleted?

In May 2014, Hon. Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J. for the District of Connecticut ruled that sanctions were not appropriate in a case involving the conversion of a security video’s native format.  Plaintiff Robert Crawford brought a motion for spoliation sanctions—including an adverse-inference instruction and monetary sanctions—against the Defendant City of New London for an alleged failure to preserve a hard drive containing video of Crawford’s arrest.  Plaintiff, whose underlying claim involves excessive force issues, suggested that the original format of a security video may have been capable of being enhanced, and as such, Defendants had a duty to preserve that original version, and turn it over for discovery.  Judge Arterton disagreed. In examining whether sanctions were appropriate, the court first set about defining the parameters of spoliation. The court noted “[s]poliation is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” Crawford v. City of New London, 2014 WL 2168430, *2 (D. Conn. May 23, 2014) (quoting West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999)).  Later, the court analyzed the adverse-inference charge, and articulated “[a] party seeking an adverse inference instruction based on the destruction of evidence must establish (1) that the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim or defense.” Id. (quoting Chin v. Port. Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 685 F.3d 135, 162 (2d Cir. 2012)). Here, the court noted that Defendants’ duty to preserve stemmed from a hold letter received pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act on June 24—nearly five months after the incident took place, and more than four months after New London’s retention policy allows for transferring of data to portable storage.  As such, while the Defendants certainly had a duty to preserve, there was no specific need for multiple copies of duplicative information.  New London hadn’t breached the preservation duty. But what about “Significant Alteration?”  Spoliation isn’t just about destruction.  Plaintiffs argued that in converting the video evidence from the format present on the hard drive to the portable storage versions on DVD, Defendants sacrificed the integrity of metadata, or of the files themselves such that they could no longer be enhanced for use in trial presentation.  This novel argument suggested that were enhanced versions of the video available, perhaps the jury could see that Crawford’s arrest on February 4, 2010, was enacted using excessive force. The court was not persuaded by this argument.  Testimony from the City of New London’s Chief Information Officer indicated that the conversion to DVD was lossless, in that the new format preserved the video in every material way.  Absent proof to the alternative, the moving party was unable to demonstrate “that the destroyed [or significantly altered] evidence was relevant . . . ” under the standards set forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 401. Defendants were prepared for litigation, and they reasonably preserved all necessary data responsive to discovery request.  Defendants’ retention policy for the original hard drive housing security footage is acceptable, and preserving the data on portable media after formatting the drive is an added precaution going well-beyond the standard of care.  Crawford is fortunate that Judge Arterton didn’t force Plaintiffs to cover the costs of responding to the motion—if this author was on the bench, he might have. Kevin received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Scranton (2009), and will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  Prior to joining the Seton Hall community, Kevin worked as an eDiscovery professional at two large “white-shoe” law firms in Manhattan. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

FRCP 26(b) – A “Yes Man” for Motion to Compel Discovery Requests

It is well understood that FRCP 26(b) grants broad discretion over discovery. Courts use a “totality of the circumstances” test to weigh a discovery requests and generally, strong public policy in favor of disclosure shifts the scale in the favor of the plaintiff. In a totality of the circumstances analysis, the court will always balance the value of the information sought, the burden of producing it, and the relevant social interests against any company’s decision to withhold discovery. Courts have often denied claims if they are extremely burdensome to the defendant. However, courts do tend to side with granting a plaintiff access if their request is highly relevant and probative to issue. This does not mean that the court will ALWAYS grant discovery requests but it does mean that if the claim is pertinent to the claim at bar then the request will be approved. There exists a plethora of case jurisprudence in determining whether a claim is relevant to the issue at hand. In Chickadaunce v. Minott, the plaintiffs are a class of disabled individuals totaling 4,800 members. The plaintiffs allege that that the way the defendants administered the Indiana Community Integration and Habilitation Medicaid Waiver Program ("CIH Waiver Program") did not ensure the plaintiffs received benefits to which they were entitled under federal Medicaid Law. The plaintiffs now seek approximately 200 case files of specific individuals and other unknown number of case files from St. Vincent New Hope group home facility, which provides services to class members. The plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the case files requesting that the files are likely to include highly pertinent information concerning members of the class as well as information regarding diagnoses, historical levels of treatment, reasons for reduction in service levels, and incident reports. All of these requests are appropriate due to the ADA and Rehabilitation Act reliance on these factors in its determination of whether patients qualify for its program. This request by the plaintiffs will easily fall under Rule 26, which grants parties wide latitude in conducting discovery, and may use any method of discovery in any sequence, so long as "the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. The plaintiffs point out in support that these requested case files will strengthen their presentation in other forms of evidence and many courts have been known to accept this logic as validation granting a motion to compel discovery. If you follow the existing court precedent you will find that the court has only denied discovery requests in very extreme examples. Otherwise, the court has allowed the request if the request was relevant to the matter at bar. The court has even granted a discovery request even if the request would require “several hundred hours” to search company records and develop software to extract relevant information. Donnelly v. NCO Financial Systems, 263 F.R.D. 500, 503 (N.D. Ill. 2009), objections overruled, No. 09-C-2264, 2010 WL 308975 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 13, 2010). Here, the plaintiffs requested case documents that were a fraction of the total class (200 out of a total 4800), the expenditure of the State to prepare the database was minimal compared to prior allowances by the court (10 to 15 hours of required work), and extracting the information with specific employees was not unreasonable (vast governmental resources available). Therefore, the court granted the motion to compel discovery. Unfortunately, as much case law as exists on whether a company should comply with a discovery request and what would happen in a motion to compel, each jurisdiction is different. Depending where litigation arises will determine what the specific rules affect your company. It is always important to review your area’s discovery limitations to determine what would be and what not be discoverable. Plaintiffs have the benefit of the law being on their side, however, a court is not always a “Yes Man” and has been known to say “No.” Timothy received his B.A. from Rutgers University in 2011. He began his post-college life working in Trenton, New Jersey, at a lobbying and non-profit management organization before attending law school in the fall of 2012. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Timothy has had a diverse set of experiences during his time in law school and has found his calling in Tax Law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Is a Request For Discovery Overbroad and of Speculative Relevance?

