Deleted Documents? Improper Withholding of Evidence?

Larry Klayman sued six separate journalist defendants for defamation. This case is about Klayman wanting more discovery from the defendants. Specifically, Klayman’s motion is to compel the production of documents and to hire a computer expert. In this case, Klayman has conceded the fact that he is a public figure. So, in order to win in a defamation suit, he must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the journalists published the statements about him with actual malice. Thus, Klayman made this discovery motion to try to obtain “any and all documents, discussions and/or publications that refer or relate in any way to Plaintiff Larry Klayman within the past five years,” as well as several other document requests. Klayman contends this information is relevant to state of mind of the journalists. However, the defendants represent that they have already provided Klayman with all relevant information. Based on this representation, the court denied Klayman’s request to compel document production. Klayman also petitioned for a computer retrieval expert to be hired to go through each defendant’s computer files. Klayman claimed that the defendants had improperly withheld documents. However, the court ruled that the plaintiff must show good cause in order to compel a forensic expert, and here he has failed to do so. The court further stated that his assertions were “conclusory and unpersuasive.” Jessie is a third year student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015). She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2012 with a B.A. in philosophy and political science.    Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

What Sanctions May a Court Impose On a Party That Fails to Comply With a Discovery Order?

The plaintiff and the defendants both sold Belly Bands, the plaintiff alleged that both Belly Bands were maternity band used to hold up pants. The plaintiff previously filed cases against the defendants for trademark infringement, patent infringement and unfair competition in 2006 and 2008, but those cases were later resolved by settlement agreements. In 2013, the plaintiff filed the recent action alleging that the defendants breached both settlement agreements by selling and advertising Belly Bands. During discovery, the defendants produced some electronically stored information (ESI). The parties contested the sufficiency of the defendants’ ESI production. On December 20, 2013, the court ordered the the defendant to produce all documents referring to customer comments or complaints regarding the defendants’ Belly Band and disclose its search methods within thirty days. On January 21, 2014, the defendants issued a declaration stating that they were in Europe when the court issued this order, and could not immediately comply. They also stated that they would need a computer expert to help them retrieve deleted customer e-mails. On January 3, 2014, the defendants retained a computer expert. On February 4, 2014, the defendant told the plaintiff that they found additional ESI, but did not produce the ESI at that time. The plaintiff filed a motion on February 10, 2014, for sanctions against the defendants for failure to comply with the court order within the thirty day timeframe, seeking: attorneys fees and costs associated with the defendants failure to comply; an order that the defendants disclose all hard drives and provide the plaintiff with access to all email accounts; and an order precluding the defendants “from opposing the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants’ Belly Bands were used to hold up [pants,] from opposing the plaintiff’s damage calculations, and from introducing any opposing evidence wit respect to the damages calculation.” At the time the motion was filed, the defendants still had not produced any additional ESI. Within two weeks after the motion was filed, the defendants produced over 1,000 new electronic documents. The court began its analysis by noting that courts may sanction a party for discovery abuses pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court’s inherent powers. Rule 37(b)(2)(C) states a court must order a party who failed to comply with a discovery order to pay the opposing party’s reasonable expenses associated with failure to comply, including attorney’s fees, “unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.” Sanctions are permissible regardless of the reason for the party’s noncompliance. Moreover, willfulness, fault, or bad faith are not required to impose Rule 37 sanctions, unless the sanction is dismissal. “However, in order for the sanction to comport with due process, the sanction imposed under Rule 37 must be specifically related to the particular claim which was at issue in the order to provide discovery.” Rule 37 sanctions should only be imposed when the party’s failure to comply prejudiced the nonoffending party. Furthermore, the court may impose three types of sanctions pursuant to its inherent powers specifically when there has been spoliation of evidence, including: “1) the court may instruct the jury that it may infer that evidence made unavailable by a party was unfavorable to that party; 2) a court can exclude witness testimony based on the spoliated evidence; and 3) the court can dismiss the claim of the party responsible for the spoliation.” “In determining what sanctions are appropriate in cases of spoliation, courts consider: 1) the degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence; 2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; and 3) whether there is a lesser sanction that will avoid substantial unfairness to the opposing party.” The chosen sanction should be “determined on a case-by-case- basis, and . . .commensurate to the spoliating party’s motive or degree of fault in destroying the evidence. First, the court held that the plaintiff was entitled to an award of monetary sanctions under Rule 37. the defendants failed to substantially justify why they couldn’t produce all responsive documents within the court ordered thirty day timeframe. The fact that the defendants were in Europe when the court issued the Order did constitute substantial justification to excuse their noncompliance. the defendant did not alert the court of their travel plans, request an extension, instruct their office manager to comply with the Order, or offer a reason as to why they did not immediately retain a computer expert to assist them in complying with the Order. Further, even once additional ESI was discovered, the defendants failed to produce said ESI for almost a month. Thus, the defendants’ actions prejudiced the plaintiff by forcing the plaintiffs to subpoena third parties for responsive documents, by preventing the completion of necessary depositions, and by having to file the instant motion. Moreover, the court held that the defendant must disclose its hard drives and provide the plaintiff with access to all its email accounts, subject to the defendants’ privileges or privacy interests. The court found that there was real danger that evidence on the the defendants’ hard drive had been destroyed. Further, the defendants made an array of false statements, such as claiming they produced all responsive documents when they in fact had not, and claiming that no documents had been deleted during the time of litigation when overwhelming evidence indicated otherwise. The court found that the plaintiff needed access to the defendants hard drive to prevent any more documents from being destroyed and ensure all responsive documents were produced. Additionally, based upon the same reasoning, the court granted the plaintiff access to all of the defendants’ email accounts, including Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay accounts. However, the court held that the plaintiff failed to prove that the court should prohibit the defendants “from opposing the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants’ Belly Bands were used to hold up [pants,] from opposing the plaintiff’s damage calculations, and from introducing any opposing evidence wit respect to the damages calculation.” The court stated “preclusion remedies are a harsh remedy that should be imposed only in extreme circumstances.” Here, given that the plaintiff obtained documents from third parties and that the plaintiff may recover additional responsive ESI from the defendants’ harddrives and email accounts, the plaintiff cannot—at this time—demonstrate that the defendants’ conduct “impaired the plaintiff’s ability to go to trial or threatened to interfere with the rightful decision of the case.” However, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for preclusion sanctions without prejudice, thereby allowing the plaintiff to request preclusion sanctions should the plaintiff’s search of the defendants’ harddrives and email accounts reveal that the defendants knowingly destroyed evidence and that destruction threatened the plaintiff’s ability to secure a just outcome. Thus, when a court orders ESI production, parties would be wise to immediately comply with the order, or immediately inform the court of substantial reasons as to why compliance will be delayed.   Aaron Cohen, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focused his studies in the area of Family Law. He participated in the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice’s Family Law Clinic. After graduation, he will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division. Prior to law school, he was a 2011 cum laude graduate of The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, where he earned a B.A. in Psychology. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Do Private, Personal Devices Become Discoverable During Litigation?

