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The court began its opinion by reciting the quote that “[d]iscovery relevance is minimal relevance,” leading most readers to presume the court was going to rule in favor of Plaintiff’s motion to compel. However, after learning that Plaintiff sought “the entire claims file” of Defendant, that presumption slowly dissipates. The motion before the court involved Plaintiff’s request for an order compelling Defendant to produce documents that are responsive to certain of Plaintiff’s second, third and fourth sets of Requests for Production of Documents. The Plaintiff alleged that Defendant’s objections are premised on unsupported claims of privilege and that the documents Defendant did turn over were excessively redacted. After a back and forth regarding the concept of “privileged” the court rules that the real crux of the issue is the “point at which Defendant was reasonably anticipating litigation.” It is at this point that a privilege is created for the documents at issue based on the work product doctrine as outlined in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3)(A) at which point a privilege for the documents at issue based on the work product doctrine. Because insurance claims are of such sensitive and proprietary nature, the court holds that the question of whether insurer documents were created in anticipation of litigation “depends on whether the party seeking protection can point to a definite shift made by the insurer from acting in its ordinary course of business to acting in anticipating of litigation.” Colloquially known as a “trigger” for document preservation, the burden is on the Defendant to establish the existence of such privilege in the face of litigation. The court ultimately held that the relevant date was December 28, 2012, when Defendant sent a letter regarding a settlement check. Thus, the court ordered that any information withheld on the basis of work product doctrine after that time must be produced. After serving its second set of discovery requests, the Plaintiff subsequently asked for the documents to be produced in native electronic format. However, the Defendant had already produced documents in paper and PDF form, which Plaintiff alleged was not the form maintained by the Defendant “or in any reasonably usable form.” Citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(D) and (E), the court noted that the rule allows, but does not require, the requesting party to specify the form in which it is requesting electronic data. The court also noted there is nothing in the rule that prohibits a party from requesting different formats from one set of discovery requests to the next. Ruling in favor of the objecting Defendant, however, the court considered the “proprietary nature of certain software used by Defendant” and “Defendant’s right to withhold privileged information” as well as the “added costs of re-producing information already submitted to Plaintiff.” Because the Defendant endured the time, effort, and expense of producing documents in PDF form as initially requested by Plaintiff, the court denied Plaintiff’s request to compel the native electronic forms of such documents. The Plaintiff’s motion to compel also sought all files containing “similar” claims. While disregarding the Plaintiff’s motivations for requesting such documents, the court opined that the effect of requiring this production would be to “subject [Defendant] to undue burden in light of topics which, at best, have limited evidentiary value in this case given the broadly worded nature of the information requested.” Adding insult to injury, the court makes it a point to criticize Plaintiff’s complaint. The cause of action was premised on a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing yet Plaintiff’s motion “continually” refers to this as a claim for “bad faith.” Succinctly and sharply, the court imparts some legal education by bluntly stating that the two are not interchangeable. After making its criticism of Plaintiff’s mischaracterization, the court writes that “even if such information were to be considered relevant, the requests, as written, are facially over broad.” The court broadly cites a “lack of specificity” before denying more than 25 of Plaintiff’s discovery requests. Because Plaintiff “failed to provide a sufficient, substantive limitation,” the court ruled that these “generalized discovery requests” were “facially over broad as well as irrelevant.” Lastly, seemingly as a concession to the largely defeated Plaintiff, the court partially grants Plaintiff’s final discovery request. Plaintiff sought the “complete personnel files” for certain claims handling supervising personnel involved in the claim. As with the other requests, Defendant objected citing the “personal, confidential, private information” that these files held. Significantly, the court recited that “‘confidential’ does not equate to ‘nondiscoverable’ or privileged.” Thus, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel such personnel files, although it concluded this grant by limiting it to information from the files that specifically pertains to the employees’ “background, qualifications, training and job performance” and explicitly excluded any “sensitive personal or medical information” regarding these individuals. By the end of its succinct seven-page opinion, the District Court for the District of Kansas handed down many valuable lessons for future parties engaged in discovery-based litigation. Among them: (1) The work product doctrine will not prevent production if litigation is reasonably anticipated; (2) Request documents in the form desired or risk a landslide of “unusable” documents; (3) Be careful, diligent, and precise in your word choice – both in your pleadings and your document requests; (4) Private/Confidential does not mean Privileged/Nondiscoverable. Nicole was a 2010 magna cum laude graduate of Northeastern University located in Boston, Massachusetts where she earned her B.A. in English and Political Science. She will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. After graduation, Nicole will serve as a clerk to a trial judge of the Superior court of New Jersey in the Morris-Sussex Vicinage. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
