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eDiscovery Written by Law Students

eDiscovery Written by Law Students

eLessons Learned features insightful content authored primarily by law students from throughout the country. The posts are written to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers, including those with little eDiscovery knowledge.

Law + Technology + Human Error

Law + Technology + Human Error

Each blog post: (a) identifies cases that address technology mishaps; (b) exposes the specific conduct that caused a problem; (c) explains how and why the conduct was improper; and (d) offers suggestions on how to learn from these mistakes and prevent similar ones from reoccurring.

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New to the eDiscovery world?

Visit our signature feature, e-Discovery Origins: Zubulake, designed to give readers a primer on the e-discovery movement through blog posts about the Zubulake series of court opinions which helped form the foundation for e-discovery. Go There

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Don’t Google It: Internet Giant Compelled to Produce User Information

Author: Tracy F. BufferCase Citation: In re Search Warrant No. 16-960-M-01, 232 F. Supp. 3d 708 (E.D. Pa. 2017)Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: Google CorporationeLesson Learned: Companies must comply with warrants issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act for user information even if that information is stored outside of the United States as long as the conduct relevant to the focus of the Act occurred in the United States.Tweet This: Google forced to comply with warrant despite its repeated objections This case out of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania involved a situation where Google was refusing to fully comply with warrants that the court had issued for the electronic data relating to two account holders. Two separate warrants were issued by the court pursuant to §2703(b) of the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) for data associated with the accounts of several individuals who were targets of two separate federal investigations. Both warrants directed Google to make copies of all of the data and send them to FBI agents in Pennsylvania. It is important to note that the individuals whose data was requested resided in the United States and the crimes being investigated occurred in the United States. Google subsequently refused to disclose all of the user data that was covered by the warrants, so the government filed a motion to order it to comply with the search warrants. For one of the warrants, the court issued an order to show close as to the basis of Google’s noncompliance. In its response, Google argued, among other things, that it was not required to produce data that was stored outside of the United States. As to the other warrant, the court also ordered Google to show cause as to their nondisclosure. Google responded similarly as it did with the other warrant. The court eventually consolidated the two cases and heard oral arguments. The government expressed the importance of obtaining electronic information of criminal suspects that are living in the United States. Conversely, Google argued that it receives thousands of disclosure requests from all levels of government in regards to criminal matters. An important aspect of this decision that warrants discussion is the SCA, which among other things, empowers the government to compel a provider to disclose customer information in one of three of the following ways: subpoena, court order, or warrant. Relevant here, the court can issue a warrant for user information when the government has obtained a warrant pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Importantly, Rule 41(b)(5) allows a magistrate judge to issue a warrant for property that is located only within a United States territory, possession or commonwealth, a United States diplomatic or consular mission, or any land owned or leased and used by the United States. The issue in this case whether the warrants for the electronic records of Google user accounts issued pursuant to the SCA can reach the information if it is stored outside of the United States. The court ultimately held that it can compel Google to produce this information as it did not constitute an unlawful extraterritorial application of the SCA.  The court’s analysis focused on a framework put forth by the Supreme Court in Morrison v. Nat’l Australia Bank Ltd. to evaluate the extraterritorial application of the SCA. The first part of the framework asks whether the statute in question gives a clear indication that it is to be applied extraterritorially; both parties stipulated that this was not the case with the SCA.  The second part of the Morrison framework requires the court to look at the statute’s focus and determine whether a particular case involves a domestic application of the statute; essentially this is asking if the conduct relevant to focus of the statute occurred within the United States.  The court, responding to this aspect of the framework, engaged in an analysis as to whether the obtaining of the Google data stored abroad would be a seizure or search of the targets’ data in another country. First, the court held that it was not a seizure because there would be no interference with the users’ respective abilities to access their own data. Next, the court held that there was a search, but the search occurred in the United States because the searches of the electronic data by Google will occur in the United States by Google employees who are located within the United States. Therefore, both cases involved a domestic, not an international application of the SCA despite the fact that the transfer may occur abroad. The court, therefore, ordered that Google comply with the warrant request and granted the government’s motion to compel.  Google erred in refusing to comply with the warrants for the user electronic data. The refusal ultimately led to presumably expensive litigation. Google’s goal was probably to protect user data as much as it could despite the presence of a warrant.  We have seen similar positions from other companies including Apple and Facebook. However, this case shows us that in the course of a criminal investigation, the courts may be unwilling to allow non-disclosure of user electronic information.  That is not to say that companies do not have the right to challenge a warrant, but this decision shows us that just because electronic data may be stored abroad, it does not necessarily mean that it is outside of a warrant’s reach.  Companies will have to comply with warrants issued pursuant to the SCA for user information even if that information is stored outside of the United States as long as the conduct relevant to the focus of the Act occurred in the United States. Tracy F. Buffer will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2018. She received her B.A. from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2015.  After graduation from law school, Tracy plans to practice corporate law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Does Rule 37(E) Not Apply?