Last summer the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois decided a case that allows your old boss into your home.  Well . . . not literally.  Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown granted a motion to compel discovery for a plaintiff-employer over objection of defendant-employee.  The plaintiff, Network Cargo Systems U.S.A., Inc. claimed that its former employee, Caroline Pappas, stole proprietary technology and destroyed other electronic data upon termination.  Plaintiff denied the request, and consented to limited discovery.  After expedited discovery took place, plaintiff returned to the court requesting that an independent technology investigator be granted access to all of Ms. Pappas’s electronic devices. The court ordered defendant’s counsel to “determine what electronic devices [Pappas] used between 4/1/13 [2 months before termination] and 2/14/14 [the hearing date].” Network Cargo Sys. U.S.A., Inc. v. Pappas, No. 2014 WL 1856773 *2 (N.D. Ill. May 7, 2014).  A week later, counsel indicated six devices: two personal computers, an iPad, an iPhone, a Blackberry (which was returned to Network), and a work laptop provided by defendant’s new employer. After the court’s order, the parties agreed to split the cost of imaging three personal devices: the personal computers and the iPad.  Once the imaging was performed by the independent consultant, it was determined that three previously undisclosed flash drives had been connected to defendant’s personal computers during the relevant time frame.  Id.  The plaintiff demanded immediate access to those flash drives, as they may contain relevant evidence. The court agreed, even though the initial connection of the flash drives to the personal computers happened months after the employee was terminated from Network.   The court insisted that plaintiff pay the full cost of imaging the additional devices, though, stating “[t]he likelihood that Pappas was using these flash drives to transfer Network’s confidential information would seem to become more remote with the passage of time.” Id. at *3. Defendant Pappas was forced to turn over flash drives and personal computers.  While the target of the investigation is possible stolen proprietary material, through forensic imaging the independent consultant had access to each and every file on the device.  Perhaps Pappas can take solace in the fact that her iPhone wasn’t subject to discovery, as the device likely contains more sensitive data than just high scores to Candy Crush. Kevin received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Scranton (2009), and will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  Prior to joining the Seton Hall community, Kevin worked as an eDiscovery professional at two large “white-shoe” law firms in Manhattan. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

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.