Plaintiffs asked Defendants for documents to be scanned and produced as searchable PDFs. Defendants did exactly that. So, there’s no problem, right? Wrong. Plaintiffs felt a little slighted, to say the least, after receiving the unorganized files. If only they asked for hardcopies instead. The court found that the term “documents” as defined in FRCP 34(b)(2)(E)(i) does not include ESI, so the rule’s requirement that documents be produced either in the usual course of business or labeled to correspond to categories in the request does not apply to ESI. Once the parties agreed to transfer hard copy documents in an electronic form, that means of production is governed by the rules for ESI, and Plaintiffs in this case met their obligations under this rule without organizing or labeling the disclosed ESI. Plaintiffs wanted Defendants to identify the particular discovery request to which each document responds, but to be fair, Defendants already went through the effort of scanning the approximately 20,000 documents. Plaintiffs tried to argue that Defendants’ storage of the documents in hard copy meant that scanning the documents in order to produce them for discovery should not abdicate Defendants’ responsibility to produce them as organized in the ordinary course of business. It may seem surprising this argument was unsuccessful, but is it really? The court found that the parties stipulated out of FRCP 34(b)(2)(E)’s default provisions when the Plaintiffs’ requested items in scanned electronic form, and that Plaintiffs technically received exactly what they asked for. Another hang-up for the Plaintiffs was FRCP 34(b)(2)(E)(iii) not requireing a party to produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form, which includes hardcopies. Beyond the facts and the ruling, this case should stand for the proposition that blindly requesting ESI is ill-advised. Parties should know enough to know exactly what they need from a discovery request, and how to make that request as accurately and effectively as possible. This decision may not exist if Plaintiffs simply asked for the documents to be scanned and produced in the usual course of business. While Defendants may not have eagerly acceded to such a request, the request’s denial would have raised some red flags for Plaintiffs and forecasted what would be their eventual dissatisfaction if they merely asked for the documents to be scanned as searchable PDFs. Samuel is in the Seton Hall University School of Law Class of 2015 pursuing the Intellectual Property concentration. He received his master’s from the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and became a registered patent agent prior to entering law school. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
In May 2014, Hon. Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J. for the District of Connecticut ruled that sanctions were not appropriate in a case involving the conversion of a security video’s native format. Plaintiff Robert Crawford brought a motion for spoliation sanctions—including an adverse-inference instruction and monetary sanctions—against the Defendant City of New London for an alleged failure to preserve a hard drive containing video of Crawford’s arrest. Plaintiff, whose underlying claim involves excessive force issues, suggested that the original format of a security video may have been capable of being enhanced, and as such, Defendants had a duty to preserve that original version, and turn it over for discovery. Judge Arterton disagreed. In examining whether sanctions were appropriate, the court first set about defining the parameters of spoliation. The court noted “[s]poliation is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” Crawford v. City of New London, 2014 WL 2168430, *2 (D. Conn. May 23, 2014) (quoting West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999)). Later, the court analyzed the adverse-inference charge, and articulated “[a] party seeking an adverse inference instruction based on the destruction of evidence must establish (1) that the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim or defense.” Id. (quoting Chin v. Port. Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 685 F.3d 135, 162 (2d Cir. 2012)). Here, the court noted that Defendants’ duty to preserve stemmed from a hold letter received pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act on June 24—nearly five months after the incident took place, and more than four months after New London’s retention policy allows for transferring of data to portable storage. As such, while the Defendants certainly had a duty to preserve, there was no specific need for multiple copies of duplicative information. New London hadn’t breached the preservation duty. But what about “Significant Alteration?” Spoliation isn’t just about destruction. Plaintiffs argued that in converting the video evidence from the format present on the hard drive to the portable storage versions on DVD, Defendants sacrificed the integrity of metadata, or of the files themselves such that they could no longer be enhanced for use in trial presentation. This novel argument suggested that were enhanced versions of the video available, perhaps the jury could see that Crawford’s arrest on February 4, 2010, was enacted using excessive force. The court was not persuaded by this argument. Testimony from the City of New London’s Chief Information Officer indicated that the conversion to DVD was lossless, in that the new format preserved the video in every material way. Absent proof to the alternative, the moving party was unable to demonstrate “that the destroyed [or significantly altered] evidence was relevant . . . ” under the standards set forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 401. Defendants were prepared for litigation, and they reasonably preserved all necessary data responsive to discovery request. Defendants’ retention policy for the original hard drive housing security footage is acceptable, and preserving the data on portable media after formatting the drive is an added precaution going well-beyond the standard of care. Crawford is fortunate that Judge Arterton didn’t force Plaintiffs to cover the costs of responding to the motion—if this author was on the bench, he might have. 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.
