Discoverability

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.

Hiding Bank Account Records Can Be Criminal—Not Just For the Mob!

During the course of discovery, plaintiff Luellen requested that defendant Hodge  produce bank account records.  Hodge failed to produce the bank account records, claiming that the bank, Capital One (and Charter One), had destroyed these records already. Luellen argues that Hodge was aware that the records were being sought for discovery and deliberately allowed the records to be destroyed. Luellen argues that Hodge had two different ways of being aware that the records were relevant to litigation and thus had a duty to preserve the records. First, Hodge was served with Luellen’s interrogatories, requesting information relating to bank accounts in Hodge’s name. Second, Hodge filed a motion for a protective order requesting that the Court quash a subpoena directed to Charter One. The fact that Hodge sought a protective order regarding the bank indicates knowledge that the bank records were sought for discovery. In addition, Luellen claims that in filings dated February 27, 2012, Hodge made statements indicating his awareness of Luellen's pursuit of information regarding Hodge's personal accounts. The argument for spoliation of the bank records is based on the reasonable assumption that if Hodge had directed Charter One to preserve his records when he was served with the first set of interrogatories, then the relevant records would not have been destroyed in accordance with the bank's record retention policy. In a spoliation motion, the party must show that:   (1) the party charged with destroying the evidence had an obligation to preserve it; (2) the records were destroyed with a “culpable state of mind”; and, (3) the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party's claim or defense. In reference to the first element, the court found that “a common sense understanding of the relationship between an account holder and a financial institution leads to the conclusion that Hodge had sufficient control over the documents to be able to direct their preservation.” Hodge should have directed the bank to preserve the records. In reference to the second factor, that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind, the court finds that Hodge’s failure to prevent the bank from destroying the records was negligent but not bad faith. The court finally holds that severe sanctions are not warranted in this case because Luellen has not shown that Hodge's failure to preserve the Charter One account records were done in bad faith or that Luellen had been severely disadvantaged by the destruction of the records. Hodge was directed to reimburse Luellen's costs and expenses in the amount of $18.00. The takeaway message here is that while you are in control of bank records, if you can show that you did not act in bad faith when you failed to prevent the banks from destroying the records, you could avoid a spoliation charge. But beware, it is better to anticipate this and prevent it by telling your bank to keep all your records! 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.

When Is “Discovery On Discovery” Improper?, Part 2

In Freedman v. Weatherford Int’l, Ltd., Weatherford hired law firm Latham & Watkins to review allegations of security fraud made to Weatherford’s whistleblower hotline. Latham found no evidence of fraud. However, a second investigation was conducted by Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP. Plaintiff’s alleged that Davis’s second investigation reveal that Latham actually discovered evidence of wrongdoing. Plaintiffs sought reports comparing the results of Weatherford’s production with search terms and productions related to the two investigations and search terms proposed by the plaintiff, in order to test the adequacy and reasonableness of Weatherford’s initial production. Weatherford objected, noting that Plaintiff had no legal basis for its request and its requested production was “hugely burdensome.” The District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the plaintiff’s request was “outside the bounds of Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . . [because they did] . . . not proffer an adequate factual basis for their belief that the production [was] deficient.” Plaintiff’s claim that Weatherford’s production was deficient because 85% of the pages produced related to different case was too conclusory. Furthermore, the Court was not surprised that Weatherford used dramatically different search terms here compared to search terms used in the two investigations and a related action, because of the differing class periods and varying false statements. The court also addresses arguments related to Subject matter waiver and the crime-fraud exception of the attorney-client privilege, but these arguments were not related to e-discovery. 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.

Can Attorney-Client Privilege Be Used As Both A Sword And A Shield? No, Not When Attorney-Client Privilege Is Being Used As A Litigation Strategy

