Production of Data

Does Inadvertent Disclosure Destroy the Safe-Haven Afforded by Attorney-Client Privilege?

Last spring the District Court for the District of Colorado heard argument on Galena St. Fund, LP v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Plaintiff Galena specifically appealed to the court to compel discovery with respect to 8,327 documents that defendant Wells Fargo claimed were privileged. Magistrate Judge Boyd N. Boland was asked to consider whether Wells Fargo was allowed to claim privilege from trust beneficiaries, or in the alternative, if Wells Fargo waived the attorney-client privilege in its entirety. Plaintiff’s motion consisted of the kitchen-sink brief: first, Wells Fargo could claim no privilege exists to prevent disclosure of records to a beneficiary of a trust; second, when Wells Fargo named a non-party at fault, they effectively waived privilege by making the documents at-issue in the case; third, Wells Fargo waived privilege by having an overbroad privilege log; and fourth, Wells Fargo waived simply by inadvertently disclosing during the course of discovery. In short, Judge Boland was not convinced. Only one exhibit in the universe of disclosure was deemed to be a waiver of privilege, based on the at-issue waiver rule. That document was an email chain discussing defendant’s non-party claim and deciding how to remit proceeds from federally insured RMBS loans.   The court recognized that Wells Fargo “cannot use the attorney-client privilege as a shield to hide communications that indicate that Wells Fargo directed [the non-party] on how to remit those proceeds.” Galena, 2014 WL 943115 at *12-13. Unfortunately for Galena, that was the only point for plaintiffs on the scoreboard. The court went on to explain that Wells Fargo’s contact with outside counsel did not waive privilege for Galena as a beneficiary of the trust, essentially because Wells Fargo’s reaching out to outside counsel was inspired by Galena’s threat of litigation. Furthermore, Judge Boland did not find defendants assertion of privilege to be overbroad, and recognized that inadvertent disclosure does not waive privilege in any meaningful sense. Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure works in conjunction with Rule 502 of the Federal Rules of Evidence to provide a solution to this very situation. So long as the disclosure was truly inadvertent and the holder of the privilege took reasonable steps to remedy the problem, privilege is still maintained. In this situation, the “burden of showing that the privilege has not been waived remains with the party claiming the privilege.” Silverstein v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2009 WL 4949959 *10 (D. Colo. Dec. 14, 2009). In the other situations in which the court analyzed potential waiver here, the burden of establishing a waiver of the attorney-client privilege “rests with the party seeking to overcome the privilege.” People v. Madera, 112 P.3d 688, 690 (Colo. 2005). Galena couldn’t possibly meet that burden, for all 8,327 documents. Hopefully, Galena’s counsel can make some hay with the one record in which privilege was waived. 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.

Why Did the United States District Court Find Apple’s Proposed Protective Order Unduly Restrictive, Unreasonable, and Arbitrary?

Even Apple’s extremely valuable source code is not entitled to an arbitrary, unreasonable, and unduly restrictive protective order. Instead of adopting Apple’s proposed protective order, the United States District Court approved Farstone’s provision in its entirety. Farstone’s “reasonably necessary” standard was determined to be sufficient enough to protect Apple’s source code. In Farstone Tech., Inc. v. Apple, Inc., despite agreeing to a majority of the proposed protective order’s terms, Farstone and Apple disagreed on the terms relating to the production of Apple’s source code. Specifically, Apple and Farstone could not agree on the limitations that should apply to Farstone’s ability to print Apple’s source code. Apple proposed that the printing must be “necessary” to prepare court filings and pleadings, while Farstone proposed that it should be allowed to print source code that is “reasonably necessary” for those purposes. Additionally, Apple wanted to establish two other limitations in the protective order, including a thirty page threshold and a two hundred and fifty page total cap. The thirty page threshold limitation would presume any printing of thirty sequential pages of source code to be excessive. The court found that Apple’s proposed “necessary” term was unduly restrictive because Farstone will not likely be able to know what specific source code is necessary to prepare its case. Furthermore, the court found that Farstone’s “reasonably necessary” standard has a solid foundation in the Northern District of California’s Model Protective Order. Additionally, the court found Apple’s numerical limitations unreasonable because they appeared to be arbitrary. Apple failed to indicate how the thirty page threshold and the two hundred and fifty page cap “bear any actual relationship to the total source code available.” The court held that the “reasonably necessary” standard provided some guide and limit on the printing of source code and thus, approved Farstone’s source code printing provision. It is imperative that Apple protects its trade secrets, such as its extremely valuable source coding. However, Apple must avoid proposing arbitrary, unreasonable, and unduly restrictive provisions in its protective orders to avoid courts from adopting its adversaries’ proposed terms. If Apple wishes to include numerical limitations in the future, it should justify why the numerical limits are necessary for the protective order to be sufficient.            Gary Discovery received a B.S. in Business Administration, with a concentration in Finance from the Bartley School of Business at Villanova University. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. After graduation, Gary will clerk for a presiding civil judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

