What Responsibility Does An ESI Producing Party Have in Reviewing the Documents for Responsiveness?

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.

Changing Horses Midstream? Court Says “Yes” to plaintiff Switching From Manual Document Review to Predictive Coding

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.

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.

What Kind of Paper Trail Is Inside Your Computer? Deleting It Is Not As Simple As Pressing Delete

Have you ever wondered what happens to electronic files when you press the delete button? Or what happens when you put them in the “e-trash?”  You may be surprised to find out that getting rid of electronic material is not as easy as it may seem.  And in many cases, actually deleting or tampering with electronic files or data can cause a great big legal headache. The case of First Sr. Fin. Group LLC v. Watchdog explores and explains the issues that can arise when a person tries to permanently delete or tamper with electronic material that should have been protected and preserved for trial. Here, Defendant was asked to preserve the computer she used to make allegedly disparaging and defamatory remarks under her pseudonym, “watchdog.”  The problem is that the computer was some how wiped clean of all electronic data after she was asked to it turn over to the experts. Now, let’s back track for a moment.  Why is it such a big deal that data was deleted?  Don’t people delete files all the time?  The key to this problem is that electronic files and data can’t just be deleted unless very deliberate actions are taken. When a file is technically “deleted,” it is simply hidden in the background of the computer and marked as, what we will call, disposable data.  Then, when the computer runs out of room to store more data, the disposable data is overwritten. Now, this doesn’t mean there is absolutely no way to wipe the data from a computer. As the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way! (Even is the way is frowned upon and could present major legal repercussions.)  In this case, someone used two programs called Erase Pro and CCleaner to effectively wipe MOST of the data from the computer involved in the case. In legal speak, this is called spoliation of evidence, and if proven, it can mean serious repercussions.  Proving a person intentionally tampered with or destroyed evidence requires proof that a person:  (1) had control over the evidence; (2) the evidence had relevance to the claim; (3) actually suppressed or withheld the evidence; and (4) that person had a duty to preserve the evidence. In this case, the judge held Defendant was liable for the spoliation of the evidence because Defendant met all of the above factors.  However, factors 2 and 3 are particularly relevant to eDiscovery. In regards to the second element (whether the computer data was relevant to the claim), the judge turned to the data fragments recovered by the expert.  When a computer is wiped clean with Erase Pro and CCleaner, it still leaves behind fragments of data, which are like pieces of a ripped up letter.  In this case, the Judge determined that the data fragments provided enough information to show that the computer data was relevant to the case. As such, the second element was satisfied. In regards to element 3 (whether the data was actually suppressed or withheld), the Judge’s main inquiry revolved around whether the use of CCleaner and Erase Pro is considered intentional.  As you might imagine, it was pretty obvious that the use of two separate types of software with the distinct purpose to clear the computer of data is an intentional act.  As such, the third element was satisfied. The Defendant got lucky with a minor sanction of a fine, paying for the computer expert, and paying the other parties attorney’s fees related to the investigation of the computer.  However, this was nothing compared to those available for spoliation charges.  In more serious cases, the judge could hold that an adverse inference be drawn from the missing evidence, or the party could pay all fees related to the case.  In the most extreme cases, the Judge could choose to dismiss the case or find the case in favor of opposing party. Overall, when it comes to electronic data there is one thing to remember.  Electronic data is extremely difficult to get rid of, and actually getting rid of it can mean serious legal consequences. 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.

If I Sue My Employer Can They Access My Private Social Media Account?

Everyone has some sort of social media account in this day and age. Even my mom has a Facebook and Instagram account. Therefore, an important question exists: How private is this information and could it ever be used against me in a court of law? The short answer is yes, if a court determines that the information’s probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect. In such an instance, private content stored on your password protected social media account must be turned over to the opposing party as discovery. Therefore, you must be wary of the content contained on your social media account; you never know when it could be used to your detriment. When Christopher Ogden sued his employer under Title VII alleging that the employer subjected him to a hostile work environment, disparate treatment based on reverse gender discrimination, and retaliation, he never imagined that his private social media communications and content would be subject to discovery and used to impeach the validity of his claim. However, his employer did exactly that and filed a motion to compel discovery seeking all pictures Ogden posted or was tagged in on “any social networking website.” Furthermore the defendant employer requested “all status updates, messages, both sent and received, wall comments, causes joined, groups joined, activity streams, blog entries, details, blurbs, comments and applications . . . .” This motion was likely never expected to prevail because of its breadth and lack of specificity; however, the court did not dismiss it altogether. Ultimately, the court granted the motion for discovery in part and denied it in part. Relying on the holding of Mackelprang v. Fid. Nat. Title Agency of Nevada, Inc., the court asserted that the defendant’s motion cast “too wide a net” and therefore requested information that would be in no way discoverable. However, Ogden did not get to keep all of his social media activities secret from the defendant as the court did carve out an area that was fully discoverable by the defense. Ogden was required to turn over all social media content relating to the lawsuit which contained information regarding his workplace conduct and his emotional state of mind before, during, and after he filed the lawsuit along with possible causes for that state of mind. Therefore, while Ogden’s employer did not gain unfettered access to his personal social media accounts, the court nevertheless allowed access to such information as pertaining to the instant suit regarding Ogden’s workplace conduct and emotional state of mind. The lesson here is that you should be ever so careful what you post on your social media sites; you never know when it could come back to haunt you. The fact that you thought it was private and thereby undiscoverable at trial will not help you. User beware. 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. Presently, A.S. clerks for the Monmouth Co. Office of the Public Defender.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Excessive Force, Missing Video Evidence: Were the Cops Trying to Hide Something?