Attorney-client privilege is a complex and often misunderstood aspect of discovery. This privilege generally protects a party from being compelled to disclose confidential correspondence between the party and the party’s attorney. The traditional purpose of attorney-client privilege is to serve as a shield to prevent a party from being forced to turn over the strategies, opinions, and work product of an attorney. However, it is possible, under the right circumstances, for a party to waive the privilege in order to prove a fact vital to the party’s case. Such was the circumstances in Cormack v. United States. In this case, the plaintiff claimed that a mail-sorting system used by the United States Postal Service (USPS) is infringing on his patent for the device. The USPS and the manufacturer of the mail-sorting system, Northrop Grumman, claimed that the mail-sorting system utilized by the USPS is an independent creation. The issue in the case became the date on which the plaintiff conceived the invention and whether that date was earlier than the date on which the USPS’s manufacturer conceived the invention. The defendant was able to prove conception of the idea in July 2004. The plaintiff proceeded to waive attorney-client privilege and disclose correspondence with his attorney regarding applying for a patent for the mail-sorting device dated November 2003. After the disclosure by the plaintiff, the defendant submitted a motion to compel the plaintiff to turn over all other documents being withheld under the guise of attorney-client privilege. The court stated that the proper standard for compelling privileged information is “all other communications relating to the same subject matter.” The court was particularly concerned with the concept of fairness stating, “the aim is to prevent a party from disclosing communications supporting its position while simultaneously withholding communications that do not.” In this case, the subject matter was determined to be all documents regarding the date of plaintiff’s conception of his mail-sorter idea. The plaintiff sought to maintain privilege for numerous communications between himself and his attorney both before and after the date a patent was filed for. The court stated that the plaintiff must disclose any documents regarding conception of the mail-sorter regardless of the date on which the communications were created. The court specifically stated, “[the plaintiff’s] privilege waiver to apply to communications related to the date of conception, date of reduction to practice, and due diligence, generated both before and after the filing of the patent application.” The court did however create a distinction between communications regarding applying for the patent and emails regarding defending the patent. The court also held that the plaintiff has no obligation to produce documents and communications attendant to patent prosecutions relating to the other topics. Emails between the plaintiff and his attorney leading up to the prosecution of the patent were also deemed to be protected by privilege. It is imperative to consider the evidentiary value of all documents relating to the same subject matter before waiving attorney-client privilege. If you seek to admit certain documents regarding a certain subject matter covered by attorney-client privilege, all documents relating to the same subject matter must also be turned over to your opponent. Courts are concerned with notions of fairness and will generally not allow a party to selectively waive privilege in order to use it as a sword and a shield. Before waiving privilege, separate documents into distinctions of subject matter, do not make arbitrary distinctions between documents. Then weigh the potentially beneficial and potentially harmful value of all the documents relating to the subject matter in question. Once the value has been determined, only waive the privilege if, on the whole, the documents are clearly beneficial. 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

Recycling—Helps the Earth, Saves Lives, and Destroys Electronic Evidence

“Recycle,” “conserve,” “waste,” and “pollution” are terms that were implanted into the minds of each of us at a young age and are now they are being instilled into companies worldwide as a measure to reduce operational costs. Companies such as JPC Equestrian, Inc. have begun recycling and reusing “cleaned” electronic devices from former employees, which would normally not be an issue if companies had a company-wide server or cloud-based software that held all of the information stored within the device. However, since JPC Equestrian, Inc. does not have a company-wide server, once an employee leaves, the company has a procedure in place to “scub” the computer and reassign it to another without care for the electronic information within the device. In Kearney v. JPC Equestrian, Inc., Mark Kearney, a former employee, sued JPC Equestrian, Inc. (“JPC”) for the failure to produce emails relevant to the claim he is asserting. Kearney commenced this lawsuit against JPC when they wrongfully terminated his employment, and breached his sales agreements by either failing to pay him sales commissions or by paying reduced commissions that did not satisfy contractual obligations. Kearney through the discovery process received email documentation from numerous employees and executives dating back to 2005. The discovery submission included JPS turning over 250 pages of documents relevant to the parties and situations involved. However, Kearney requested information for "all relevant emails," which in his original discovery requests, were defined as "[a]ll emails that mention, or refer to the Plaintiff, however, marginally, in any way shape or form from 2002 through 2010." Kearney v. JPC Equestrian, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153975, *5 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 30, 2014). Kearney was missing three years of discovery. Kearney only received documentation dating back to 2005 because the information dating back to 2002 did not exist or does not exist anymore and cannot be recovered. JPS claims that the information cannot be recovered because the computers that would have held that data were wiped clean and erased before the device was transitioned to another employee. JPS has found loopholes around document retention and the court agreed. The court held that JPS’ procedure of document retention was acceptable and the court has, “no basis to conclude that the defendants have withheld responsive documents, or that there is any basis to compel a further response regarding potentially relevant email communication.” Id. at *7. Unfortunately, this holding allows companies an avenue to discard potential and relevant information pertaining to potential litigation that otherwise would have been saved if not for the guise of recycling and employee cost saving. This holding should be reversed and JPS should be penalized for its failure to maintain adequate records for an appropriate period of time. The court should not excuse a company, no matter the size or market capitalization, for not maintaining the electronic information of employees who work within the company. Not only is that bad preservation practice, its poor business practice. Recycling and the protection of our planet is important but those ideals should not give rise to loopholes of common electronic document preservation practices, which are becoming as worldwide and important as protecting the planet itself. Timothy received his B.A. from Rutgers University in 2011. He began his post-college life working in Trenton, New Jersey, at a lobbying and non-profit management organization before attending law school in the fall of 2012. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Timothy has had a diverse set of experiences during his time in law school and has found his calling in Tax Law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Is An Employer Permitted To Monitor and Review An Employee’s Internet Activity and Usage?

