- eLessons Learned
- Press and Publicity
- About Our Team
- Contact eLL Blog
Welcome to the new eLessons Learned
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.
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.
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
Interested students may apply for the opportunity to write for e-Lessons Learned by filling out the simple application. Go There
Larry Klayman sued six separate journalist defendants for defamation. This case is about Klayman wanting more discovery from the defendants. Specifically, Klayman’s motion is to compel the production of documents and to hire a computer expert. In this case, Klayman has conceded the fact that he is a public figure. So, in order to win in a defamation suit, he must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the journalists published the statements about him with actual malice. Thus, Klayman made this discovery motion to try to obtain “any and all documents, discussions and/or publications that refer or relate in any way to Plaintiff Larry Klayman within the past five years,” as well as several other document requests. Klayman contends this information is relevant to state of mind of the journalists. However, the defendants represent that they have already provided Klayman with all relevant information. Based on this representation, the court denied Klayman’s request to compel document production. Klayman also petitioned for a computer retrieval expert to be hired to go through each defendant’s computer files. Klayman claimed that the defendants had improperly withheld documents. However, the court ruled that the plaintiff must show good cause in order to compel a forensic expert, and here he has failed to do so. The court further stated that his assertions were “conclusory and unpersuasive.” Jessie is a third year student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015). She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2012 with a B.A. in philosophy and political science. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
A party has been burdened with manually reviewing 565,000 potentially relevant documents for search term hits. This manual method of review was agreed on by both parties and memorialized in a court order at the start. Shortly into the review process, the plaintiff realized this method would be costly and time consuming, and took it upon themselves to apply a predictive coding method using the agreed upon search terms. They then moved before the court to be able to use these predictive coding techniques, and not human manual review, to review the documents. The plaintiff argued that the modification to predictive coding should be utilized because it would achieve a more accurate measure of relevant documents, in addition to saving time and money. The defendant argued the opposite, believing that the predictive coding protocol was complicated and had various other issues involved. They argued that other courts, which have allowed predictive coding, have stressed the need for transparent and cooperative behavior by all parties, a manner of which plaintiff in this case has not acted. They even went as far as to say that the predictive coding protocol utilized by the plaintiffs did not comply with the “best practices” for the chosen software. The court, although in support of predictive coding, ordered the plaintiff to produce all documents in the agreed upon manner (Human review wins!). “If the parties had worked with their E-discovery consultants and agreed at the onset of this case to a predictive coding based ESI protocol, the court would not hesitate to approve a transparent mutually agreed upon ESI protocol.” But here, their hands were tied by the earlier court order. The court also stated that, and agreeing with the defendant’s argument, predictive coding requires a heightened degree of transparent cooperation among parties. “In the few cases that have approved technology assisted review of ESI, courts have consistently required the producing parties to provide the requesting parties with full disclosures about the technology being used, processes, methodology and documents used to “train” computers.” Here, the court found that the Plaintiff has been unwilling to engage in the level of transparency necessary, which they believed would “only result in more disputes and delays.” TAKEAWAY: The parties, especially the moving party, should have prepared a electronic discovery strategy from the beginning, as the main problem here was that the plaintiff sought to modify an already agreed upon order and the court thought it was too late in the game. Additionally, the parties must be open and transparent about the methodology being used with the technology if predictive coding is the agreed upon ESI method. Amanda is a third-year student at Seton Hall University School of Law, where she is pursuing a J.D. with a certificate in Health Law. Prior to law school, she was a 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Seton Hall University, where she earned Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. Presently, she is a law clerk at a small firm handling real estate and bankruptcy matters. After graduation this native New Yorker hopes to work at a mid-sized firm in the Big Apple. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