Author: Rachel SmithCase Citation: Hsueh v. N.Y. State Dep't of Fin. Servs., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49568 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017)Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: EmployeeeLesson Learned: The Court does not recognize the protection of Rule 37(e) when a party acts with the intent to deprive its adversary of the use of evidence. When a party acts in bad faith with the intent to deprive, the Court has made it clear that an adverse inference will, in fact, be appropriate. The Court does not recognize the protection of Rule 37(e) when a party acts with the intent to deprive its adversary of the use of evidence. When a party acts in bad faith with the intent to deprive, the Court has made it clear that an adverse inference will, in fact, be appropriate. In this case, originally a case about sexual harassment at the workplace, the Court expressed its disfavor for a party’s intentional withholding, and destruction of evidence, and therefore found that an adverse inference was an appropriate remedy. The Plaintiff’s false statements and intentional deletion of a recorded conversation with a human resources employee resulted in sanctions, even though the deleted conversation was recovered. The Court found that Rule 37(e) did not apply to this case, because it only applies when ‘a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve’ ESI; not to situations where, as here, a party intentionally deleted the recording”. The Court used this reasoning as the basis for issuing the spoliation sanctions upon the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff’s story continually changed, specifically surrounding the conversations she had with an HR representative as the case progressed. It was not until the Plaintiff was deposed a second time that she admitted to possibly having recorded one of those conversations. Plaintiff stated that she had deleted the recording due to its poor quality, and therefore “not worth keeping”. Because of this, the Defendant requested spoliation sanctions to be imposed upon the Plaintiff. Miraculously, Plaintiff was able to locate the recorded conversation with the HR representative, stating her husband was able to recover it off of a hard drive. The Defendant continued to seek spoliation sanctions against Plaintiff, because there was no convincing evidence that the recording was fully intact. The Defendant falsely claimed that the recording was not ESI, but the Court did not buy it. The Court did, however, agree with Defendant that Rule 37(e) did not apply to this case. These considerations are not applicable here. It was not because Hsueh had improper systems in place to prevent the loss of the recording that the recording no longer existed on her computer; it was because she took specific action to delete it. The Court, therefore, concludes that Rule 37(e) does not apply. Being that the Court could not rely on Rule 37(e), it stated that it could rely on its inherent power. While the Plaintiff argued that sanctions should not be imposed because the recording was restored, the Court rejected that argument stating several reasons sanctions were appropriate. These included that the recording cut off mid-sentence and that there was no way to be sure that the recording was in fact in its entirety. The Plaintiff had the obligation to preserve any ESI in anticipation of trial, especially because she was the one to bring the trial, and therefore it could have easily been anticipated. This fact coupled with her failure to be truthful lead the Court to issue spoliation sanctions, along with an adverse inference. This is primarily because the Court found that the Plaintiff was intentionally depriving the Defendant of the recording. The Court subsequently ordered attorney’s fees to be paid by the Plaintiff along with the costs incurred in reopening discovery. Rachel Smith, is a Seton Hall University School of Law student, Class of 2018. She received her B.A in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University in 2010.

When is a Defendant Liable for Spoliation by a Non-Party?