The Philadelphia Police Commissioner and two police officers were accused of spoliation of evidence in an excessive force case. “Spoliation is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to preserve property for another's use as evidence.” Kinsler v. City of Philadelphia, No. CIV.A. 13-6412, 2014 WL 3964925, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2014) (internal citations omitted). In this case, there was an incident that led Jeffrey Kinsler to file a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia for use of excessive force. Subsequently, a witness submitted a 15-to-30-second-long video to the police department of the events that occurred prior to the arrival of the police officers on scene that day. The police department lost the video. Kinsler argues spoliation and asks for a specific jury instruction stating such, as well as sanctions. The court found however, that there was no spoliation. It determined that the video was not relevant to the case because it only showed events that occurred before the officers arrived on scene. Further, a video was in existence that showed the incident at the time the officers were involved. Also, Kinsler never claimed that the accused officers were ever in possession of the lost video. Therefore, there was no spoliation and plaintiff’s motion for sanctions was denied. Moral of the story: If evidence is at all potentially relevant in pending or foreseeable litigation, preserve it, or risk sanctions. 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.

When Do E-Discovery Costs Shift?

It is a known fact that electronic discovery is costly.  For which party, however, is e-discovery costly? Does the cost of e-discovery ever shift to the other party or is it shared amongst the parties? The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently considered the cost-sharing question in the case of Cochran v. Caldera Med., Inc., when the defendant’s made a motion requesting to share the burden of costs with the plaintiffs.  The defendant argued that it had limited resources and estimated that it would cost $500,000 to collect and produce the ESI in response to the document requests. The judge ultimately denied the defendant’s request, but why? The court began with the presumption that each party must bear its own discovery costs. The judge first addressed the law under Rule 26(b)(2)(B), where the court has the discretion to grant cost sharing and other relief if the producing party shows “that the information is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.”  Information is found to be accessible if it is stored a readily usable format. The defendant did not provide any documentation in support of its estimate or identify what portion of this estimate was attributable to retrieving accessible information or reviewing documents for privilege, both of which tasks are typically not subject to cost sharing. Without this evidence, the court held that the defendant failed to show that the ESI was not reasonably accessibly as required to allow cost sharing under Rule 26. The court next considered cost sharing under Rule 26(b)(2)(C)(iii), which permits cost sharing if the court determines that “the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. The court held that the plaintiff document requests were relevant and material information. Thus, using the proportionality factors from Rule 26, held that the burden on the defendant did not outweigh the importance of the discovery and the seriousness of the injuries alleged by the plaintiffs and the defendant must pay. The moral of the story is that cost shifting between parties can only be considered in limited situations according to the FRCP 26. They are if inaccessible data is being requested for production, or if proportionality supports it. Keep this in mind when making your next motion for cost sharing. Click here for a look at Federal Rule 26.  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.

When Will There Be a Presumption that ESI Is Inaccessible?

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

What Happens When ESI Is Lost?

Willfully destroying evidence? Failing to preserve materially relevant evidence? These are just two of the allegations Lisa Alter has made against the Rocky Point School District. Prior to submitting her complaint, Ms. Alter had accused the school district of similar wrongdoings. Alter worked for the Rocky Point School District holding various positions over the years. While employed as the Coordinator of Central Registration/Administrative Assistant within the Human Resources department, Alter alleges that she was subject to a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender. Further, Alter claims that she was retaliated against for complaining to the School District about it. The opinion here is related to a matter regarding electronic discovery in this case. The plaintiff filed a motion to compel discovery and for sanctions. After taking several depositions, plaintiff claims to have discovered new testimony relevant to her most recent motion to compel discovery. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that: “(1) Defendants both failed to preserve and willfully destroyed evidence, and (2) Defendants continue to intentionally withhold relevant evidence despite repeated demands for production.” The school district had a system for overwriting backup drives. The plaintiff contended that by not stopping the overwriting of the backup drives that it constituted a breach of the defendant’s preservation obligation. The defendant claimed that all information relevant to this case (i.e., emails stored on the school’s employee email system). The duty to preserve arises when litigation is “reasonably foreseeable.” The party that has control over the evidence has an obligation to preserve it. Once evidence is lost, the court then looks to the obligor’s state of mind to determine culpability. Here, the court determined that the defendants did not intentionally lose the data. The burden then shifted to the plaintiff to prove that the lost data was relevant.[1] In the instant case, the court did not find bad faith; thus, it was up to the plaintiff to then prove the relevance of the lost data. Ultimately, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion. The court found that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of showing that the lost documents were relevant. However, the actions of the defendants that lead to losing materials placed the plaintiff in a position to have to file this motion. Thus, sanctions were awarded in the amount of $1,500.00. The moral of the story: When litigation is pending, or likely to begin, preserve or pay the price. 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. [1] When the breaching party acts in bad faith, relevance is assumed.