Overbroad and unwieldy discovery requests will not be tolerated and will be denied by the courts.  A party may not indiscriminately pursue wholesale production of discovery materials, especially when the party fails to provide any justification for the expansive discovery request.  Instead of allowing such overbroad discovery, the courts will limit the request to certain materials or agreed upon search terms. In Capital Ventures Int’l v. J.P. Morgan Mortgage Acquisition Corp., Capital Ventures International (“Capital”), the plaintiff, moved to compel J.P. Morgan Mortgage Acquisition Corp. (“J.P. Morgan”), the defendant, to provide further responses to its requests for production.  Capital sought the testimonial materials from all other investigations and litigations regarding JP Morgan’s residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) practices, all materials already produced in other RMBS actions or investigations, and several other discovery related requests.  In response, JP Morgan provided less burdensome alternatives to Capital’s requests. The court found that Capital’s indiscriminate requests for the wholesale production of all testimonial materials and already produced materials to be overbroad and not reasonably calculated to lead to relevant information.  The testimonial materials encompassed more than 150 million pages of documents and 153 deposition transcripts, while the materials produced in other RMBS actions and investigations included a massive document production of tens of millions of documents.  Moreover, the court found that Capital did not show a sufficient similarity between this case and all the other cases and failed to justify the expansive discovery.  The court accepted JP Morgan’s offer to produce approximately 50 deposition transcripts and to run agreed-upon search terms to sufficiently capture materials relevant to the issues in this case.  Beyond that, the court denied Capital’s remaining requests for testimonial materials and documents produced. The requesting party should avoid submitting overbroad requests for discovery that are not reasonably calculated to produce documents relevant to the issues in the case.  Several alternative strategies that can be learned from Capital Ventures International are:  (1) utilize programs that run search terms to capture relevant materials; (2) limit requests to certain relevant materials; and (3) provide sufficient justification for discovery requests that are potentially overbroad.           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 a Preservation Order Against a Resigning Employee Inappropriate As To An Employer-Supplied Computer?

It is common for an employer to supply company-owned laptop computers to its employees for doing their work. It is also not uncommon for such an employee to be involved in litigation with a third party where the company-owned computers used by the employee are subject to potential electronic discovery. Knowledge or expectation of such litigation by the employee gives rise to a duty to preserve. In many situations, the employee ends up resigning from the employment and having to return the company laptop computer to the employer.  In this whole sequence of events, what should the employee do as to the laptop computer in order to satisfy his/her duty to preserve and thus defeat a motion for preservation order by his/her adversarial? The case of Cognate Bioservices v. Smith sheds some light onto this issue. In Cognate Bioservices v. Smith, Cognate sued Smith for violations of the Computer Fraud Abuses Act and misappropriation of products and trade Secret in the Northern Division of the District Court for the District of Maryland. Smith was previously the CEO of Cognate and had access to trade secrets stored on Cognate servers as well as in a laptop computer provided to Smith by Cognate. Smith then resigned and became the head of the US operation of an Israeli competitor of Cognate, MacroCure. Smith, however, did not give the laptop back to Cognate until more than two years after his termination with Cognate. During that time, he had accessed the Cognate server as well as the laptop computer still in his hands, giving rise to the suspicion by Cognate that he had downloaded trade secrets from Cognate.  For his work with MacroCure, Smith bought a second laptop (the Dell laptop) and was reimbursed for the purchase price by MacroCure. Soon after the start of this litigation in the federal court, Smith resigned from MacroCure. Cognate moved the Court to issue a preservation order as to the Dell laptop and Smith objected. This federal action was filed on June 19, 2013. Smith gave Cognate notice that the Dell laptop he used in connection with his employment at MacroCure would be returned after his resignation. Smith then returned the Dell laptop to MacroCure in late July or early August 2013. The motion for preservation order was filed August 15, 2013. After the filing of the motion, Smith contacted the person to whom he returned the Dell laptop, Idan Peer, and requested that he not dispose or delete any of the files on the computer. In addition, Smith’s counsel provided Cognate with Peer’s mailing address.  Cognate argue that the preservation order is still necessary because, by returning the Dell laptop, Smith has demonstrated the urgent need for an order preserving evidence and he also appears to have the practical ability to obtain the return of that evidence. The court disagreed and held that Smith compiled with his duty to preserve material evidence with respect to the Dell laptop. Court-issued preservation order is inappropriate when such duty is met and there is no evidence showing risk of spoliation of evidence. The court is more willing to rely on the duty to preserve to regulate conduct without resorting to preservation orders. This is regardless of whether there is undue burden for Smith to obtain a return of the Dell laptop. Thus, if an employee gets into a similar situation, to avoid a preservation order, make sure that notice about the return of the employer-provided computer is given to the adversarial, that the person receiving the computer is notified as to preserving the data on the computer, and that the information about the custody of the computer is given to the adversarial. 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.

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