Author: Luke IovineCase Citation: Ronnie Van Zant, Inc. v. Pyle, No. 17 Civ. 3360 (RWS), 2017 WL 3721777 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 28, 2017)Employer/Personnel Implicated: Record Company; Third-PartyeLesson Learned: A party (here, a Record Company) can be sanctioned for spoliation and held liable for actions by a non-party when the non-party is under its control. Control is to be construed broadly and is defined as the “practical ability to obtain documents from another, irrespective of legal entitlement.”Tweet This: Sanctions for Third Party Spoliation Ronnie Van Zant, Inc., Gary R. Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and other trustees and personal representatives (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint alleging the violation of a Consent Order and are seeking a permanent injunction against Cleopatra Records and awards of cost and attorney fees against Artimus Pyle (“Defendants”). Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd tragically passed away as a result of a plane crash in 1977. The surviving members agreed to never perform as Lynyrd Skynyrd again. However, in 1988, during a tribute tour, a disagreement arose over the use of the Lynyrd Skynyrd name. Ultimately, the members entered into a Consent Order restricting how the members could use the name and other aspects of the band. One clause stated: “In no event shall [the members] implicitly or through inaction authorize the violation of the terms hereof by any third party.” Pyle, a signatory of the Consent Order, ceased performing with the surviving members in 1991 and signed a termination agreement. Pyle eventually aided and contributed to the production of a Lynyrd Skynyrd film based on the plane crash, a film produced by Cleopatra Records “film affiliate.” Cleopatra hired John Cohn to write and direct the film, however, Cohn was not a Cleopatra employee. Pyle was ultimately contracted to narrate the film and receive 5% of the Film’s receipts, amongst other involvements. Plaintiffs sent Cleopatra a cease and desist letter to stop all production on the film; however, the request was ignored. Pyle worked with Cohn, more specifically, exchanged numerous detailed text messages regarding the movie’s production. Immediately after Plaintiffs sought action against Cleopatra and following the end of filming, Cohn switched cell phone providers, acquired a new phone, and ultimately did not preserve any text messages sent and received from Pyle. Plaintiffs requested the Court issue an adverse inference sanction against defendants for spoliation of text message evidence between Cohn and Pyle and the request was granted. A court can sanction a party if electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation of litigation is lost because a party failed to take responsible steps to preserve it.  F.R.C.P 37(e). In addition, if the party that failed to preserve ESI “acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in litigation,” then the court can dismiss the action or enter a default judgment. Id. With respect to Cleopatra’s liability as a result of Cohn’s failure to preserve (non-party), Cleopatra can be sanctioned because the ESI was under its “control.” [ESI} is under a party’s control if the party can practically obtain the [information], irrespective of legal entitlement. Further, the “cooperative relationship” and “common sense” indicates that Cohn’s texts with Pyle were within Cleopatra’s control. Despite an invalid subpoena for discovery of the information, “a district court may impose sanctions for spoliation” without a discovery order. West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999). In conclusion, Cohn’s actions, within the control of Cleopatra, were deliberate and this type of behavior weighs in favor of an adverse inference. The information destroyed (quality of interaction and relationship between Pyle, the Consent Order’s Signatory, and Cohn, the principal writer and singular director of the Film) was developed through these text messages. The majority held an adverse inference as to the missing text messages was to be presumed against Cleopatra and a permanent injunction the film’s production was granted. Attorney fee’s and costs were also awarded. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

Just a Quick Peek

Author: Victoria FerenzCase Citation: Fairholme Funds, Inc. v. United States, 681 Fed.Appx. 945 (C.A.Fed., 2017)Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: GovernmenteLesson Learned: If you do not want to provide documents and you are claiming privilege, then do not provide any of the documents and hold your ground. Providing some of the documents, but not all of them will lead to the courts ordering you to produce them all in the end anyway. In Fairholme Funds, Inc. v. United States, the Plaintiffs motioned to compel the production of approximately 1,500 documents that the Defendant was withholding pursuant to deliberative process and bank examination privileges. The Plaintiffs sought access to these protected documents pursuant to the “quick peek” procedure authorized by FRE 502(d) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Absent Defendant’s consent, the court granted Plaintiff’s request and entered an FRE 502(d) order allowing Plaintiffs to review the documents being withheld. The premise of the Defendant’s argument was that they would not produce thousands of documents for the Plaintiff’s because of the privilege that protected them. However, the Defendant’s had previously provided small quantities of documents to the Plaintiffs that were also allegedly protected under privilege. The defendants had previously produced over 3,500 documents in response to a court order, all of which they had also claimed privilege to. In another instance, they produced an additional 22 documents requested by the Plaintiffs. This time around, due to so many battles with Defendant’s surrounding these documents, Plaintiffs suggested that the court allow their use of a “quick peek procedure.” This procedure would allow Plaintiffs to review the 1,500 documents at issue at a time and place determined by defendant, identify the documents they believe are relevant to the case, and request production. Plaintiff’s believed that this was the only way to ensure that they would receive all of the documents they were entitled to in a much faster and more efficient manner. In their view, because the defendants released additional documents each time the plaintiff’s challenged its privilege claims, this remedy was the best solution besides imposing wholesale privilege waiver as a sanction. The court agreed that the defendant’s production of documents was piecemeal, and that this procedure was the best way to facilitate the speedy and efficient conclusion of jurisdictional discovery in this case. It is important to note that the order did contain a clawback provision, which stated that any inadvertent disclosure of information subject to privilege did not waive a party’s claim of privilege for that document or subject matter at a later date. The court stated that its use of the quick peek procedure was not intended as a sanction for any behavior on the defendant’s part, but rather as a means of expediting the completion of jurisdictional discovery in this case and conserving the court’s limited resources. Although the court went out of their way to explain that the use of this procedure was not to be viewed as a punishment, it is a direct consequence of the Defendant’s conduct. The Defendants made it a pattern to give Plaintiff’s a hard time, require Plaintiff’s to use the courts, and then ultimately did provide Plaintiff’s with the documents they requested. These repeated acts are what led the court to grant Plaintiff’s motion for a “quick peek,” to speed things up and stop Defendant from dragging the discovery phase out, costing time, money, and valuable court resources. The Defendant should have made a choice, in the beginning, to either provide all requested documents or claim privilege and provide nothing. Victoria Ferenz is a third year at Seton Hall University School of Law, focusing her studies in the area of Patent Law. She received her B.S. in BioMedical Science from Quinnipiac University. After graduation, Victoria will be clerking in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Preserve, Preserve, Preserve!

