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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
ESI is usually massive and its discovery burdensome. The proportionality consideration is thus often a deciding factor for courts to impose a particular document production protocol. The rules of ESI request and production do not offer a clear line as to the form of production and the obligation of a producing party in further culling for responsiveness by reviewing search hits produced by computers. That allows courts to order production procedures with considerable flexibility. ESI production is governed by Rule 34 of FRCP, which states that a request of ESI production “may specify the form or forms in which electronically stored information is to be produced” (emphasis added). However, rule 34(b)(2)(E) specifies that: (E) Producing the Documents or Electronically Stored Information. Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, these procedures apply to producing documents or electronically stored information: (i) A party must produce documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request; (ii) If a request does not specify a form for producing electronically stored information, a party must produce it in a form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form or forms; and (iii) A party need not produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form. As to the responsiveness review, nowhere in Rule 34 is it expressly stipulated how the review should be carried out and how the electronic search should be conducted, particularly in the context of ESI. The court in FDIC v. Bowden, by referencing other cases, developed some practical guide in applying the ESI production rules as to production forms and responsiveness review responsibility. In FDIC v. Bowden, the court, in the spirit of balancing discovery burdens and applying proportionality restriction, provided a reasonable ESI production procedure to follow in the particular context of the case. That context, involving a suit by FDIC who took over a failed bank for mismanagement against some prior executives of the bank, may not be as uncommon as it appears, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis resulting from broad adoption of ruthless practices by the financial industry. The position of the court is thus illuminating and offers much guidance to parties facing similar situations. Specifically in FDIC v. Bowden, a bank insured by the FDIC failed and the FDIC formed a separate legal entity, the FDIC-R, to act as a receiver and took over the bank. The FDIC-R then brought a bank mismanagement case against sixteen former directors and officers. The parties disputed as to the ESI document production protocol. Like many other mismanagement cases, the defendant had been running the bank and thus had some reasonable understanding of majority the bank’s (or the plaintiff’s) ESI and knew reasonably well what needed to be searched. This point seems to have carried much weight for the court to determine a suitable document production protocol. First, it is interesting to note that the court treated acceptable ESI production protocol by FDIC for defendants’ request for documents related to FDIC’s claims separately from defendants’ request for documents responsive to defendant’s defenses. As to the production of ESI related to the claims, the court first noted that since this type of case generally involves the bank’s takeover by the FDIC and thus the ESI has usually been modified in the course of FDIC’s running of the bank. Thus, irrespective of whether the defendants specified any document production form, FDIC cannot really satisfy the “course of business” option of Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) by simply providing ESI as kept by FDIC because the “course of business” was held by the court to mean the business of the bank, not of the FDIC. Under Rule 34, the FDIC thus needed to produce categorized documents according to defendant’s request. But there is no obligation for the responding party to examine every scrap of paper in its potentially voluminous files in order to comply with its discovery obligations. Rather, the court approved a two-stage scheme. In the first stage, FDIC only needs to conduct a diligent search, which involves developing a reasonably comprehensive electronic search strategy, categorize the resulting files according to the request, and produce the documents. However, the obligation (if there is one) for FDIC to review the responsiveness of the documents resulting from these initial searches may be obviated through a cooperative search query formulation on an equal access document database in a second stage document production. Specifically for the second stage, parties would agree to a set of search terms to apply to the Bank’s database maintained by FDIC-R. FDIC-R would then export the results into some review tool, called “Relativity” in this case. FDIC-R would provide full accessibility of “Relativity” to defendants. That way, the defendants can be afforded the opportunity to review the documents identified through the second round searches and select for production only the documents that the defendants desire. As for the defendant’s interest in corralling documents in support of their defense, the court held that FDIC-R must confer with defendants and run whatever reasonable searches they wish to run on the electronic records and make those hits available for review and refinement. This seems to be a natural way of dealing with request for document helping with defense since the defensive strategy is mostly with the defendants themselves. From this case, it appears that as long as a responding party conducts a reasonable and diligent electronic search according to the document request and produces hits, it does not immediately have the obligation to further review these hits for responsiveness. However, the court may ask the responding party to make their ESI database available for a collaborative search between the parties. The responding party can always produce these hits in a format kept in ordinary course of business irrespective of whether the requesting party has specified any form of production. Of course, the responding party can also produce the document by categorizing the document according to the request if it chooses to do so or if the ESI has been altered and becomes too burdensome to reverse to the form kept in ordinary course of business. 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.
