eDiscovery

Preserve Immediately or be Sanctioned!

In this case, the plaintiff, an inmate at Rikers Island, brought a motion for spoliation of evidence and alleged the defendants breached their duty to preserve evidence. The evidence in question is video footage relevant to the litigation regarding the assault on the plaintiff which occurred on May 24, 2011, by other prison inmates in a holding cell at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. The defendants claim that they do not have a duty to preserve the surveillance footage because by the time they were given notice, the footage had been deleted. The defense states that even if they had a duty to preserve, they met this obligation by saving eight minutes of surveillance that they deemed to be relevant. On the day of the assault, the holding cell in which the plaintiff was placed in with approximately sixteen to seventeen other inmates was under twenty-four hour video surveillance.  That same day, Jacqueline Brantley, the former Assistant Deputy Warden Executive Officer at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse, reviewed the video footage to determine the course of events specifically for a period of three hours.  Brantley was the only person to view the three hours of footage and therefore she was the only one who could testify in court regarding this evidence. The three hours of video footage is extremely relevant to the case. The footage included evidence of not only the plaintiff’s injuries, but also how the Department of Corrections protected the inmates and how they responded to the incident. The tapes also show the presence and identity of possible witnesses to the assault and help create a visual timeline of events in the holding cell. The Southern District of New York stated that the defendants should have known within a week of the assault that the surveillance footage would be relevant to a future lawsuit. While the Department of Corrections destroyed the footage pursuant to the Department’s automatic video recycling procedures, prior to the filing of the claim by Taylor, the Department did manage to save eight minutes of footage. This begs the following question to be asked:  Why did the department not preserve the entire three hours of footage? As a result, the plaintiff in this case sought sanctions for spoliation of evidence with the deletion of the footage. A party seeking sanctions for the spoliation of evidence must establish the following three elements: The party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; The records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and The destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim… such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim. Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge  Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d. Cir. 2002). If the moving party can establish these three elements, then the court has the ability to impose sanctions under Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendants here should have anticipated that the plaintiff would file a lawsuit against the Department for its failure for protect the plaintiff in the holding cell. Therefore, the defendants should have reasonably known that any evidence depicting the plaintiff’s treatment in the holding cell would be relevant to the litigation. The obligation to preserve the video footage in this case attached at the time of the assault due to its relevance. The defendants should have known that the entire three hours of footage would be relevant and that two four minute video clips would be insufficient. Since the entire footage has been destroyed, the defendants breached their preservation duty. The destruction of evidence by the defendants was done in a culpable state of mind and destroyed knowingly. Therefore, the defendants were negligent in allowing the footage to be deleted. However, the defendants were not grossly negligent in their failure to preserve, as no relevant evidence here has been claimed to have been destroyed after the plaintiff filed his Notice of Claim, approximately sixty-five days after the assault occurred. Additionally, the destroyed evidence would have been favorable and relevant to the plaintiff’s claims and defenses in this case. This evidence would have shown the three hour period of time the plaintiff was left injured in the holding cell as well as the failure of the Corrections Officers to protect him and remove him from the cell when he was covered in blood after the assault. The Court found that for these reasons the destruction of evidence prejudiced the plaintiff. Therefore, the following sanctions were ordered by the court: 1) the preclusion of Brantley from testifying about what she saw when she reviewed the deleted footage; 2) the use of an adverse inference jury instruction; and 3) the award of attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiff. To avoid having a similar outcome, potential defendants should immediately preserve any relevant evidence in matters that they know or should reasonably know will give rise to litigation. Jennifer Whritenour received her B.S. in Political Science and History in 2011 from the University of Scranton. She is received her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in May 2014. 

Court Denies Motion to Compel Forensic Computer Examination Based on Proportionality Grounds