This case involves ACT, a career guidance service firm that assists job seekers throughout their job search, suing Daniel Drasin, the administrator of a blog known as Random Convergence. According to ACT, Drasin exercises editorial control over the blog. ACT complains that the blog disparage ACT's services and damages ACT's business and reputation. On March 11, 2013, Magistrate Judge Kristin Mix granted ACT's motion to serve third party subpoenas on Drasin, demanding that he produce the name and contact information for each of the people who posted disparaging remarks on Drasin’s blog. On April 18, 2013, Drasin, then self-represented, filed a third-party motion to quash the subpoenas, stating that they violated the bloggers’ rights to First Amendment right to anonymous speech. He also argued that most individuals who posted comments on the Blog did so anonymously, and he explained that he had no records of those who chose to remain anonymous. The court sided with Drasin and quashed the subpoena. The court found that the Subpoena imposes two types of burden on Drasin. First, in order to comply with the subpoena, Drasin must surrender his personal hard drives to ACT for up to thirty days. Personal computers generally cannot function without their hard drives, so this requirement would force Drasin to spend up to thirty days without the use of his personal computer. Second, forcing Drasin to surrender his hard drives to ACT would give ACT access to Drasin's personal files. Moreover, ACT has alternative means to obtain the information it seeks, such as serving a subpoena on Google. The court also found persuasive that the benefits of the Subpoena appear to be minimal, as there is no indication in the record that Drasin possesses any information that would be relevant in the Colorado Action beyond that which he has already provided. The takeaway message is that subpoenas can be quashed if discovery imposes an undue burden, if the information is irrelevant to the action, and if there are other avenues from which the information can be obtained. 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
In the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, the plaintiff Helget sued the city of Hays, Kansas for the allegedly wrongful termination of her employment on May 15, 2013. Helget claims that she was fired after she submitted an affidavit in a lawsuit brought by a former Hays, Kansas Police Department Officer. In anticipation of her own lawsuit, on June 26, 2012, Helget’s counsel sent defense counsel a letter requesting the preservation of certain information, including “internet usage, including e-mail usage, by each employee in the Hays Police Department.” Helget subsequently filed her complaint once she was terminated, allegedly in retaliation for her participation in the first lawsuit. The city denied Helget’s claims, stating that she was terminated because she “misused city computers” among other reasons. Helget soon filed a motion to compel defendants to “initiate a litigation hold, for preliminary sanctions for spoliation of evidence and for leave to conduct supplementary discovery on spoliation.” She believes that the city failed to put a litigation hold in place and spoliated evidence by destroying a service containing certain internet usage logs and allegedly overwrote or deleted other electronic documents and electronically stored information. Helget also served a subpoena for the deposition of a corporate representative of the defendant city on issues relating to spoliation. The defendant city responded by claiming they were only under a duty to preserve evidence relevant to this litigation, and not to preserve everything as is. The court began by discussing the issue of spoliation and explicitly noted that “[s]uch preservation may not be ‘selective.’” Additionally, “the duty to preserve commences with the filing of a lawsuit, but the duty may arise even before a lawsuit is filed if a party has notice that future litigation is likely.” The court found that defendant city had a duty to preserve “at least a portion of the electronically stored evidence at issue” since the defendant itself put electronically stored information at issue by alleging Helget was fired, in part, for improper personal use of city computers. The court further supported this duty to preserve by citing Helget’s letter which requested preservation and thus put the city on notice of potential litigation. While the court openly acknowledged that the defendant city did not have the obligation to preserve all documents within the scope of Helget’s notice letter, the defendant city did have an obligation to do more than “simply ignore the letter, which was apparently their response.” The court then ordered that the defendant city to put a litigation hold in place immediately. However, the court chiseled away at this obligation by noting that there “is no justification…for the defendant city to have entered into a city-wide litigation hold of such information, as advanced by Plaintiff.” The relevant scope, defined by the court, was computer usage of the plaintiff’s immediate coworkers, the key players, and those who held substantially similar positions for the city. The analysis then shifted toward whether Helget had established that any such electronically stored information evidence was in fact destroyed. The court looked at three categories of information individually. The first was the city’s “Websense serve”/internet usage history. While the court agreed that this server was more a firewall than a data log of employee internet usage, the court did find that “there are potential spoliation issues relating to the internet usage and email usage of the identified ‘key players,’ the plaintiff’s immediate coworkers, and all individuals holding substantially similar position for the defendant city, regardless of department.” the defendant city was instructed to submit to the plaintiff a proposal for “compiling, reconstructing, and/or producing to Plaintiff” such documents of relevant parties. Next, the court examined the spoliation of documents and electronically stored information in regard to the computer Helget used during her employment. Because this computer is relevant to one of the reasons for the plaintiff’s termination, the court finds that Helget is “entitled to a forensic image of the hard drive of the computer she most recently used while employed by the defendant.” The court went so far as to chastise the defendant city by stating that “[t]his computer should have been better protected by a litigation hold” and ordered that the parties shall split the cost of imaging the hard drive. In conclusion, the court finds that “the defendant city had an obligation to preserve this information. Regardless of whether it was destroyed intentionally or negligently, the plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence that the information is no longer readily available for production.” Because the the defendant had a duty to maintain this information, the court ordered the defendant city to bear the cost for a forensic restoration as a sanction for the defendant city’s breach of responsibility. 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.