Why is clawing back digital data any more dangerous than clawing back physical documents? Imagine making physical copies of one thousand documents. That would take a long time, right? Now, imagine making digital copies of the same one thousand documents. This takes a fraction of the time. Giving up too much information in a digital form is incredibly dangerous because duplicating the data is as simple as “copy” and “paste.” In the case of Crissen v. Gupta, the party producing documents gave the receiving party a CD with all the documents requested; however, they mistakenly included over 600 pages of documents that were not supposed to be produced. Thankfully, for the producing party, a protective order was in place which mandated that documents could be “clawed back” if they had been mistakenly produced. A claw back provision essentially will undo a document production. In theory, this is a great way to increase the flow of information between opposing parties, decrease discovery costs, and limit the amount of time spent combing through documents before they are produced. See 2006 Advisory Committee Note to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(f). However, this only works if opposing counsel plays by the rules of the “claw back” game. Here, instead of just returning the CD as requested by the producing party, the receiving party copied and pasted all the documents from the CD onto the law firm’s server. The CD was eventually returned to the producing party, but the damage had already been done. The receiving party had an unblemished, unrestricted view of all the documents saved right on their servers. The producing party promptly asked the court to interject and enforce the claw back protection order; however, the receiving party had already reviewed the recalled documents via the copies on their servers. The court ordered that the recalled documents be deleted, forbade the use of the documents unless they were properly produced, and required the receiving party to submit confirmation of the same. However, as the saying goes, the cat was already out of the bag. Judge Magnus-Stinson admitted in his opinion that he could not bar the receiving party from using the recalled documents because the documents still may be properly requested and produced. In other words, the receiving party now had the upper hand because they knew what documents to specifically request based upon their review of the recalled documents. The moral of the story in this case is do not rely solely upon claw back protective orders when going through the discovery process, especially when producing digital information. Even if the protective order is enforced and a party is able to claw back specific data, there is some damage that just cannot be undone. Victoria O’Connor Blazeski (formerly Victoria L. O’Connor) received her B.S. form Stevens Institute of Technology, and she will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Prior to law school, she worked as an account manager in the Corporate Tax Provision department of Thomson Reuters, Tax & Accounting. Victoria is a former D3 college basketball player, and she has an interest in tax law and civil litigation. After graduating, she will clerk for the Hon. Joseph M. Andresini, J.T.C. in the Tax Courts of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
This case provides an important lesson for any person involved in a lawsuit involving text messages as evidence. Here, a group of employees was suing their employer for discrimination under Title VII. When the discovery process began, the defendants requested a number of text messages relating to the conduct of the employees during the relevant time period of the discrimination. These text messages were permitted to be discoverable by the defendant and the plaintiff was ordered to turn over the relevant text messages. The plaintiffs’ lawyer then gave the plaintiffs instructions to preserve all data relevant to the case; otherwise they could face sanctions by the court, which could negatively impact their suit. Spoliation is the legal term for deleting or destroying information sought by the opposing party. This is precisely what occurred here. Apparently the plaintiffs felt that if they simply deleted a portion of the requested text messages that the defendant would have no way to access that information and thus the problem would be solved; if there even was a problem to begin with. When the defendant discovered that these texts had not been turned over with the rest of the discovery they inquired about their whereabouts. The plaintiffs responded that the texts had been deleted. Obviously perturbed, the defendant then subpoenaed the mobile carrier, T-Mobile, and recovered the deleted texts. However, now the plaintiffs had a problem; they had deliberately attempted to conceal and destroy relevant information. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss based on the actions of the plaintiff. The court granted the motion in part but denied the dismissal of all charges. Though, the court did impose sanctions upon the plaintiff, which carried the potential to seriously harm their case even if everything else went well. The simple lesson here is that you should never conceal, delete, or destroy any relevant information sought by the opposing party. Ultimately the content of the text messages remains unimportant in light of the plaintiffs’ spoliation. The plaintiffs should have followed their lawyer’s instruction to preserve the information. Had they turned over the information, their lawyer would have been able to combat the text messages in court in front of the jury. However, due to their actions, they were sanctioned and essentially handcuffed their counselor from undercutting any information contained within the text messages. Spoliation is never the answer even if you are required to turn over information that does not weigh in your favor. These plaintiffs learned the hard way; do not make the same mistake and follow your lawyer’s instructions. 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.