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.
The employee in this case was not an inexperienced layperson, but rather a seasoned and accomplished trial attorney. Yet even with her wealth of knowledge regarding discovery, she was nearly cited for contempt of court as a result of her unfamiliarity with electronic discovery obligations. When obligated to turn over emails to your opposing party during discovery, it is not enough to simply forward the email. Courts require the emails to be in their native form, which means containing the crucial metadata contained within the original email. In Sexton v. Lecavalier, the plaintiff, Byron Sexton, subpoenaed all documents in the defendant’s possession regarding several business entities. The subpoena provided that if these documents were in electronic form, the copies produced must be in their “native” format. In response to the subpoena, the defense attorney produced numerous documents including eleven emails that had been forwarded to her from her client’s Gmail account. The defense attorney claimed that she could not access the emails in their original format and even had an IT expert testify that the emails could not be accessed in their native format because the infrastructure for the email is controlled by Google, who does not allow its users to copy emails in native format. The issue in this case is that the emails were located in the “cloud,” and thus stored with a third party. However, even though a third party held the emails, the plaintiff argues that there are two ways to preserve the crucial metadata. (1) Emails can be downloaded to an email client such as Microsoft Outlook and then saved onto a computer in the format used by the client; and (2) Gmail emails that have been displayed in their “original” format by clicking “show original” and then saved as a PDF. The court held that even though the plaintiff currently lacked access to the files in their native format, this fact does not absolve counsel of her discovery obligations. A growing number of attorneys and courts are realizing the evidentiary value to metadata and as this trend continues, it is becoming crucial for parties to preserve all relevant electronic data. There is currently electronic discovery software in existence, which makes preservation of data a whole lot easier (http://www.ediscovery.com/solutions/collect/ is merely one example of such software). The presiding judge went on to scold both parties for even bringing this discovery disagreement in front of the court. The judge stated that the parties should have resolved this matter outside of court and that the defendant could have provided the emails in a correct format with minimal cost. However, the judge believed that the defense attorney had a good faith belief that the emails could not be provided in their native format and refused to hold her in contempt. It seems that ignorance was the defense attorney’s saving grace. Any practitioners reading this will not have the luxury of such a defense. In order to avoid charges of contempt being levied against you in the future, it would be wise to invest in electronic discovery software. At the very least, you should download Microsoft Outlook and save all of your emails in a format that preserves metadata such as .eml or .msg. As less paper copies of documents are being utilized, and as electronic storage is becoming more prevalent, native documents are going to become an issue increasingly seen by courts. Additionally, resolve any such discovery issues with your opponent. No judge wants his or her time wasted with similar motions compelling discovery. Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently, Daniel is serving as a legal intern in the Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here
Individual plaintiffs often exert settlement leverage against corporate defendants because, irrespective of the merits of the suit, the prospective costs of litigation coerce early settlement. Therefore, an individual plaintiff often has nothing to lose. Even if a plaintiff’s suit is meritless, often times the worst case scenario faced is dismissal of the suit. Additionally, where a case is taken on a contingent fee basis, an individual plaintiff is merely left where they started. However, Taylor v. Mitre Corp. shows that in some circumstances an individual plaintiff can in fact find himself or herself in a worse position than prior to litigation. In Taylor, the plaintiff of the same name filed suit against his former employer, The Mitre Corporation, alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. However, it was Taylor that was soon on the defensive. First, Taylor was accused of spoliating evidence when he smashed a work computer with a sledge hammer. It is not clear what sanctions resulted from this conduct; however, the court did not remain quiet following Taylor's later response to the Magistrate Judge's ordering Taylor to produce his laptop for inspection. Upon issuance of the order, Taylor promptly ran specialized programs—Evidence Eliminator and CCleaner—on his computer for the clear purpose of deleting relevant data and information. Upon learning of Taylor's second act of spoliation, the court sanctioned Taylor by dismissing his suit. A severe sanction, of course, but it is arguable whether dismissal alone serves as an effective deterrent to future spoliation of evidence. After all, if a plaintiff has extensively spoliated evidence, it is likely that a plaintiff’s case was not meritorious in the first place. Additionally, dismissing a non-meritorious suit will merely leave the plaintiff where he started and leave the defendant out a bundle of unnecessary litigation costs. Accordingly, the court not only dismissed Taylor's suit but also found him responsible for Mitre's reasonable fees and costs associated with the motion for sanctions—$202,399.66 in total. The court arrived at this total by applying the lodestar methodology and was not swayed by Taylor's claim of financial hardship. It