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.
The court first directed the defendant to produce the file of the plaintiff’s insurance claim in 2007, and needless to say, even in 2014 the defendant still had not produced everything. Over one year later, the court granted the plaintiff’s first motion to compel. When a flood of documents appeared at a deposition in 2011, discovery was reopened and the defendant was sanctioned. Another motion to compel was granted in 2012, and this time it was for the deposition of a representative of the defendant who could testify about the efforts the defendant had taken to respond to discovery requests. Yet another flood of documents appeared, and the representative deposed was unable to describe any of the defendant’s discovery efforts. The plaintiff moved again for sanctions, which were granted in 2013. At that time, the court also granted the plaintiff the costs and legal fees due to the late production of documents. As relevant here, before the court in this motion was the assessment of legal fees and another production request. The defendant did not want to produce more documents because by this time the defendant said the emails were on backup tapes that were purportedly not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. Can you guess what the court thought of that argument? We’ll get to that in a moment. Without delving into specifics, the court painstakingly analyzed the plaintiff’s legal bill for the various motions, filings, etc. and awarded $81,997.60 in attorney’s fees. Some of these costs were attributable to an IT specialist hired by the plaintiff that was to help the attorneys ask proper questions at the defendant’s representative’s deposition so they could ensure protocols were followed during discovery and that sufficient documentation was recovered (and if discovery was delayed because of an honest mistake, the explanation for that could be ascertained). Even though the individual deposed actually had no knowledge of the defendant’s discovery practices, the defendants couldn’t escape paying for the IT specialist’s and attorney preparation time. On top of the nearly $82,000 awarded in legal fees, the defendant said it would cost $200,000 to recover the backup tapes containing emails. While the actual cost is unclear, the defendant was ordered to turn over eight weeks of tapes, at its expense, of the thirteen individuals the plaintiff identified. The judge even left the door open for the the plaintiff to get additional discovery if further exploration is necessary. However, this isn’t the end. Sometimes, a single well-placed footnote can be unbelievably powerful. This case illustrates just that, as the judge cleverly observed the defendant’s conduct as such: [c]onsistent with Hartford’s approach to discovery in this case, it has spent more time and resources challenging two entries totaling 1 hour than the amount requested by the plaintiff for those entries. The court trusts that Hartford’s attorneys will notify their client how much they incurred in attorneys fees on these two entries. So please, take discovery seriously. 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.