When are Details of an Expert Analysis NOT Compelled?

Dover v. British Airways, PLC, involves a class action lawsuit where the plaintiffs alleged the airliner unlawfully imposed fuel surcharges on its frequent flyer program rewards flights.  The plaintiffs supported their claims with a regression analysis.  This statistical study, also known as the r-squared analysis, estimates the relationship between two variables and allegedly shows fuel surcharges were mostly unrelated to the changes of fuel prices.  British Airways served the plaintiffs with a request for all documents relating to the r-squared analysis.  However, that request was denied by Magistrate Judge Go, whose order was affirmed on appeal by District Judge Dearie. While the overarching issue is under what circumstances the details of an expert analysis will not be compelled during discovery, this case brings to light several additional sub-issues.  The defendants argued that the information, produced by a non-testifying expert, was not protectable work product and that any protection that may have attached was forfeited through inadvertent disclosure on two occasions. Tackling the latter issue, the plaintiffs’ first inadvertent disclosure occurred during the course of a 137-page document production.  More notably, the second inadvertent disclosure occurred during the course of the plaintiffs’ documents submission complying with the defendant’s request for metadata.  The plaintiffs inadvertently reproduced the unredacted version of a particular spreadsheet that contained experts’ names and calculations.  As this was the second of the two inadvertent disclosures, the court expressly acknowledged that the “plaintiffs should have been on notice with the first inadvertent disclosure that the spreadsheets contained protected information and should have carefully reviewed the spreadsheets before providing them to their vendor and producing them to defendant.”  But, under the stipulated protective order signed by both parties, a claw back provision recited that the inadvertent disclosure of any material that qualifies as protected information does not waive the privilege on privileged information.  The law with respect to such a protective order invokes the waiver of privilege only if production was completely reckless, and the court did not find completely reckless behavior in this instance.  Rather, the court simply found the plaintiffs were careless in twice disclosing a few rows and columns on two pages of a 34-page spreadsheet. Addressing the issue of the fact that the r-squared analysis was performed at the pre-filing stage by a non-testifying expert, both Magistrate Judge Go and District Judge Dearie paid particularly close attention to the underlying fairness at stake and addressed the issue of whether it was fair for plaintiffs to submit an expert analysis in their complaint—that survived a motion to dismiss—and then disclaim the analysis in the future.  Because the plaintiffs disclaimed future reliance on the analysis conducted by their consulting expert, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(4)(D) is invoked for its protection of the disclosure of information from non-testifying, consulting experts.  Under this rule, discovery is only permitted upon a showing that it is impracticable for the party to obtain facts or opinions on the same subject by other means.  Since extraordinary circumstances were not found, details relating to the analysis were not compelled. Although it may seem unfair, the r-squared analysis was not the reason the complaint survived the motion to dismiss; the court was required to proceed on the assumption that factual allegations are true even if their truth seems doubtful, and consideration of the attacks on the consulting expert’s analysis would not factor into assessing the complaint’s plausibility. Samuel is in the Seton Hall University School of Law Class of 2015 pursuing the Intellectual Property concentration. He received his master’s from the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and became a registered patent agent prior to entering law school. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

How Can You Be Found Guilty of Computer Sabotage When You’re No Longer Working For the Company? Easy; Put A Timed Virus Into The System Before You Leave.