On March 10, 20108, Marc Liebeskind began working at Rutgers Facilities Business Administration Department.  By March 28 of that year, Liebeskind was terminated for lacking the basic skill set needed to perform his job in addition to having a poor attitude while on the job. Liebeskind’s supervisors had suspected he was spending an unreasonable amount of time on non-work related activities on his work computer. Having doubts about Liebeskind’s work performance, his supervisors reviewed the browsing history on Liebeskind’s computer by using an application called IEHistoryView. It is important to note that this search only entailed browsing history, and there is no evidence that Liebeskind’s supervisors were granted any access to his personal or password-protected information and accounts. After his termination, Liebeskind filed suit against Rutgers University and his supervisors, claiming invasion of privacy, among other claims. On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, which ruling struck down all claims that Liebeskind’s privacy was violated as a result of his supervisors’ investigating the browser history on his computer. The appellate court referenced the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Stengart ruling, which had set the precedent for an employer’s right to monitor employee Internet activity and usage. Closely followed in previous eLessons Learned posts, the 2010 Stengart ruling held that an employee’s email communication with her attorney, using a company-issued computer, but via a personal, password-protected email account was held to be protected by the attorney-client privilege. However, the court’s decision to uphold Stengart’s privacy was not intended to forbid employers from monitoring employees’ actions on company-issued computers or devices in the future. In Stengart, New Jersey’s highest court stated: “Companies can adopt lawful policies relating to computer use to protect the assets, reputation, and productivity of a business and to ensure compliance with legitimate corporate policies.” As noted in Liebeskind, Rutgers’ “Acceptable Use Policy for Computing and Information Technology Resources” was in effect during the time of Liebeskind’s employment. This policy expressly stated that an employee’s privacy “may be superseded by the University’s requirement to protect the integrity of information technology resources, the rights of all users and the property of the University.” Additionally, Rutgers University “[r]eserve[d] the right to examine material stored on or transmitted through its facilities.” Unlike the findings in Stengart, the court established that Liebeskind did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In addition, the court agreed that Rutgers had a “legitimate interest in monitoring and regulating plaintiff’s workplace computer.” All companies can learn from this case and the policies in place at Rutgers that protected its right to monitor and search an employee’s computer. One of the most important lessons to be learned here is the need for a written internet usage policy. At the very least, these written policies should mandate that employees are expected to use the Internet and their work issued computers for work related activities only. Additionally, the possible disciplinary actions for any violation of this policy should be made available to employees. As seen in in this case, the existence of an internet usage policy and the reserved right of a company to monitor its employee’s Internet activity is the key to eliminate an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

How Are Electronic Materials Slipping Through the Cracks? The Scope of eDiscovery Is Limited to Discovery Requests, Not search Terms