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

ESI is usually massive and its discovery burdensome. The proportionality consideration is thus often a deciding factor for courts to impose a particular document production protocol. The rules of ESI request and production do not offer a clear line as to the form of production and the obligation of a producing party in further culling for responsiveness by reviewing search hits produced by computers. That allows courts to order production procedures with considerable flexibility. ESI production is governed by Rule 34 of FRCP, which states that a request of ESI production “may specify the form or forms in which electronically stored information is to be produced” (emphasis added). However, rule 34(b)(2)(E) specifies that: (E) Producing the Documents or Electronically Stored Information. Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, these procedures apply to producing documents or electronically stored information: (i) A party must produce documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request; (ii) If a request does not specify a form for producing electronically stored information, a party must produce it in a form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form or forms; and (iii) A party need not produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form. As to the responsiveness review, nowhere in Rule 34 is it expressly stipulated how the review should be carried out and how the electronic search should be conducted, particularly in the context of ESI. The court in FDIC v. Bowden, by referencing other cases, developed some practical guide in applying the ESI production rules as to production forms and responsiveness review responsibility. In FDIC v. Bowden, the court, in the spirit of balancing discovery burdens and applying proportionality restriction, provided a reasonable ESI production procedure to follow in the particular context of the case. That context, involving a suit by FDIC who took over a failed bank for mismanagement against some prior executives of the bank, may not be as uncommon as it appears, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis resulting from broad adoption of ruthless practices by the financial industry. The position of the court is thus illuminating and offers much guidance to parties facing similar situations. Specifically in FDIC v. Bowden, a bank insured by the FDIC failed and the FDIC formed a separate legal entity, the FDIC-R, to act as a receiver and took over the bank. The FDIC-R then brought a bank mismanagement case against sixteen former directors and officers. The parties disputed as to the ESI document production protocol. Like many other mismanagement cases, the defendant had been running the bank and thus had some reasonable understanding of majority the bank’s (or the plaintiff’s) ESI and knew reasonably well what needed to be searched. This point seems to have carried much weight for the court to determine a suitable document production protocol. First, it is interesting to note that the court treated acceptable ESI production protocol by FDIC for defendants’ request for documents related to FDIC’s claims separately from defendants’ request for documents responsive to defendant’s defenses. As to the production of ESI related to the claims, the court first noted that since this type of case generally involves the bank’s takeover by the FDIC and thus the ESI has usually been modified in the course of FDIC’s running of the bank. Thus, irrespective of whether the defendants specified any document production form, FDIC cannot really satisfy the “course of business” option of Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) by simply providing ESI as kept by FDIC because the “course of business” was held by the court to mean the business of the bank, not of the FDIC. Under Rule 34, the FDIC thus needed to produce categorized documents according to defendant’s request. But there is no obligation for the responding party to examine every scrap of paper in its potentially voluminous files in order to comply with its discovery obligations. Rather, the court approved a two-stage scheme. In the first stage, FDIC only needs to conduct a diligent search, which involves developing a reasonably comprehensive electronic search strategy, categorize the resulting files according to the request, and produce the documents. However, the obligation (if there is one) for FDIC to review the responsiveness of the documents resulting from these initial searches may be obviated through a cooperative search query formulation on an equal access document database in a second stage document production. Specifically for the second stage, parties would agree to a set of search terms to apply to the Bank’s database maintained by FDIC-R. FDIC-R would then export the results into some review tool, called “Relativity” in this case. FDIC-R would provide full accessibility of “Relativity” to defendants. That way, the defendants can be afforded the opportunity to review the documents identified through the second round searches and select for production only the documents that the defendants desire. As for the defendant’s interest in corralling documents in support of their defense, the court held that FDIC-R must confer with defendants and run whatever reasonable searches they wish to run on the electronic records and make those hits available for review and refinement. This seems to be a natural way of dealing with request for document helping with defense since the defensive strategy is mostly with the defendants themselves. From this case, it appears that as long as a responding party conducts a reasonable and diligent electronic search according to the document request and produces hits, it does not immediately have the obligation to further review these hits for responsiveness. However, the court may ask the responding party to make their ESI database available for a collaborative search between the parties. The responding party can always produce these hits in a format kept in ordinary course of business irrespective of whether the requesting party has specified any form of production. Of course, the responding party can also produce the document by categorizing the document according to the request if it chooses to do so or if the ESI has been altered and becomes too burdensome to reverse to the form kept in ordinary course of business. Gang Chen is a Senior Segment Manager in the Intellectual Property Business Group of Alcatel-Lucent, and a fourth-year evening student at Seton Hall University School of Law focusing on Patent Law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Clawing Back Digital Data is Risky Business