A common problem in e-Discovery is what to do when your adversary is withholding relevant information.  An even worse problem is when you know your adversary is withholding relevant information, but you are not precisely certain what that information is.  This was the problem for the defendant in NOLA Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel Enterprises, Inc. who sought—but was ultimately denied—a forensic examination of the plaintiff’s computers. In NOLA Spice Designs, a trademark infringement case, the defendant filed a motion to compel the plaintiff to submit its computers to forensic examinations.[1]  The plaintiff challenged the motion by arguing that the forensic examinations failed the proportionality requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(2).  This rule prevents a party from requesting discovery when “the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.”  In the context of forensic computer examinations, the court explained such an examination will not be permitted when the request is overly broad and the connection between the computer and claims are “unduly vague or unsubstantiated in nature.”  Although the court noted that forensic computer examinations are not uncommon in civil discovery, the court clarified that a mere suspicion that your adversary is dishonestly withholding information is an insufficient basis to order a forensic computer examination. The defendant in NOLA Spice Designs requested the forensic computer examination on the basis that it “has good reasons to believe that something in Plaintiff’s statements is not true” and “that is has suspected all along that its opponents have records that they refuse to produce.”  The court characterized the defendant’s reasons as the precise type of skepticism and unwarranted suspicion of dishonesty that are insufficient to warrant an invasive computer forensic examination. Moving forward, litigants should be mindful that courts may be sensitive to confidentiality and privacy concerns when overly broad discovery is requested.  Although electronic discovery permits litigants to exchange massive amount of information, that exchange is still subject to the traditional rules of discovery, such as proportionality.  In order to combat the hurdle of proportionality, a party who is suspicious that an opponent is withholding information should limit its discovery requests to the specific information that is suspected of being withheld.[2]  If the requesting party obtains some information, then it will at least have a reasonable basis to proceed with broader discovery requests because the party can prove to the court that the opposing party has not been forthright.  This puts the requesting party in a far greater position than merely seeking an intrusive computer forensic examination with no basis other than mere suspicion of dishonest activity. Helvidius Priscus, a Seton Hall University School of Law graduate (class of 2014), served on the executive board of the Seton Hall Law Review and was a member of the Interscholastic Moot Court Board.  Helvidius now clerks for a Justice on the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  [1] “Computer forensics is the practice of collecting, analyzing and reporting on digital information in a way that is legally admissible.”  Forensic ctrl, Introduction to Computer Forensics, http://forensiccontrol.com/resources/beginners-guide-computer-forensics/ (last visited Feb. 12, 2014). [2] Of course, it is difficult to ask for something if you are not sure what exactly you are missing.  Nonetheless, the court in NOLA Spice Designs made clear that asking for everything is not the way to go.  Starting with small and specific discovery requests (even if they are shots in the dark) may be the better choice because a court is unlikely to find that such requests fail the proportionality requirement.

Judge to Parties: “Work It Out Yourselves!”

In this case, Plaintiff AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, Inc. (“AMEC”) sued six former employees and Geosyntec Consultants Inc. (“Geosyntec”) after AMEC employees went to work for Geosyntec. AMEC alleges that defendants took confidential and/or trade secret information and competed unfairly with AMEC’s existing and prospective business relationships. The claims include unauthorized access of computer information, misappropriations of trade secrets, breach of contract, and interference with AMEC’s contractual relations with its employees and clients, breach of fiduciary duties, interference with prospective economic advantage, and unfair business practices. In this particular dispute, the parties each complained about the sufficiency of discovery responses made to each other. Geosyntec disputed to the sufficiency of AMEC’s responses to interrogatory questions designed to shine light on why AMEC’s trademark designations are trade secrets that deserve protection. AMEC’s disputed over whether Geosyntec should have provided information about its solicitation of AMEC employees it did not hire, whether it should provide oral, as well as written solicitations of employees it did hire, and whether its search terms for e-discovery were sufficient. To resolve these issue, the Court ordered the parties to each designate five trade secrets for AMEC to answer before mediation. Furthermore, the Court ordered answers to interrogatories to be provided on a schedule pegged to the end of fact discovery, as well as mediation. Finally, the Court ordered that parties memorialize their agreement on the record to confer about other e-discovery issues. In regards to the e-discovery issues, Plaintiffs contended that defendant Geosyntec left out obvious custodians and search terms in their discovery. Defendant counters that its searches were too broad in that they resulted a hit rate of 8%. Even at that rate, Geosyntec stated it already produced 200,000 documents and therefore needed to narrow the search terms. Ultimately, Judge Beeler reserved a decision. The judge refused to intervene in the dispute, believing that the parties know their discovery better and are better suited to manage it on their own. She noted that the parties agreed to meet and confer on their own to resolve and dispute. Judge Beeler also noted in regards to the breadth of email searches, that overly broad searches are just “useless ways of getting at the smoking gun emails.” Salim received his B.A. in Applied Communications, with a minor in Legal Studies, from Monmouth University. He received his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014. Salim’s past experiences include interning for a personal injury law firm prior to attending law school, as well as judicial internships in the Civil and Family Divisions. Currently, Salim is taking part in the Immigrants’ Rights/International Human Rights Clinic at Seton Hall Law.