Author: Nick Plinio Cases cited: Estate of Shaw v. Marcus, Nos. 14 Civ. 3849 (NSR) (JCM), 14 Civ. 5653 (NSR) (JCM), 2017 WL 825317 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 2017); Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 216 F.R.D. 280, 283 (S.D.N.Y. 2003); Implicated Parties: Plaintiff’s counsel, Recipient of discovery request, recipient of motion to compel discovery E-Lesson learned:Utilize litigation holds, preserve e-documents and ALWAYS act in good faith and make all reasonable efforts to comply with e-discovery requests because a court has the power to shift the costs of discovery if counsel fails to produce documents requested and it would place an undue burden or expense for the requesting party to obtain them. Tweet this: ATTN all litigators!! Impose litigation holds and urge clients to preserve documents stored electronically or run the risk of facing sanctions or having to pay for forensic computer examinations. Estate of Shaw v. Marcus, a 2017 case out of the Southern District of New York has BIG implications for litigators and all users of electronic document preservation and discovery.  The big picture?  PRESERVE and COOPERATE, or bear not only the cost of discovery, but sanctions as well.    Background The issue in Estate of Shaw stems from the actions of Plaintiff and her counsel during the discovery phase of litigation.  Plaintiff apparently failed to preserve information relevant to the lawsuit contained on a lap top computer, which then required a forensic investigation to extract the information.  Plaintiff’s counsel also repeatedly disregarded requests and court orders to produce this information.  Further, Plaintiff’s counsel invited a third party to eavesdrop on a confidential meet-and-confer and behaved unprofessionally during several hearings before the court.  This conduct formed the basis for Defendant’s motion for sanctions and to shift the costs of discovery to Plaintiff. The Law While there is a presumption that the responding party should bear the expense of complying with discovery, a party may make a motion for the cost of discovery to be shifted upon a showing of good cause.[i]  Zubulake makes clear that cost shifting should only occur where e-discovery imposes an undue burden or expense on the responding party.  "[W]hether production of documents is unduly burdensome or expensive turns primarily on whether it is kept in an accessible or inaccessible format (a distinction that corresponds closely to the expense of production).”[ii] When documents are inaccessible, Zubulake set forth seven factors to consider before shifting costs to the requesting party.  They are, in order of importance, (1) the extent to which the request is specifically tailored to discover relevant information; (2) availability of such information from other sources; (3) the total costs of production, compared to the amount in controversy; (4) the total costs of production, compared to the resources available to each party; (5) the relative ability of each party to control costs and the incentives to do so; (6) the importance of the issues at stake; and (7) the benefits to the parties of obtaining the information.[iii] The court in Estate of Shaw held that a majority of the Zubulake factors, including the first and second most important factors, weighed in Defendant’s favor.[iv]  It then directed Plaintiff to cover 75% of the cost of the forensic computer analysis.[v] The court also imposed several sanctions requiring Plaintiff to pay Defendant’s attorney’s fees associated with the extra time and resources spent trying to obtain relevant the documents from Plaintiff.[vi] Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Obviously, Plaintiff’s counsel made some serious mistakes here.  For one, it is always a safe bet to advise clients, especially those with pending litigation, to preserve any and all electronic documents that could be relevant to a lawsuit.  As evidenced in Estate of Shaw, failing to preserve computers, or the files contained within them, could lead to cost-shifting in discovery. That aside, however, Plaintiff’s counsel made an even more crucial error in this case.  In failing to at least address reasonable requests for information and Court Orders to produce such information, Plaintiff’s counsel left himself open to sanctions.  Litigators should take a lesson from this: if an opposing party’s discovery request seems unreasonable or impossible, it pays to address this issue rather than producing deficiently or not at all.  It is this blogger’s view that many of the monetary sanctions imposed in Estate of Shaw could have been reduced or even avoided had Plaintiff’s attorney simply acted in good faith and made reasonable efforts to comply with the requests and Court Orders he received. Nick a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2018), focuses his studies in the areas of general litigation, labor, employment, and sports law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here Citations [i] Estate of Shaw v. Marcus, Nos. 14 Civ. 3849 (NSR)(JCM), 14 Civ. 5653 (NSR) (JCM), 2017 WL 825317 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 2017) (citing Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 216 F.R.D. 280, 283 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (“Zubulake 3”)) [ii] Id. (citing Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 217 F.R.D. 309, 322 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (“Zubulake 1”)) [iii] Zubulake 1, 217 F.R.D. at 322; Estate of Shaw, 2017 WL at 7-8. [iv] Estate of Shaw, 2017 WL at 16. [v] Id. [vi] Id. at 17-26.