is believable that an individual plaintiff will be hard-pressed to pay such costs; however, the court reasoned that reducing an award of fees and costs is appropriate where the full sanction will have a chilling effect on the filing of future, potentially meritorious, claims. The court found that imposing sanctions for bad-faith spoliation would not have such a chilling effect, and therefore refused to reduce the award in favor of Mitre. So what's the moral of the story? In many cases a plaintiff will have little to lose and the nuisance value of their suit places them in strong settlement position. But conduct by the plaintiff in bad-faith can quickly shift this leverage. Adam L. Peterson is a graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2014). Adam was a member of the Seton Hall Law Review and, prior to law school, Adam was an Environmental Analyst with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Defendant Rain Link, Inc. received notice that the plaintiff was accusing the company for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Kansas Act Against Discrimination by its receving a letter written by the Kansas Human Rights Commission dated June 10, 2009. Rain Link acknowledged that it anticipated litigation and, therefore, had a duty to preserve evidence concerning the plaintiff’s allegations. Although, it is clear from the record that Rain Link did not properly preserve documents, and in some cases, destroyed documents, U.S. Magistrate Judge K. Gary Sebelius found that the plaintiff did not demonstrate prejudice or bad faith on the part of the defendant to allow for plaintiff’s spoliation sanctions or adverse jury instruction. The District Court judge adopted the report. Plaintiff sought five spoliation sanctions and all, but one, were dismissed with prejudice. The admission of evidence related to the defendant’s spoliation of evidence was left to the judge presiding over the trial to decide when given the documents placed into evidence. The plaintiff relied on a 2007 Kansas case, In re Krause, which was prior to the Tenth Circuit’s adoption of a showing of prejudice. Spoliation sanctions are proper in the Tenth Circuit when: (1) a party had a duty to preserve evidence because it knew, or should have known, that litigation was imminent, and (2) the adverse party was prejudiced by the destruction of the evidence. This differs from New York and the Zubulake case, which allows for a presumption of prejudice given destruction of documents concerning the litigation. The U.S. Magistrate Judge Sebelius found that not only did the plaintiff not show prejudice concerning defendant’s destruction of documents, but also that the plaintiff’s examples of destruction showed negligence due to defendant’s routine practices as opposed to intentional deprivation of evidence to the plaintiff. Concerning an email that occurred subsequent to plaintiff’s notice of litigation between itself and Meritrust Credit Union, Rain Link failed to preserve the email in native-format and its attachments and instead produced the document in hardcopy without attachments to the opposing counsel. The magistrate judge found that the plaintiff did not demonstrate a prejudice as to how the evidence was relevant to his claims. The plaintiff also requested Rain Link’s drafts of corporate meeting minutes. However, since Rain Link’s outside counsel notified the court that it was company policy to change the minute drafts after meetings and immediately file them electronically in addition to counsel’s advising clients (including Rain Link) to discard drafts of meeting minutes in order to avoid billing issues, the court found that there was no prejudice and little relevance in requiring the metadata of minute drafts. A more difficult issue arose from a May 6, 2009, telephone conversation between plaintiff’s counsel and defendant’s counsel as described in the defense’s memorandum of law. Defense counsel’s memorandum asserted that plaintiff abandoned his job while the plaintiff argued that he was terminated by Rain Link. The defense presented their memorandum in PDF format and explained that due to a computer crash in October 2009, the native format version was lost. The magistrate judge acknowledged that the plaintiff’s arguments concerning the actual date of creation of the memorandum was relevant to the case and the plaintiff’s argument ultimately hinged on defense counsel’s veracity. The plaintiff did not demonstrate that defense counsel would misrepresent evidence to the court. Evidence concerning work in progress data was found to be insufficient and left for the presiding judge to determine if there was prejudice to the plaintiff. Due to the plaintiff’s lack of showing prejudice in the spoliation of documents, the court did not complete a full analysis of bad faith. However, since the record demonstrated more negligence than intentional wrongdoing, an adverse jury instruction would not be appropriate.
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 youContinue Reading
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Be careful what you ask for…or don’t ask for! Electronic discovery may be something of a new phenomenon when it comes to the discovery of information in preparation of litigation but one idea has always remained constant: discovery requests should always be specific. That’s what Edgewood learned in Ford Motor Company v. Edgewood Properties Inc., a case that arose from a contract in which Ford agreed to provide concrete to Edgewood in return for Edgewood hauling it off the demolition site where a Ford assembly plant in Edison, New Jersey was being demolished. Besides the discovery process, what wasn’t so “smooth” was the concrete, as it later turned out that the concrete was contaminated, thereby bringing about Ford’s claim against Edgewood under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 and the New Jersey Spill Act for “contribution and indemnification for all costs as provided under the contract.”Continue Reading