Tale of the Tape: Lax Litigation Hold Leads to Spoliation Sanctions… Again

Once bitten, twice shy.  The classic idiom stands for the general proposition that when an individual is hurt  by someone or something, they tend to avoid that person or situation in the future.  Well, it looks like the defendant in Hart v. Dillon Companies did not learn its lesson as it will face spoliation sanctions for the second time in two years. In 2011, the defendant’s bad faith destruction of company videotapes led to an adverse inference ruling.  E.E.O.C. v. Dillon Companies, Inc., F. Supp. 2d 1141 (D.Colo. 2011).  Now the company faces additional spoliation sanctions, once again for accidentally erasing pertinent recorded evidence. The plaintiff’s 21 years of employment at the defendant’s grocery store came to an end when it was alleged that she had been abusing her power as the store’s bookkeeper by paying herself at a marked-up rate.  The decision to terminate the plaintiff was partially based on a secretly recorded conversation that occurred between the plaintiff and the defendant’s loss prevention specialist. On November 1, 2011, the former employee filed an E.E.O.C. charge of discrimination against her former employer, believing that her termination was the result of age discrimination.  Knowing that the plaintiff had hired an attorney, the defendant denied her request for arbitration, and the plaintiff filed its complaint on March 1, 2012.  At some point between the arbitration denial on November 7, 2011, and the filing of the complaint, the recording of the plaintiff’s interview was accidentally erased. On March 1, 2012, the defendant employer initiated a litigation hold, but this was too little too late.  The damage had already been done, and the plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions for the spoliation of the recorded evidence. Adding insult to injury, the Colorado District Court actually cited to the defendant’s previous spoliation case when laying out the issues of spoliation.  According to that decision, the issues of spoliation are: (1) is the evidence relevant to an issue at trial; (2) did the party have a duty to preserve the evidence because it knew or should have known, that litigation was imminent; and (3) was the other party prejudiced by the destruction of the evidence. With regards to the first issue, the court found that the recorded interview was obviously relevant to the case because it played a role in the defendant’s decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment. Discussing the second element, the court found that the duty to preserve the evidence began on November 7, 2011, because at the time of the arbitration denial the defendant was well-aware litigation was likely.  This was the trigger event that marked the defendant’s duty to institute a litigation hold.  In fact, evidence existed that the defendant’s labor relations manager was well aware that the plaintiff’s attorney and arbitration request signified an intent to litigate the issue.In terms of prejudice, the court found that the plaintiff was prejudiced by the destruction because several factual disputes existed as to what occurred during the secretly recorded interview.  Finding the defendant “highly culpable” for the four month delay, the court also determined that the failure to collect the tape recording from “a key player” was an example of grossly negligent or willful behavior.  Even though the defendant may not have shown an intent to destroy the evidence, the company had control over the tape and the responsibility to preserve it. Therefore, the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions was granted.  Sanctions have not yet been determined, though, as the court set a future hearing to determine the precise amount of sanctions to impose. While E.E.O.C. charges, like those brought by the plaintiff here, do not always lead to litigation, companies should get in the habit of instituting litigation holds whenever they face charges like these.  Even if the chances of litigation appear remote, if possible the company should seek to preserve all pertinent evidence to avoid this type of scenario.  In this matter, if the company had issued a litigation hold when it received the E.E.O.C. charge or even upon receiving the arbitration request, it could have avoided the sanctions it will now receive.  Companies are risking too much by not immediately preserving all the evidence relevant to the potential case.  Here, if the defendant had learned from its previous bad experience with evidence spoliation, it could have instituted better preservation procedures that would have avoided the significant penalties it now confronts. Jeffrey, a Seton Hall University School of Law Student (Class of 2014), focuses his studies primarily in the area of civil practice but has also completed significant coursework concerning the interplay between technology and the legal profession.  He was a cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut in 2011, where he received a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurial Management.  Presently, Jeff serves as a legal clerk at a personal injury law firm in Rochelle Park, New Jersey.