Be Careful What You Bargain For

Author:Michael Mondelli III Case Citation:Bailey v. Brookdale Univ. Hosp. Med. Ctr., No. CV162195 (ADS) (AKT), 2017 WL 2616957, (E.D.N.Y. June 16, 2017). Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated:Plaintiff’s Counsel eLesson Learned:Attorneys should be sure to scrupulously inquire into what sort of information their client is able to produce, both financially and technologically. Tweet this:Make sure that you and your counsel work together to develop a discovery plan BEFORE you negotiate with your adversary. The Plaintiff, Lloyd Bailey, brought an action against Brookdale University Medical Center (“Brookdale”) and Carlos Ortiz (“Ortiz”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) seeking damages based upon Defendants' violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), and the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”). After the court conducted an Initial Conference with the Plaintiff and Defendants, the parties submitted a fully executed ESI Agreement (the “Agreement”) to the court, which was confirmed by the court. After the Agreement was confirmed, the parties took part in the Court’s required Discovery Status Conference. Despite being freely negotiated over a reasonable amount of time, at the status conference, Plaintiff’s counsel sought to undo various provisions of the Agreement. Even though the court found the Plaintiff’s misgivings retroactive to the Agreement unpersuasive, the court directed plaintiff’s counsel to review the Agreement with an outside vendor, which was provided by the Defendants, to assess costs of discovery. After the assessment from the outside vendor, the Plaintiff filed an Affidavit of Economic Hardship stating that the cost of $2,000 to $3,000 for his emails would create great hardship on him and his family with the Plaintiff only earning $90,000 a year as the sole provider. The Defendants asserted that the Plaintiff could meet this reasonable financial load and that the Plaintiff bore the burden of paying for discovery that his claims necessitated. The court recognized that the general rule was that the cost of production falls on the responding party. However, the court also noted that, under certain circumstances, the court can consider cost-shifting of production expenses to the requesting party. Nevertheless, the court warned that cost-shifting should only occur when electronic discovery imposes an undue burden on the responding party. The court believed that the Agreement was thoroughly negotiated and stipulated, but there was an undue burden on the Plaintiff due to Plaintiff’s counsel. While the court confirmed the Agreement, after further review it found that the Agreement seemed to be designed for use in corporate settings as opposed to the single plaintiff actions at issue here. The court could only conclude that Plaintiff’s counsel did not engage in a meaningful negotiation regarding discovery. Yet, since the Plaintiff chose his counsel, he cannot avoid the actions or omissions of his attorney. Therefore, the court found no grounds to invalidate the Agreement. However, the court did find partial cost-shifting to be appropriate due to the actions of Plaintiff’s counsel and the insistence of the Defendants that the Agreement be followed to the letter. As such, the court order that the Defendants would bear 40% of the discover costs, with the remaining 60% to be borne by Plaintiff’s counsel. Michael Mondelli III received a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Drew University in 2015. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2018. Present, Michael interns for the U.S. Trustee’s Office. After Graduation, Michael will clerk for a civil judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Spoliation, A Proportional Response