It is never a good idea to raise the suspicions of the court. If a party is going to try to cover its tracks, it has to do so subtly and discretely. It certainly has to do a better job than Dr. O did in the above case. She revealed too much information about herself in the early stages of the case, and it came back to hurt her when it was time to produce discovery. MetLife has brought suit against Dr. O, after the doctor tried to make an insurance claim based on an alleged disability. First of all, Dr. O delayed her responses to initial discovery requests, which is just never a good idea! But not only that, it was subsequently discovered that she had email accounts containing relevant documents that she had not even previously disclosed! Needless to say, Dr. O has already lost all benefit of the doubt in this case. Dr. O was ordered to turn over the computers she used during the relevant period so that MetLife could perform a key word search. Instead of turning over all computers that she used, she turned over only the two computers that she owned. She claimed that she did not have access to all the computers she used anymore, because some were in Internet cafes she used while traveling. OK, fine, but even still, the computers she did turn over, the two computers she owned and presumably used most often, reflected very little activity! Her hard drives showed no evidence of her sending or receiving any emails during a five-year period. In addition, the hard drives reflected a minimal amount of Web browsing. Well that certainly piques the Court’s interest, especially in light of Dr. O’s earlier testimony in which she admitted to searching the Internet on a daily basis! So she searches the Web every single day, and yet there is no record of it on either of her personal computers? Suspicions have been officially raised! But it does not end there. Dr. O specifically testified at her deposition that she used her personal computer (one of the two she handed over) to type up a twenty two-page letter complaining about MetLife. Well, lo and behold, there is no record of this letter reflected in the personal documents on the computers she turned over. So now Dr. O has been caught in a direct lie! But wait, there’s more! Dr. O testified that she engaged in online banking…but the computers show no record of that, either. She also admitted to doing a lot of online shopping as a symptom of her depression and PTSD. And yet, there is nothing on her computers that is consistent with even a single purchase! Dr. O was not subtle and discrete in covering her tracks, and the court saw right through it. It explained that in light of earlier testimony that the doctor is an avid computer user, the lack of use on the computers she turned over demonstrates that she did not provide all of her principal computers. The court found that Dr. O willfully failed to comply with the court’s orders compelling production, and that this refusal was done in bad faith, prejudicing MetLife’s ability to present its case. Therefore, due to the extent and continued nature of non-compliance on the part of Dr. O, the court imposed an adverse inference instruction against the doctor. Again, this just goes to show that a party has to be more careful than Dr. O was in this case. It cannot claim to use computers all day, every day, and then respond to an order of production of these computers by turning over computers that reflect very little, if any, use. Dr. O was too obvious about what she was doing, and the court sanctioned her for it. Do not be like Dr. O! 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.
In this case, a non-profit corporation, National Jewish Health, is suing WebMD. A very important sub-issue arose in this case regarding electronically stored information requested by the plaintiff during discovery. The plaintiff issued very broad discovery and interrogatory requests regarding emails between employees of the defendant. Because of the complexity of the electronic discovery at issue, the presiding judge, Daniel Y. Wiley, appointed Ronald J. Hedges as a special master to give a recommendation regarding electronic discovery. WebMD uses Enterprise Vault to maintain its email. This system is very useful because it preserves all emails sent by employees to prevent the emails from being altered or destroyed. This system also allowed the IT department of WebMD to search and sort the emails received and sent by specific employees. Using an eDiscovery tool in Enterprise Vault, the IT department of WebMD produced emails generated by the search criteria provided by WebMD’s legal team. WebMD’s counsel produced the emails in one of the following formats: Individual native files with attachments extracted; .DAT file using standard concordance delimiters and containing metadata (standard fields) for the above mentioned native files; and Text files/OCR for each native file provided as individual text files with a text path provided in the .DAT file. Additionally, all the emails produced are fully text searchable, sortable, and paired with all metadata. National Jewish Health (NJH) submitted a motion for sanctions against WebMD because they received roughly 280,000 documents as a result of their document request. NJH viewed this as a data dump and claimed there were over 100,000 duplicate files produced. But as it turned out, WebMD had already filtered the documents for duplicates and NJH could not prove that it had even conducted searches of the documents. Additionally, all documents produced by WebMD were in their native format, or an otherwise usable format. As a result, NJH’s motion for sanctions was denied. Another notable issue in this case is regarding WebMD’s storage of employee emails because an individual must serve as the custodian of the emails. Judge Wiley stated that, “a company, through its IT department, can serve as the custodian of electric files stored on company servers.” Since WebMD saved its emails on the Enterprise Vault, NJH has no argument as to custodianship. The final issue raised in this case is regarding NJH interrogatories. WebMD objected to the interrogatories as being overbroad and burdensome because the interrogatories requested the sorting and labeling of documents. Instead of answering the interrogatories, WebMD instead turned over their business records, which is acceptable under the rules. The purpose of this option to produce documents in the usual course of business is to place the burden of research on the party seeking the information, instead of requiring the responding party to conduct a burdensome or expensive search of its own records. Judge Wiley stated that the interrogatory requests were in fact overly burdensome as WebMD is not required to sort and label 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 Seton Hall’s 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