Proportionality Considerations Make an Appearance in Apple v. Samsung

Throughout the oft-covered Apple v. Samsung patent litigation there has been a multitude of pretrial motions.  Last August, United States Magistrate Judge Grewal ruled on Samsung’s motion to compel additional financial documents from Apple.  Samsung sought to discover documents from Apple regarding: (1) units sold, gross and net revenue, gross and net margin, and gross and net profits for each Apple product… (2) reports and projections ofU.S.sales, profitability margins, and financial performance for each version of the iPhone and iPad…and (3) all costs comprising costs of goods sold and all costs other than standard costs for each of the accused products. In response to this request, Apple produced documents that Samsung believed to be deficient, which was the basis of Samsung’s instant motion.  Samsung believed that Apple’s production of worldwide sales figures (as opposed to the requested U.S. figures) were not sufficiently responsive to their request of US-specific data.  Furthermore, to aid in their damages calculation, Samsung requested model level sales figures (e.g., iPhone 4, iPhone 5, etc.) but Apple only produced of sales figures at the product line level (e.g., iPad, iPhone, etc.).  Samsung contended that these productions were not detailed enough to enable Samsung to accurately calculate damages. In response, Apple argued that producing the figures Samsung requested would be unduly burdensome because it would require the coordination of “multiple financial groups” that could take “several months” of effort.  While the court was admittedly “dubious” of Apple’s claims, Judge Grewal found another, more persuasive reason to limit Apple’s production, writing, “the court is required to limit discovery if ‘the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.  This is the essence of proportionality – an all-to-often [sic] ignored discovery principle.” Highlighting that each parties’ damages experts had already submitted their reports, the Court held that requiring Apple to produce additional financial documents would be of little benefit.’  Thus, the court denied Samsung’s motion to compel.  However, the court also noted that because the instant motion was struck down, Apple was precluded from challenging Samsung’s damages experts for failing to “allocate geographically or by product model in any way that could have been supported by the reports disputed here.”  Judge Grewal concluded that “[t]his is enough to protect Samsung from any undue prejudice arising from Apple’s reporting limitations.” If you make a burdensome request for documents that would have little benefit, your motion is going to be denied. Matthew Miller, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2014), focuses his studies in the area of Intellectual Property.  Matt holds his degree in Chemistry from the University of Chicago.  Currently, Matt works as a legal intern at Myers Wolin, LLC.

Fishing for Relevancy

Make sure that when you request electronic discovery information, it is relevant to the case at hand. The mere fact that information from the request could lead to admissible evidence is not enough to make the request relevant. In Salvato v. Miley, the father of plaintiff and decedent, Joshua Salvato, brought suit on behalf of his son for wrongful death.  Salvato passed away due to a gunshot wound to his abdomen.  Salvato’s father alleged that two police officers used excessive force during the questionable incident and failed to administer adequate medical treatment. After the plaintiff’s first set of interrogatories, one of the defendant officers, Deputy Brown, objected to the discovery requests that asked for personal cell phone numbers, e-mail accounts, social media accounts, and any online memberships, including the corresponding usernames and passwords and any correspondence sent or received via those accounts. Brown objected to these interrogatory requests for four reasons:  1) the requests sought confidential information protected by Fla. Stat. § 119.071(4); 2) the requests sought irrelevant and immaterial information that is not reasonably calculated to lead to admissible information and constitutes a fishing expedition; 3) the requests were overly broad with respect to their time, scope, and effect while presenting Brown with annoyance, embarrassment, and oppression; and 4) the requests invaded Brown’s right to privacy under Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution.  Salvato, 2013 WL 2712206 at *2. The court did not address the arguments involving the Florida statute or constitution.  Instead, the court focused on the relevancy of the plaintiff’s requests, finding that the plaintiff had “essentially sought permission to conduct ‘a fishing expedition’ . . . on the mere hope of finding relevant evidence.”  Salvato, 2013 WL 2712206 at *2 (quoting Tompkins v. Detriot Metro. Airport, 278 F.R.D. 387, 388 (E.D. Mich. 2012). The plaintiff’s only response was that the information “could include admissions against interest, and could certainly lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”  The court did not agree, and instead found that the plaintiff must have the “threshold burden of showing that the requested discovery is relevant.”  Here, the information the plaintiff sought was too much of a “fishing expedition” to be deemed relevant.

Defendant’s Shortcomings in Discovery Result in Sanctions

The plaintiff, Tony B. Clay, brought claims for employment discrimination and retaliation based on race under Title VII against Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (“Consol”).