Why is clawing back digital data any more dangerous than clawing back physical documents?  Imagine making physical copies of one thousand documents.  That would take a long time, right?  Now, imagine making digital copies of the same one thousand documents. This takes a fraction of the time.  Giving up too much information in a digital form is incredibly dangerous because duplicating the data is as simple as “copy” and “paste.” In the case of Crissen v. Gupta, the party producing documents gave the receiving party a CD with all the documents requested; however, they mistakenly included over 600 pages of documents that were not supposed to be produced.  Thankfully, for the producing party, a protective order was in place which mandated that documents could be “clawed back” if they had been mistakenly produced. A claw back provision essentially will undo a document production.  In theory, this is a great way to increase the flow of information between opposing parties, decrease discovery costs, and limit the amount of time spent combing through documents before they are produced. See 2006 Advisory Committee Note to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(f).  However, this only works if opposing counsel plays by the rules of the “claw back” game. Here, instead of just returning the CD as requested by the producing party, the receiving party copied and pasted all the documents from the CD onto the law firm’s server.  The CD was eventually returned to the producing party, but the damage had already been done.  The receiving party had an unblemished, unrestricted view of all the documents saved right on their servers. The producing party promptly asked the court to interject and enforce the claw back protection order; however, the receiving party had already reviewed the recalled documents via the copies on their servers.  The court ordered that the recalled documents be deleted, forbade the use of the documents unless they were properly produced, and required the receiving party to submit confirmation of the same.  However, as the saying goes, the cat was already out of the bag. Judge Magnus-Stinson admitted in his opinion that he could not bar the receiving party from using the recalled documents because the documents still may be properly requested and produced.  In other words, the receiving party now had the upper hand because they knew what documents to specifically request based upon their review of the recalled documents. The moral of the story in this case is do not rely solely upon claw back protective orders when going through the discovery process, especially when producing digital information.  Even if the protective order is enforced and a party is able to claw back specific data, there is some damage that just cannot be undone.  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.

Spoliation By Plaintiff? Deleting Text Messages Can Result In Court Sanctions

This case provides an important lesson for any person involved in a lawsuit involving text messages as evidence. Here, a group of employees was suing their employer for discrimination under Title VII. When the discovery process began, the defendants requested a number of text messages relating to the conduct of the employees during the relevant time period of the discrimination. These text messages were permitted to be discoverable by the defendant and the plaintiff was ordered to turn over the relevant text messages. The plaintiffs’ lawyer then gave the plaintiffs instructions to preserve all data relevant to the case; otherwise they could face sanctions by the court, which could negatively impact their suit. Spoliation is the legal term for deleting or destroying information sought by the opposing party. This is precisely what occurred here. Apparently the plaintiffs felt that if they simply deleted a portion of the requested text messages that the defendant would have no way to access that information and thus the problem would be solved; if there even was a problem to begin with. When the defendant discovered that these texts had not been turned over with the rest of the discovery they inquired about their whereabouts. The plaintiffs responded that the texts had been deleted. Obviously perturbed, the defendant then subpoenaed the mobile carrier, T-Mobile, and recovered the deleted texts. However, now the plaintiffs had a problem; they had deliberately attempted to conceal and destroy relevant information. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss based on the actions of the plaintiff. The court granted the motion in part but denied the dismissal of all charges.  Though, the court did impose sanctions upon the plaintiff, which carried the potential to seriously harm their case even if everything else went well. The simple lesson here is that you should never conceal, delete, or destroy any relevant information sought by the opposing party. Ultimately the content of the text messages remains unimportant in light of the plaintiffs’ spoliation. The plaintiffs should have followed their lawyer’s instruction to preserve the information. Had they turned over the information, their lawyer would have been able to combat the text messages in court in front of the jury. However, due to their actions, they were sanctioned and essentially handcuffed their counselor from undercutting any information contained within the text messages. Spoliation is never the answer even if you are required to turn over information that does not weigh in your favor. These plaintiffs learned the hard way; do not make the same mistake and follow your lawyer’s instructions.  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. 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.

Prophylactics Do Not Protect Pharmaceutical Companies From Data and Document Discovery Laws!