Author: Jason CastleCase Citation: Edelson v. Cheung, Civil Action No. 13-5870 (JLL) (JAD), 2017 U.S.Employee/Personnel/Employer implicated: CEOeLesson Learned: The intentional spoliation of evidence alone is not enough to compel the court to impose a default ruling against the offending party.Tweet This: In Edelson v. Cheung, the court decided that the intentional spoliation of evidence alone was not enough to compel it to impose a default ruling against Cheung because the spoliation, though intentional, did not prejudice Edelson so greatly that he would be unable to support his claims. In Edelson v. Cheung, Civil Action No. 13-5870 (JLL) (JAD), Plaintiff Leonard Edelson entered into a contract with Defendant Stephen Cheung. Under the terms of the contract, Edelson agreed to provide machinery, yarn, and consultant services, with a value in excess of $600,000, to defendants Eastchester facility in exchange for defendants promise to give Edelson a 50% interest in Eastchester at any time he specified. Edelson alleged that after entering into the agreement defendant transferred ownership of Eastchester to a third-party. According to Edelson, “Defendant created an e-mail account to hide relevant communications [from] his own lawyers. Then, when Edelson found out about the existence of this secret e-mail account, through another party’s production, Defendant deleted the evidence.” Edelson brought suit asserting breach the contract and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In the matter at hand, Edelson contended that Defendant failed to preserve electronic correspondence pertaining to the issues of the case and sought a spoliation ruling against Defendant for the same.  Plaintiff Edelson obtained an email correspondence between Defendant and the third-party that stated, “Don’t forget to use only e-mail account [...] Do not use the frontier email They read everything.” Defendant testified at deposition that he deleted the emails in question because his computer was acting “sluggish” and that he was unaware that deleting the e-mails “would lead to the misunderstanding of [his] intention[s].” Ultimately, the court found that the Defendant deliberately destroyed e-mail evidence in an attempt to conceal, suppress, and/or deprive Edelson of the information contained within it. The court imposed sanctions against Defendant under Rule 37, however, the court refused to find that the Edelson had suffered a degree of prejudice that merited the imposition of a default judgment against the Defendant. The court based its decision on two facts, (1) Edelson was able to obtain through subpoena propounded on the third-party “some of the emails” that can be presented to a jury to further support his claims; and (2) Edelson’s briefs and papers demonstrate that there is additional evidence other than the destroyed emails at issue which may be used at trial to prove the allegations against the Defendant. Though the court was not persuaded to impose a default judgment the court did decide in favor of Edelson ordering that the jury be provided an adverse inference instruction regarding the deleted emails. The lesson of this case is that the intentional spoliation of evidence alone is not enough to compel the court to impose a default ruling against the offending party. Rather the spoliation must prejudice the affected party so greatly that they would be unable to support their claims. Jason Castle is a 2018 Juris Doctor candidate at Seton Hall University School of Law, where he has focused his studies in the area of conflict management representing Pro Se litigants at mediation and settlement conferences in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and District of New Jersey (DNJ) respectively. Jason serves as President of the Student Bar Association and co-founded the #LearnKnowDifferent initiative to raise awareness and lower stigma around common learning disabilities prevalent in post-secondary institutions. Upon graduating Jason intends to work in the New Jersey Judiciary as a law clerk where he has accepted a one-year appointment. Following his judicial clerkship, Jason will work for theMorristown based law firm, McElroy Deutsche Mulvaney & Carpenter. Prior to attending law school, Jason served in the United States Marine Corps where he deployed as infantry Marine in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Upon completion of his military service, Jason was employed by Apple, Inc. in a business capacity as a sales executive managing Apples strategic financial services customer relationships. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Under What Circumstances Will a Judge Enter Default Judgment as a Sanction for Spoliation of Evidence?

Author: Caiti DerenzeCase Citation: Organik Kimya, et al. v. ITC, 843 F.3d 994 (U.S. App. 2017)Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: EmployeeseLesson Learned: Parties facing litigation need to give employees a litigation hold notice.Tweet this: Destroying evidence can lead to a default judgment. What does destroying a hard drive with a hammer, leaving a laptop in a rest-stop bathroom, and overwriting a computer’s hard drive all have in common? The answer is that these actions can lead to a default judgment as a sanction for spoliation of evidence. In May 2013, Dow Chemical Plant filed a complaint that alleged Organik Kimya (“Petitioner”) infringed on Dow patents and misappropriated trade secrets. During the proceedings, Petitioner was obligated under a discovery order issued by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to present an employee’s laptop to Dow’s forensic investigator. Instead, Petitioner overwrote the laptop’s files, backdated the computer’s internal clock to hide the fact that the overwriting took place after the discovery order was issued, and used a program to delete large portions of the laptop’s C and D drives. Petitioner’s spoliation did not stop there. After Dow served Petitioner with its complaint, a former Dow employee who gained employment with Petitioner also destroyed evidence. Petitioner’s employee “removed the hard drive from his personal computer and smashed it with a hammer and threw it in the garbage” and destroyed a bag filled with zip drives to ensure that information could not be recovered. O The last two occurrences of spoliation took place one day after the ALJ ordered one of Petitioner’s employee’s files to be preserved. First, someone logged into that employee’s computer and deleted 2,742 files and folders. Then, the same employee brought his computer bag, which contained his computer and storage devices, “into a bathroom of a highway rest stop, but ‘accidentally’ left [it] there.” The ALJ found that Petitioner never gave its employees “a litigation hold notice, instead leaving it up to each individual employee whether to save or delete electronic files.” It further concluded that Petitioner acted in bad faith when overwriting the first employee’s laptop, the spoliated evidence contained on the laptop was relevant to Dow’s allegation of trade secret misappropriation and that its destruction was prejudicial to Dow’s ability to prosecute its case. As for the second employee who destroyed his hard drive with a hammer, the ALJ did not find sufficient evidence to prove that Petitioner was destroying data deliberately. Finally, for the third employee, the ALJ found that the deletion of the 2,742 files and folders “evinces an attempt to cover-up wrong doing.”  The ALJ was also shocked that this cover-up took place after the ALJ put Petitioner on notice of the massive spoliation of evidence on the first employee’s laptop. Ultimately, Dow moved for sanctions, including a default judgment, against Petitioner. The ALJ granted Dow’s motion because Petitioner “deliberately destroyed evidence, and then actively attempted to deceive [the ALJ] as to what it had done.” Additionally, the ALJ concluded that it could give a lesser sanction to Petitioner because it would not deter other parties destruction of evidence. On review, the Commission upheld ALJ’s finding of default, and it issued a 25-year limited exclusion order and cease and desist order. Petitioner argued that the ALJ failed to consider its proposed lesser sanctions. However, the Commission opined that the default judgment held Petitioner accountable and was the best method of deterrence. Then, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard the case. Petitioner argued that the Commission erred under Micron Technology v. Rambus, 645 F.3d 1311 (Fed. Cir. 2011), asserting Dow was minimally prejudiced by the spoliation, and the Commission did not sufficiently address the proposed lesser sanctions. However, the Court held that Micron did not apply; instead, it evaluated the sanctions under Commission Rule 210.33(b) and Federal Rule 37(b). The Court noted that the two rules were “coextensive” and under the rules, a court can issue certain types of sanctions at its own discretion. Therefore, the Commission has the discretion to impose a default judgment sanction when a party disobeys a discovery order if that party’s conduct warrants that type of sanction. Furthermore, Commission’s and ALJ’s choice of sanctions is reviewable by the Court of Appeals. The Court can set aside a sanction decision “only if it is legally erroneous, arbitrary and capricious, or constitutes an abuse of discretion.” Caiti Derenze graduated from the College of the Holy Cross located in Worcester, Massachusetts where she earned a B.A. in Political Science in 2013. Prior to attending Seton Hall University School of Law, Caiti taught 5th grade and Kindergarten as a Teach for America corps member in Miami, Florida. After graduating law school in May 2018, Caiti will serve as a clerk to a judge in the Appellate Division of New Jersey.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