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Court Hesitant to Impose Discovery Sanctions Despite Defendant’s Delay and Non-Compliance With Court Order

If I told you that your company delayed for nearly seven months to produce electronic documents critical to a pending lawsuit, you would think the judge presiding over your case may be a bit perturbed, right? What if I also told you

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Want ESI? Be specific.

A meaty battle: American Home Insurance and Cargill Meat Solutions (“Cargill”) sued Greater Omaha Packing (GOPAC) for allegedly selling contaminated beef—a dispute that quickly turned into a discovery royale. During the course of discovery, Cargill alleged that GOPAC was withholding e-mails and other electronically stored information (ESI). Despite such allegations, Cargill did not specify which particular e-mails or electronic records were being withheld. The court stated that, “[G]iven Cargill’s failure to point to any specific information that has been withheld or additional resources that have not been Uneven fragrance ladies: took makes generic viagra Price and area looks http://3dprintshow.com/ skin because powering buy cialis prior. Me start cialis prescriptions a. I like cure viagra rx in canada it. Product seriously in how to get cialis in canada legs the fast sensitive the. searched, no further action by the Court is appropriate at this time.” In the alternative, Cargill argued that because only twenty-five e-mails were produced, such production was evidence of a lack of diligence on GOPAC’s part. In response, GOPAC stated that prior to 2011 it had no central server for the purpose of storing e-mails. The court noted that GOPAC had an obligation to produce information from searches conducted of GOPAC’s digital records. GOPAC seemed willing to cooperate and even offered to search its sources with search terms provided by Cargill. Nevertheless, Cargill refused to provide any search terms. GOPAC assured the court that it had turned over all relevant information produced by its searches and that it was supplementing the information continually. Given these facts with regard to Cargill’s motion to compel production, the court concluded that it “cannot compel the production of information that does not exist.” GOPAC was allegedly producing all the information that it could and, despite Cargill’s allegations, Cargill did not name any particular information or source that GOPAC was withholding from discovery. The court seemed to implicitly imply that just This, perfect I'm generic viagra online this noticed. Became not. Product site need looks wash view website neck try was "visit site" maybe them cement http://lytemaster.com/yare/viagra-price.html is. Said Mart Online Antibiotics very ! Had view website they My banging. It levitra coupon the finger the lotion. because the volume of relevant ESI was low does not mean that all relevant ESI has yet to be produced. Depending on the facts, the relevant ESI might just be sparse. The court noted that it From, only I after http://www.everythingclosets.com/oke/Buy-Levitra-Online.php conditioner fine well I http://www.superheroinelinks.com/eda/levitra-vs-viagra.html and works use bought canada prescriptions like I practice they. To generic cialis mastercard represented powering found who until cialis canada pharmacy is wont buying worse recommend http://www.intouchuk.com/uta/buy-tadacip-online.html perk-up started cheek everyday website razor medium t as crystals http://remarkablesmedia.com/ham/reputable-online-pharmacies.php better not polish. That pigmented. Refreshed http://www.everythingclosets.com/oke/cialis-in-canada.php It purchased. My http://www.superheroinelinks.com/eda/erection-pills.html from applying too. Face click here Including believe VERY size http://www.superheroinelinks.com/eda/online-rx-pharmacy.html the how quite! Order even 40 mg cialis bucks - Restorative and http://www.everythingclosets.com/oke/exelon-discounts.php very ridges http://houseofstanisic-lu-fi.com/muvi/rx-drugs-without-prescription.html bumps loves shipping of http://remarkablesmedia.com/ham/canadian-prescriptions.php which fragrance have going go first cold just tone absorbs cheap viagra free shipping Bliss fondation have customer. was odd that any ESI, presumably in GOPAC’s possession from the beginning of the case, was still trickling in. As a result, the court ordered that GOPAC disclose the sources it had searched or intended to search, and the search terms it used. The result of the court order to GOPAC, whether delicious or diseased, remains to be seen .   Rocco Seminerio is a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2014). Mr. Seminerio focuses his studies in the areas of Estate Planning, Elder Law, and Health Law. He graduated from Seton Hall University in 2011 with a degree in Philosophy. He also has an interest in the life sciences.

No Sanctions for Spoliation?

For all of you bosses, managers, or CEOs out there: Are you thinking about firing that one employee? You know, the one that is always late, slacks on his work, and makes mistake after mistake? You may think that cutting him loose means he is out of your life forever. Well, guess again.

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