We have entered the age of information!  Every conversation, e-mail, text message, attachment, voicemail, and other electronic data are being stored all day, every day.  These types of electronically stored information (a.k.a. “ESI”) are regularly used during litigation.  So why is there a problem collecting information for trial?  Lawyers need to search through these massive amounts of ESI in order to provide the materials to the opposing party before trial.  This process is known as eDiscovery, or electronic discovery, and it has raised a number of issues regarding who, what, where, when, why, and how ESI is produced. The issue discussed here is what defines the scope of eDiscovery.  In ChenOster v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., the court made it clear that the scope of discovery, whether electronic or not, is still defined by traditional discovery requests and demands.  However, what brought forward this conclusion? Traditionally, the process of discovery is the period when lawyers exchange requests and demands for information, documents, and other materials that may be used in the case.  Generally, this can be broken down into three steps: (1) Requesting party will make a discovery request; (2) the opposing party will use any means she deems appropriate to find the materials; and (3) the opposing party will respond to the request in the form of producing the materials or an objection. However, in Chen-Oster, the parties deviated slightly from this traditional process.  Here, the requesting party, the plaintiffs, made traditional discovery requests for ESI.  Then the plaintiffs negotiated with the opposing party, the defendants, in order to determine what search terms would be used to filter through the enormous amounts of ESI available. Now, why is this different from a traditional discovery process?  This is different because both parties collaborated to determine how the ESI requested would be located. The issue presented in Chen-Oster begins upon production of the ESI by the defendants.  The defendants only produced the ESI they deemed to be relevant to the discovery requests set forth by the plaintiffs.  However, the plaintiffs intended to collect all ESI produced by the search terms they agreed upon. This brings us back to the main question:  what defines the scope of eDiscovery?  It is either all ESI located under the agreed upon search terms; or it is only ESI located under the search terms that are relevant to the original discovery request. According to Chen-Oster, an agreement to use specific search terms or discovery protocol does not override discovery demands and requests.  In other words, search terms used to filter through electronic data do not define the scope of discovery.  The scope of discovery is determined by the discovery requests rendered.    Victoria O’Connor Blazeski 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.

Erasing Videotapes Can Be Dangerous for Everyone, Not Just Politicians!

In McCann v. Kennedy Univ. Hosp., Inc., the plaintiff Robert McCann sued Kennedy University Hospital, asking the court to sanction the hospital for intentionally or inadvertently destroying necessary videotapes.  The plaintiff contended that the videotapes contained an account of the defendant’s emergency room lobby on the night the plaintiff claims to have been mistreated by the defendant’s staff. The plaintiff argued that the defendant knew or should have known that the video tapes were discoverable material and that there was actual withholding or suppression of the videotapes, which constituted spoliation. On December 21, 2011, the plaintiff was transported to the hospital after suffering extreme rectal pain and trouble breathing. The Plaintiff claims to have been in excruciating pain while he was waiting to be seen by the hospital staff. He states that he was ignored and neglected for at least seven hours. During the time that he was at the hospital, the plaintiff claimed to have collapsed on the floor and was left lying on the floor for over ten minutes, while staff walked over him without offering assistance. McCann also claimed that when he was eventually seen by the hospital staff, they treated him in ways that made him feel humiliated and uncomfortable. The hospital allegedly refused to treat McCann because he did not have insurance. On December 23, 2011, the plaintiff sent an e-mail to Renae Alesczk, the assistant to the Senior Vice President of the Kennedy Health System, complaining about his experience at the hospital while also threatening to sue. A few hours after the email was received, Aron Berman, formerly employed as the defendant’s Director of Guest Relations and Service Improvement, forwarded the McCann’s e-mail to Kim Hoffman, the Corporate Director of Patient Safety. The defendant claimed to have conducted an internal investigation of the complaints at that time, and notified the plaintiff that his complaints were being addressed. The hospital staff then stated that the investigation showed that the hospital staff acted appropriately and managed the patient’s clinical care in a professional manner. So far, so good. However, the plaintiff’s attorneys requested videotapes of the emergency room lobby, which showed the plaintiff waiting without being treated by staff. The defendants claimed that there was no videotape footage because they did not have enough disc drive space to keep all their video footage and had already erased the footage from the night in question. The plaintiff argued that the defendants knew or should have known that the videotapes would be requested in discovery, and that the defendants should not have destroyed the videotapes. The plaintiff claimed such activity as obstruction of justice and an intentional spoliation of evidence. The defendants argued that the tapes only show the time period during which the patient was in the waiting room, and are irrelevant to the plaintiff’s complaints about the treatment by staff when he was seen in the hospital. The Third Circuit has adopted a four-factor test for evaluating spoliation claims, finding that spoliation occurs where: “(1) the evidence was in the party's control; (2) the evidence is relevant to the claims or defenses in the case; (3) there has been actual suppression or withholding of evidence; and (4) the duty to preserve the evidence was reasonably foreseeable to the party.” Here, there is no argument that the tapes were in the party’s control. The court found that the tapes were not relevant to the plaintiff’s claims and that the defendant did not have a duty to preserve the video tapes at issue.  Therefore, there had not been actual suppression or withholding of the evidence. The takeaway from this case is that the court found it was reasonable for the hospital to destroy the videotapes because the plaintiff’s claim was specifically in regard to his being treated while at the facility, NOT his experience while waiting in the lobby. However, to be safe, videotapes of the night in question should be preserved to avoid this kind of confusion. 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