The court entered its usual case management order setting forth a timeline of how this case was going to proceed. One of the first phases of litigation is the discovery phase. This means that both sides get to ask each other for documents and information regarding the issue in the case. The rules are fairly straightforward in this phase and each side will likely be obligated to provide much of what the opposing side asks for. In the instant case, after doing some manual searching, the plaintiff, Bridgestone, requested to use predictive coding to help sort through over two million documents. Predictive coding, to put it simply, is akin to a smarter keyword search. Keywords are put in and the program searches for those words as well as for other relevant words that it has “learned” to associate with the keywords in order to determine if a document is relevant or not. The defendant, International Business Machines Corporation, objected to Bridgestone’s use of predictive coding. The objection being that it would be an unwarranted change in the case management order. However, the court ruled that predictive coding could be used because under the rules discovery should be efficient and as cost-effective as possible. Thus, predictive coding, which is a smart search, was allowed in this case in order to expedite the discovery phase and save money on manual or other document review techniques. Moral of the story: Predictive coding may be implemented as an efficient discovery technique even if a case management order is already in place. 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 demands the sun, moon and stars in a document request or interrogatory, refusing to give even a little bit. The meet and confer required by a court in advance of a motion is perfunctory at best, with no compromise whatsoever. But when the parties appear before the court, the recalcitrant party possesses newfound flexibility and a willingness to compromise. - Hon. Paul S. Grewal This case is a demonstration of when a company should be flexible during the meet and confer because a good offer does not make its way back around and it is risky to not accept it. The plaintiff, in this case, issues a subpoena on a third party, seeking the production of a complete forensic image of two laptops utilized by the defendant. The defendant, a former employee of the plaintiff, has since been working with a third party company, a competitor and nonparty to this action. During the meet and confer, the third party company offered “to have an independent vendor review a full forensic image of the first laptop to search for pertinent information, including a review of any deleted files.” The plaintiff refused. The third party company issued two laptops to the defendant. The first was segregated upon hearing about this case. At which point the third party produced to the plaintiff “forensic information about the contents of the first laptop in the form of file listing reports, which disclose extensive metadata of the files contained on the laptop, USB reports, and web browsing history reports” and a second laptop was issued. Both laptops were utilized by the defendant in the course of his work and contained privileged communications. The third party company argued that the demanded forensic images of the two laptops was unwarranted and risked disclosure of protected information that was not the subject of discovery in this case. The law states that a court may quash a subpoena “in the event the subpoena requires disclosure of a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information.” Thus, the judge in this case ruled to quash the subpoena. The court reasoned that the second laptop, which was issued after suit was filed, was “not discoverable.” Additionally, as to the first laptop, the court determined that while there was “no doubt” that discoverable information existed on the two laptops, “by demanding nothing less than a complete forensic image of not just one but two laptops belonging to a direct competitor, the plaintiff demands too much.” The court explained that the requested production would “disclose privileged communications . . . as well as irrelevant trade secrets from a nonparty-competitor” and that the subpoena thus sought “discovery of protected matter, something plainly not permitted under Rule 45, rendering the subpoena overbroad and imposing an undue burden.” It is important to note that because this was competitor-competitor ligation, there was a lot more on the line as to confidential information. The judge also declined to allow the plaintiff to accept the non-party’s prior offer from the meet and confer to allow an independent vendor to review the first laptop for pertinent information. The court stated “But to allow Boston Scientific now to seek shelter from a fallback position that Nevro previously tendered in good faith would make a mockery of both parties’ obligation to meet and confer in good faith from the start. The time to tap flexibility and creativity is during meet and confer, not after.” 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.