Last summer the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois decided a case that allows your old boss into your home. Well . . . not literally. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown granted a motion to compel discovery for a plaintiff-employer over objection of defendant-employee. The plaintiff, Network Cargo Systems U.S.A., Inc. claimed that its former employee, Caroline Pappas, stole proprietary technology and destroyed other electronic data upon termination. Plaintiff denied the request, and consented to limited discovery. After expedited discovery took place, plaintiff returned to the court requesting that an independent technology investigator be granted access to all of Ms. Pappas’s electronic devices. The court ordered defendant’s counsel to “determine what electronic devices [Pappas] used between 4/1/13 [2 months before termination] and 2/14/14 [the hearing date].” Network Cargo Sys. U.S.A., Inc. v. Pappas, No. 2014 WL 1856773 *2 (N.D. Ill. May 7, 2014). A week later, counsel indicated six devices: two personal computers, an iPad, an iPhone, a Blackberry (which was returned to Network), and a work laptop provided by defendant’s new employer. After the court’s order, the parties agreed to split the cost of imaging three personal devices: the personal computers and the iPad. Once the imaging was performed by the independent consultant, it was determined that three previously undisclosed flash drives had been connected to defendant’s personal computers during the relevant time frame. Id. The plaintiff demanded immediate access to those flash drives, as they may contain relevant evidence. The court agreed, even though the initial connection of the flash drives to the personal computers happened months after the employee was terminated from Network. The court insisted that plaintiff pay the full cost of imaging the additional devices, though, stating “[t]he likelihood that Pappas was using these flash drives to transfer Network’s confidential information would seem to become more remote with the passage of time.” Id. at *3. Defendant Pappas was forced to turn over flash drives and personal computers. While the target of the investigation is possible stolen proprietary material, through forensic imaging the independent consultant had access to each and every file on the device. Perhaps Pappas can take solace in the fact that her iPhone wasn’t subject to discovery, as the device likely contains more sensitive data than just high scores to Candy Crush. 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.
Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 401 defines something as relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(1)-Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter. In addition, the plaintiff bears the burden of convincing the court that search terms for electronically stored information (ESI) is relevant. In a motion to compel, a court will weigh the relevancy of a plaintiff’s request and justification versus a defendant’s previously produced documents. This is the underlying law that is challenged in McNabb v. City of Overland Park. In McNabb v. City of Overland Park, a police officer alleges claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace behavior and requests electronic mail from a group of individuals from within the police department. The plaintiff during the discovery period submitted a list of 35 search terms to the defendant for document request to support his claim. In response, the defendant, upon discussion with the plaintiff’s counsel, produced over 36,000 documents which were broken up into five categories of search. The defendant produced the following document categories: (1) all emails sent or received by plaintiff; (2) all emails sent or received by Officer Bever, (3) all emails mentioning plaintiff, (4) all emails mentioning Officer Bever, and (5) any emails containing both “McNabb” and “Bever.” In filing the motion to compel discovery, the plaintiff seeks to require the defendant to search the electronic files of 14 custodians for their 35 specific search words. However, the judge held that the plaintiff must present something more than speculation that a search of those 14 custodians’ emails with proposed words would be likely to reveal additional information not included in the initial discovery documents. Specifically, the court noted, the search as required by the plaintiffs was overly broad and it was unlikely that it “could conceivably encompass some information that may arguably be relevant to this litigation…” The court also took note to a significant number of the search terms that were not sexually charged although the plaintiff’s claim in the litigation was sexual harassment. In addition, the court found that the plaintiff included a numerous amount of duplicative and unnecessary search terms (“bullied” and “bully;” “defamation” and “defame;” “discriminate” and “discrimination;” “harass” and “harassment;” “kissed,” “kisses,” and “kissing;” “retaliate” and “retaliation;” and “sex” and “sexual”). In response, the defendant claimed that this measure was to ensure that the discovery search was thorough, but the court held that this measure was a prime example of the overbroad and excessive nature of the search. Therefore, in order for discovery searches to be deemed proper they must be arguably relevant for what they request. Anything that is overbroad will be deemed excessive if the defendant was willing to participate and contribute something toward your discovery goal. The holding in this case attempts to scale back the overbroad reach of FRCP 26(b) and begins to narrow the focus of ESI discovery requests. This is a matter that must be carefully watched because courts could be leaning towards no longer allowing fishing expeditions into Metadata for ESI. 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.