Should I Obstruct Discovery?—A Classic Pyrrhic Victory Problem

A pyrrhic victory is defined by winning an early battle but eventually losing the war because of the costs and expenses of that earlier battle. Everyone has heard the phase, “you may have won this battle but I will win the war.” Victory in life, business, and litigation is achieved by obtaining a favorable outcome in the end, and not defined by winning an early battle over discovery where you exhaust resources by attempting to try to obstruct your opponent. Individuals who fail to comply and purposely try to hide or destroy a document can trigger serious legal consequences and significantly hurt their chances for long term success in the litigation. In Klipsch Group, Inc. v. Big Box Store Ltd., Klipsch Group, Inc. sued Big Box Store (“BBS”) for the spoliation of relevant documents as well as other discovery misdeeds. Klipsch commenced a lawsuit against BBS for infringement of their trademark on a particular headphone in 2012. BBS conceded that they sold some counterfeit headphones but claimed that the sales were innocent and yielded almost no profit. Klipsch’s main claim against BBS is that they failed to hold or preserve relevant documents pertaining to the pending lawsuit when they became aware of the litigation in August 2012 (a requirement by law).    Every litigant has an obligation to take reasonable measures to preserve all potentially relevant documents once it has noticed that a lawsuit has been filed. Specifically, that obligation may arise even prior to litigation being formally filed if "the party 'should have known that the evidence may be relevant to future litigation.'" MASTR Adjustable Rate Mortgages Trust 2006-OA2 v. UBS Real Estate Secs., Inc., 295 F.R.D. 77, 82 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Kronisch v. United States, 150 F.3d 112, 126 (2d Cir. 1998)). Here, BBS should have known about the possibility of future litigations since they were knowingly infringing onto Klipsch’s patent by selling counterfeit headphones. Klipsch suspected that BBS’ actions warranted, at a minimum, a forensic investigation into their company for documents that could reveal if a larger quantity of counterfeit headphones were sold. Klipsch, correctly believed, that based on the information they received through discovery it seemed that large quantities of documents (emails, transactional documents, sales reports) were missing or altered. This belief was verified during subsequent depositions of BBS employees. The depositions revealed that BBS employees produced contradicting stories than the information revealed in discovery. In deciding Klipsch Group, Inc. v. Big Box Store Ltd., the court refused to levy a severe punishment against BBS although it was discovered that they had broken numerous discovery laws. Instead, the court took a passive approach and applied “the mildest of available remedies” that allowed the parties leave to pursue additional discovery, except this time with an experienced forensic computer expert. However, the court could have imposed stricter penalties onto BBS, such as, termination, preclusion of testimony, or a mandatory adverse-inference charge after it discovered BBS’s possible attempt to destroy evidence. Instead, the court chose a more cautious route and tabled those actions until the forensic discovery was completed. This ponders the question, if the aim of any remedy is to deter the parties from engaging in spoliation and restore the aggrieved party to the same position then why not have automatic forensic discovery? The answer? Costs. Klipsch suggested that the imposition of costs, including fees should be shifted to BBS. The court disagreed and held that the costs would first be borne by Klipsch and could be reallocated or apportioned based on the findings of the expert’s report. The court could better deter abuse of discovery by always imposing costs for forensic experts onto defendants who are found to have wrongfully withheld information requested in discovery. This action and precedent would cause all parties to become forthcoming with unaltered information due to the fear of additional costs levied in litigation. Ultimately, the expert’s report will produce the information needed for Klipsch to move forward in their litigation against BBS, or it will prove unfruitful and Klipsch will drop their litigation. This entire matter could have been avoided if BBS did not attempt to hide information during discovery. BBS could have avoided a pyrrhic problem by not exhausting valuable resources into possibly altering evidence of the sale of counterfeit headphones. However, this case could be used as future precedent to prevent future companies from pursuing this option as a method of strategy if they automatically shift the costs of forensic experts to the litigant in situations where inaccuracies of discovery occur. 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.

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