How Broad is Too Broad?

Author: Aislinn KochCase Citation: Rutledge-Plummer v. SCO Family of Servs., No. 15-CV-2468 (MKB) (SMG), 2017 WL 570765 (E.D. N.Y. Feb. 13, 2017)Employee/Personnel/Employer implicated: Cecelia Rutledge-Plummer (Former employee of SCO Family of Services), SCO Family of Services (Company)eLesson Learned: Parties need to be concise and articulate when specifying which documents they are requesting that are truly relevant to their case in order to adhere to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Specificity is the key to a proper electronic discovery request in order to comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The Plaintiff in Rutledge-Plummer v. SCO Family of Servs. was about as non–specific as they come when she requested documents related to her discrimination lawsuit.  The scope of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) is limited to “any nonprivledged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Plaintiff, while pro se, decided that asking for every single email sent and received between eight different individuals from August 1, 2013 to the day this decision was made, February 13, 2017, was a perfectly legitimate request. Absolutely not. This would include more than likely thousands and thousands of emails, most of which might not have a single thing to do with her discrimination case.  This is way too broad. The court was not about to allow this Plaintiff to burden the Defendant with this request for an absurd number of documents. Plaintiff’s request was denied on the grounds that it was overly burdensome. Even during oral argument when the Plaintiff attempted to somewhat limit the scope to just emails that had to do with her and to put the end date of August 4, 2014, the court found these extra limitations still to not be enough. Clearly, there is a high burden on the specificity requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Defendant actually did search for some emails, but they limited their email search to “(i) the decision to eliminate plaintiff’s position, (ii) plaintiff’s allegation that her responsibilities changed even before the decision to eliminate her position was made, and (iii) plaintiff’s requests for medical leave and her alleged disability.” Because of the tailoring that the Defendant did to the search, the court said that denying Plaintiff’s motion to compel will not cause her to end up with nothing. However, this massive blunder by the Plaintiff to over request documents caused the court to allow the Defendant to decide which documents were relevant. That’s probably the exact opposite of what the Plaintiff was hoping for. Litigators beware, you better know what documents you really want because if you go too far, you might just end up with something else entirely. Limiting the scope of your electronic discovery requests is imperative to the outcome of your case. This Plaintiff and her counsel, whom did not even bother to check for what she asked for while she was pro se until the deadline for discovery was almost up, ended up with emails that the Defendant had control over. Plaintiff even botched her other electronic discovery requests for the same reason that they were not specifically tailored to relevant information to her case. Broader is not better when it comes to electronic discovery. You should know precisely what documents you are looking for when making a discovery demand. Otherwise, your request could be denied and you’ll end up with nothing useful to your case. The Plaintiff in Rutledge-Plummer v. SCO Family of Servs. learned this the hard way. Aislinn Koch is a 2014 magna cum laude graduate of Elon University located in North Carolina where she earned her B.F.A. in Dance, Performance and Choreography and her B.A. in Strategic Communications.  She will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in May of 2018. After graduation, Aislinn will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division, in Bergen County. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

How Can a Judge Infer Intentional Deprivation of Electronic Information and Thus Impose Severe Spoliation Sanctions?