Does Forwarding Emails To An Opposing Party Qualify As A Sufficient Method of Transfer for Discovery Purposes?

The employee in this case was not an inexperienced layperson, but rather a seasoned and accomplished trial attorney. Yet even with her wealth of knowledge regarding discovery, she was nearly cited for contempt of court as a result of her unfamiliarity with electronic discovery obligations. When obligated to turn over emails to your opposing party during discovery, it is not enough to simply forward the email. Courts require the emails to be in their native form, which means containing the crucial metadata contained within the original email. In Sexton v. Lecavalier, the plaintiff, Byron Sexton, subpoenaed all documents in the defendant’s possession regarding several business entities. The subpoena provided that if these documents were in electronic form, the copies produced must be in their “native” format. In response to the subpoena, the defense attorney produced numerous documents including eleven emails that had been forwarded to her from her client’s Gmail account. The defense attorney claimed that she could not access the emails in their original format and even had an IT expert testify that the emails could not be accessed in their native format because the infrastructure for the email is controlled by Google, who does not allow its users to copy emails in native format. The issue in this case is that the emails were located in the “cloud,” and thus stored with a third party. However, even though a third party held the emails, the plaintiff argues that there are two ways to preserve the crucial metadata. (1) Emails can be downloaded to an email client such as Microsoft Outlook and then saved onto a computer in the format used by the client; and (2) Gmail emails that have been displayed in their “original” format by clicking “show original” and then saved as a PDF. The court held that even though the plaintiff currently lacked access to the files in their native format, this fact does not absolve counsel of her discovery obligations. A growing number of attorneys and courts are realizing the evidentiary value to metadata and as this trend continues, it is becoming crucial for parties to preserve all relevant electronic data. There is currently electronic discovery software in existence, which makes preservation of data a whole lot easier ( is merely one example of such software). The presiding judge went on to scold both parties for even bringing this discovery disagreement in front of the court. The judge stated that the parties should have resolved this matter outside of court and that the defendant could have provided the emails in a correct format with minimal cost. However, the judge believed that the defense attorney had a good faith belief that the emails could not be provided in their native format and refused to hold her in contempt. It seems that ignorance was the defense attorney’s saving grace. Any practitioners reading this will not have the luxury of such a defense. In order to avoid charges of contempt being levied against you in the future, it would be wise to invest in electronic discovery software. At the very least, you should download Microsoft Outlook and save all of your emails in a format that preserves metadata such as .eml or .msg. As less paper copies of documents are being utilized, and as electronic storage is becoming more prevalent, native documents are going to become an issue increasingly seen by courts. Additionally, resolve any such discovery issues with your opponent. No judge wants his or her time wasted with similar motions compelling discovery. 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

  • Find an eLesson

  • Register for Post Notifications

    Subscribe to receive updates whenever a new eLesson is published.

    Manage Subscriptions
  • Let Us Blog Your Event!

    eLessons Learned is fast becoming the site of choice for employers, employees, judges, lawyers, and journalists who are interested in learning more about these areas without being intimidated by the complexity of the topic. In fact, organizations and event coordinators often feature eLessons Learned as their official eDiscovery blog. Fill out our simple registration form to have eLessons Learned be the official blog of your organization or event.

    Register Now
  • Recent Praise

    The blog takes a clever approach to [e-discovery]. Each post discusses an e-discovery case that involves an e-discovery mishap, generally by a company employee. It discusses the conduct that constituted the mishap and then offers its ‘e-lesson’ — a suggestion on how to learn from the mistake and avoid it happening to you.

    Robert Ambrogi

    Legal Tech Blogger and creator of LawSites

    Although I may have missed some, yours is the first article that I have seen addressing Zubulake II. It is often the lost opinion amongst the others.

    Laura A. Zubulake

    Plaintiff, Zubulake v. UBS Warburg

    Click here to see more.
View in: Mobile | Standard