On July 31, 1996, plaintiff Omega Engineering Corp. ("Omega"), a New Jersey based company, lost its computer programs relating to design and production permanently from its system. Omega manufactured “highly specialized and sophisticated industrial process measurement devices and control equipment” for NASA and the United States Navy.  The deletion of these programs debilitated their ability for manufacturing as well as costed the company millions of dollars in contracts and sales. From 1985 to July 10, 1996, defendant Timothy Lloyd worked as the computer system administrator at Omega.  He trained with the Novell computer network and installed it to Omega’s computer system.  The program worked to ensure that all of Omega’s documents could be kept on a central file server. Lloyd was the only Omega employee to maintain the Novell client and have “top-level security access” to it; however, the defense asserted that others at the company had access.  According to a government expert, access "means that ... [an] account has full access to everything on the server."  Lloyd was also the only employee in charge of backing up the information to the server. In 1994 or 1995, Lloyd became difficult.  The company moved him laterally in hopes of improving his behavior. A government witness testified that even though it was a lateral move, it was in fact, considered a demotion by the company.  Lloyd’s new supervisor asked him about the back-up system and wanted him to loop a couple more people in but he never did.   Moreover, he instituted a company-wide policy that employees were no longer allowed to make personal backups of their files. On top of the above issues, there was also a “substandard performance review and raise.”  The combination of the two factors, according to the government, showed Lloyd that his employment with the company would soon be terminated.   This established Lloyd’s motive to sabotage the Omega computer system.  On July 10, 1006, Lloyd was terminated. On July 31, 1996, Omega’s file server would not start up.  On July 31, “Lloyd told a third party, that "everybody's job at Omega is in jeopardy.” days later it was realized that all of the information contained on it were permanently lost.  More than 1,200 of Omega’s programs were deleted and, as per Lloyd’s policy, none of the employees had their own personal backups.  There was no way for any of these programs to be recovered. A search warrant conducted on Lloyd’s house turned up some backup tapes and a file server master hard drive.  Experts hired by Omega found that the deletion of information was “intentional and only someone with supervisory-level access to the network could have accomplished such a feat.”  The commands necessary to pull off such a purge were characterized as a “time bomb” set to go off on July 31st when an employee logged into the system.   There was evidence found by these experts of Lloyd testing these specific commands three different times.  This string of commands was further found on the hard drive that was in Lloyd’s home. Lloyd was convicted of a federal count of computer sabotage.  It was remanded due to a jury member’s claimed use of outside knowledge during deliberations. Julie received her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014. Prior to law school, she was a 2008 magna cum laude graduate of Syracuse University, where she earned a B.A. in History and a minor in Religion and Society. After law school, Julie will serve as a law clerk to a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

Default Judgment Granted, Monetary Sanctions Imposed Against Plaintiff Tech Company and Counsel for Misconduct

Plaintiff’s counsel tried to distance the company and themselves from their retained consultant in an unsuccessful attempt to escape sanctions for multiple instances of misconduct. Illinois District Court Judge Coleman saw through counsel’s feeble attempts to use the consultant as a scapegoat and granted the defendant’s motion for default judgment and monetary sanctions.

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Photogrammetry for the Win!… If you know what it does.

The Federal Rules of Evidence (“FRE”) are notorious for their complication. Hearsay Rules continue to astound attorneys across the country. Now, in a more modern era, we have the advanced electronics capable of aiding the evidentiary process in many ways. But with a jury of lay people, it is difficult to describe the use of such equipment during a trial without the use of an expert witness.

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Court Goes Nuclear on Deadline Desperados

This case arises out of the nuclear reactor accident that occurred at the Three-Mile Island Power Plant on March 28, 1979. This 3rd Circuit decision was rendered more than 20 years after the incident and after a complicated procedural history that included multiple filings by thousands of plaintiffs in both state and federal court. Congressional amendment of a statute finally allowed all of the cases to be consolidated in federal court. The main issue decided on appeal was the district court’s exclusion of expert testimony, based on the gatekeeping standards of Daubert, which restricted plaintiffs’ ability to show that they were exposed to radiation sufficient to cause injury. The other issue on appeal was the award of sanctions for violations of pre-trial discovery requirements and orders. As this is an eDiscovery blog, I will be addressing the discovery and sanctions issues rather than the voluminous and complex scientific matters that arose in this nearly 200 page decision.

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Banking on an Adverse Inference – NY Appellate Division Affirms Spoliation Sanctions against Bank in Employment Discrimination Suit

In 2002, bank employee Jacob Ahroner was not happy with his employer, Israel Discount Bank of New York.  Consequently, in July 2003, he brought suit, alleging hostile work environment and discrimination based on race, age, and national origin. In November 2002, seven months prior to filing the action, however, Ahroner’s attorney wrote to the Bank.  The letter informed the Bank that it was “placed on notice that [it] must undertake all efforts to preserve from spoliation all documents and other records relating to our client’s employment, as well as any unlawful conduct of [the Bank] or its employees.  As you may be aware, spoliation gives rise to an inference and instruction that the missing documents would have proved the charging party’s case.”  The Bank replied that it was aware of its obligations.

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