Author: Tracy F. BufferCase Citation: Moody v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 07-CV-6398P, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154449 (W.D.N.Y. Sep. 21, 2017).Employee/Personnel/Employer implicated: Railway CompanyeLesson Learned: In order to prevent the imposition of harsh sanctions, parties should, as soon as they are aware that litigation is impending, ensure that any data that is relevant is readable and also stored on multiple interfaces. Waiting more time to attempt to access data could allow the court to infer that any deprivation was intentional.Tweet This: A railway company did not cover its tracks and was subject to spoliation sanctions based on actions relating to black box recordings. In this dispute, Plaintiff sued a railway company (“Defendant”) for personal injuries resulting from when she was hit by a train and dragged for twenty feet in 2006. Her injuries included an above-the-knee amputation of her left leg and the loss of toes on her right leg. Among other things, Plaintiff moved for spoliation sanctions based on Defendant’s inability to produce information from the train’s event recorder, which is typically called a “black box”.  The event recorder records all movements from the train including acceleration, speed, braking, and the use of the horn or bell. Normally, the data is transferred from the recorder to a central data vault. When Plaintiff served discovery demands in June of 2009, she asked for, among other information, the printouts from the event recorder of the train that hit her. Defendant responded by stating that the data from the event recorder was downloaded but not in a readable format. Plaintiff then served a supplemental notice for Defendant to produce the download as well as the information and software necessary to interpret the data. Defendant did produce the unreadable download along with a letter stating that an engineer only downloaded two of the three files that were necessary to read the information. When this was discovered, Defendant stated, the company asked the engineer to check his laptop for the file. However, the letter explained, the laptop had crashed and had been recycled or destroyed. Plaintiff asserted that Defendant had spoliated the data from the event recorder and requested that the court strike Defendant’s answer or provide an adverse inference instruction to the jury. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant had a duty to preserve the event recorder data in the central data vault and on the laptop as Defendant was aware that it contained information that was central to the dispute. She also claimed that Defendant did not take reasonable steps to ensure the data was preserved and that she was prejudiced by the destruction of the data because it would have resolved the issue of whether the train’s horn sounded before it started moving. Defendant argued that it took reasonable steps to preserve the data, that Plaintiff was not prejudiced by the loss of the data, and that it did not act with any culpability. Defendant claimed it acted reasonably when it sent the engineer to receive the data right after the accident and then sent it to the data vault. It claimed that any loss of data was due to inadvertent human error. Defendant claimed that even if the court were to determine that some sanction is appropriate, an adverse inference instruction is not because its errors were a result of simple negligence and not bad faith, intentional conduct. The court ultimately imposed an adverse inference instruction to the jury which, under Rule 37(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, allows the jury to infer that the lost information “was in fact unfavorable to the party that lost it.” The court noted that based on Rule 37, Defendant did have a duty to preserve the data from the event recorder as it was relevant information to an impending lawsuit. The court also found that Defendant did not take reasonable steps to preserve the data. Relating to this finding, the court was not convinced that Defendant had not attempted to access the data from 2006 (the time of the incident) to 2010 (the time of the discovery request) given that it would establish relevant and material facts. The court also found Defendant’s explanation about the laptop with the information incredulous and its actions in destroying or recycling the laptop unreasonable. The court found, of course, the data was not reproducible as the information from the event recorder could not be replicated by any other means. Also, the court found that there was prejudice to Plaintiff as it was plausible that the data from the recorder would have supported Plaintiff’s position. It was not necessary that she prove that the recording data would have been favorable to her position. The most important part of the opinion focused on whether or not Defendant engaged in intentional deprivation, which would warrant more severe sanctions against it. The court did, in fact, find that Defendant acted with intent to deprive Plaintiff of the data from the event recorder. The court inferred this intention from the fact that Defendant knew it had a duty to preserve the data and allowed the original data on the event recorder to be overwritten and destroyed on the laptop. In addition, Defendant’s failure, from 2006-2010 to ensure that the data was properly preserved allowed for the inference of intentional deprivation. As the court found that Defendant intentionally deprived Plaintiff of the data from the event recorder, it imposed the severe sanction of an adverse inference instruction, therefore allowing the jury to infer that the data on the event recorder was unfavorable to defendant. The issues here related to the fact that the data that was present was unreadable as well as the destruction of the laptop. In order to prevent similar issued from arising in the future, parties should, as soon as they are aware that litigation is impending, ensure that any data that is relevant is readable and also stored on multiple interfaces. Waiting more time to attempt to access data could allow the court to infer that any deprivation was intentional. Once this intention is found, harsh sanctions can be imposed under Rule 37 which could be extremely detrimental to that party’s case. Learn from this railway company’s mistake and cover your “tracks”. Tracy F. Buffer will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2018. She received her B.A. from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2015.  After graduation from law school, Tracy plans to practice corporate law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

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    Although I may have missed some, yours is the first article that I have seen addressing Zubulake II. It is often the lost opinion amongst the others.

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    Plaintiff, Zubulake v. UBS Warburg


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