In this case, the Plaintiff Nicole Baker sues Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceutical Inc., complaining that the Bayer product Mirena was not adequately accompanied by warnings of its side effects. She asks Bayer to produce databases that contains sales calls made by the marketing and sales department to physician’s offices. The sales calls notes also contain conversations between sales representatives and healthcare providers. Bayer argues that only the sales calls notes concerning Baker’s treating physician are relevant. Bayer also argues that producing all the sales calls notes are unduly burdensome and excessive in light of the needs of the case. Ultimately, the court finds in favor of the Plaintiff, and finds that the databases containing all sales calls must be produced due to their relevance to the current case. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits “discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” The information sought “need not be admissible at the trial” so long as it “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The crux of the Plaintiff’s argument is that all the sales call notes, not just limited to those related to her physician, are relevant to her case because they would ascertain whether the pharmaceutical company is overpromoting the product Mirena. Overproduction would mean that there could be dilution or nullification of any warnings, thereby rendering the warnings inadequate. The Plaintiff argues that the volume and substance of the sales calls notes can establish whether there was a vigorous, aggressive sales campaign to the medical profession, leading to failure to heed written warnings. While this argument appears to be attenuated, it does fall under the standard of being reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The takeaway message is that the court thought although it was a burden to the Defendant, all of the sales calls notes are relevant to establishing if Bayer’s Mirena campaign was so pervasive that any doctor, including the Plaintiff’s, would fail to pay attention to warnings about the product’s side effects. 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

How Can One Secure An Order Protecting One From Producing Certain ESI?

This matter came before the court upon Plaintiff Black & Veatch’s Motion for Protective Order and Request for Discovery Conference. B&V entered into a series of agreements wit American Electric Power Services (“AEP”) and other companies (collectively, the “Owners”) to engineer, procure material, and construct wet flue gas desulfurization systems (also known as JBRs). The Owners claimed the JBRs were defective. B&V paid several millions of dollars to repair and replace the JBRs. To recover some of the incurred costs, B&V filed a claim with its professional liability carriers, filed suit against a subcontractor, and filed a breach of contract and declaratory judgment action against various insurance providers relating to the relevant insurance policies. B&V alleged it maintained Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) relating to the JBRs on Documentum—an electronic document management program, custodian hard drives, and Accounting and Field Management System. B&V produced 448.7 gigabytes of data to the Defendant. However, B&V withheld additional relevant ESI, arguing that the Defendants’ proposed search terms were too board and producing discovery pursuant to those search terms would be unreasonable and excessively expensive. B&V was unable to estimate the cost of producing the ESI. B&V sought a protection from producing this additional relevant information. In the alternative, B&V proposed to shift some of the cost in producing the ESI to the Defendants. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) states, “a court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense. The movant bears the burden of establishing good cause by making a particular and specific demonstration of fact. A mere conclusory statement that ESI production would cost a party tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars does satisfy a movants burden to make a specific demonstration of fact in support of a protective order. The court held that B&V’s undue burden and expensive argument to be unsupported and conclusory. B&V failed to provide any hour or cost estimate. Thus, the court denied B&V’s Motion for Protective Order.  Additionally, the court refused to grant the protective order because the Defendants’ search terms were overbroad, noting that Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) only allows protective orders when the movant proves the order is necessary to protect the party from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden. Over breadth is not an enumerated category. The court also denied B&V cost shifting proposal. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii) allows the court to impose cost shifting measures when the party from whom discovery is sought demonstrates that the information is reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. B&V failed to show that the ESI production was inaccessible because of undue burden or cost because B&V’s only mention of cost to produce ESI was conclusory and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, the court stated that the parties were free to enter into a clawback agreement, which would compel the parties to return inadvertently produced privileged documents. B&V also sought protection from producing ESI from the custodian hard drive, arguing that that data produced pursuant to Defendants’ search terms would be unrelated or duplicative. Moreover, B&V argued that a Defendant’s proposed list of custodians was overly broad. Defendant argues that the proposed list is reasonable on its face given that the case involves a $70 million coverage dispute. The court again denied B&V’s Motion for Protective Order because B&V failed to substantiate its claim that the production of ESI from the custodian hard drives pursuant to proposed search terms will yield unrelated or duplicative data. B&V also failed to substantiate its claim that Defendant’s proposed list of custodian hard drives was unduly burdensome because it was without any information regarding the custodians’ job duties, their involvement with the facts at issue, or whether they had potentially relevant information on their hard drives Finally, B&V sought protection from producing electronic interim accounting reports regarding the cost of the JBR projects, arguing that such production would be wasteful, expensive, and burdensome. B&V stated that only the final accounting costs were necessary to determining damages, and a final cost accounting report was previously produced to the Defendants. The electronic interim accounting reports requested by the Defendants are adjusted monthly, and do not represent final costs needed to determine damages. Defendants argued that the report produced did not include the final cost documents, and the lack of information prevents them from properly assessing damages. The court again denied B&V’s Motion for Protective Order because B&V did not substantiate how producing the electronic interim accounting reports would be unduly burdensome or expensive. B&V’s assertion that monthly-adjusted accounting reports will not provide final cost information was conclusory. Aaron Cohen, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focused his studies in the area of Family Law. He participated in the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice’s Family Law Clinic. After graduation, he will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division. Prior to law school, he was a 2011 cum laude graduate of The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, where he earned a B.A. in Psychology. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

All That Glitters is NOT Gold

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.

What Happens When Video Evidence Is Changed, But Not Deleted?

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.

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