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Jim Gill

Even with Bad Communication and Unfulfilled Discovery Obligations, Sanctions Still Not Granted: eDiscovery Case Law

eDiscovery Case Week concludes today!  We had a great webcast on Wednesday where Tom O’Connor and I discussed key eDiscovery case law for the first half of 2018 – 22 cases in all!  Check it out! – Doug

In US v SuperValu, No. 11-3290 (C.D. Ill. July 12, 2018), Illinois District Judge Richard Mills ruled against sanctions requested by the defendants at this time, even though the relators didn’t “live up to their discovery obligations.”

Case Background

The relators filed this qui tam action alleging the defendants defrauded government healthcare programs by fraudulently reporting inflated Usual and Customary (U&C) pharmacy prices for prescriptions filled for government healthcare program beneficiaries.

In their first amended complaint, the relators claimed they each spoke individually with employees of certain of the defendants’ pharmacies. The defendants alleged the relators relied heavily on these alleged conversations to support their fraud allegation, and that the relators shredded contemporaneous notes of “supposed conversations” with the defendants’ employees. It was also charged that the relators intentionally deleted computer files concerning these conversations and threw away the computer on which the files were stored, thereby precluding examination of the relevant metadata.

On December 20, 2016, the defendants served interrogatories seeking details of the alleged conversations, and the relators identified 19 alleged conversations between employees of the parties. The defendants also requested production which sought, among other things, documents relating to certain phone calls. The relators produced no documents in response to the requests.

Subsequently, the relators’ counsel produced five documents which one of the relators’ employees confirmed were the notes that he made on his home computer concerning phone calls he allegedly made to various defendant pharmacies. He then testified he had no independent recollection of the substance of these calls. The computer on which he prepared the notes “quit working,” and he threw it away after the filing of this lawsuit, which “deleted everything [all documents he prepared on the computer related to this lawsuit] after [he] sent them to counsel.” A number of other notes were also prepared on the computer, and some of the handwritten notes or reports that were the basis for this information were shredded or destroyed.

The relators claimed the defendants made no effort to investigate the matters it addresses in its motion and did not speak to counsel for the relators before filing the motion. They also disputed the defendants’ allegations that “Notes not produced to date have been lost forever, and all metadata reflecting the timing of the creation and editing of even the summaries has likewise been lost and is non-recoverable.”

The relators claimed their counsel has electronic copies of all the notes discussed by defendants in its motion, with metadata, and some copies of Schutte’s handwritten notes. However, the defendants did not ask for these materials. The relators contended that even if certain handwritten notes were destroyed, all relevant information was preserved.

The relators also alleged that a number of these allegedly spoliated documents are protected by the work product doctrine and were not subject to discovery.  The defendants filed a motion for limited sanctions for spoliation of evidence.

Judge’s Ruling

After taking into consideration FRCP 26 and 37, as well as previous case law, Judge Mills ruled:

“In some respects, it appears that the parties are having communication problems. If the documents are simply paper or electronic records of statements made by employees of the defendants, the Court fails to see how such documents could possibly constitute the relators’ work product. Accordingly, those documents should have been turned over to the Defendants upon request, pursuant to Rule 26(b)(3)(C)(ii).”

Judge Mills continued: “The defendants will have an opportunity to question the relators about the alleged conversations, the circumstances under which any notes were prepared, and any other relevant matters, including the destruction of the computer and any metadata that may have been lost. If it comes to light that a party acted inappropriately or in bad faith, the Court will consider imposing sanctions at that time…Although it appears that the Relators may not have lived up to their obligations under the discovery rules, the Court does not believe that the sanctions requested by the Defendants are appropriate at this time.”

So, what do you think? Is this ruling within the correct interpretation of spoliation sanctions under Rule 37? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Court Rules Search Terms Overly Broad Under Rule 26 in Convertible Top Patent Case: eDiscovery Case Law

In Webastro Thermo & Comfort v. BesTop, Inc., No.16-13456 (E.D. Mich. June 29, 2018), Michigan Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen ruled in favor of the plaintiff’s protective order, requesting the narrowing of search terms for ESI production in this patent dispute.

Case Background

The plaintiff manufactures an automobile roof and also a roof-opening mechanism for which it has a patent and claimed that the defendant manufactures a roof-opening mechanism under the name “Sunrider for Hartop” that infringes on their patent. The defendant contended that its Sunrider product is based on prior art, invalidating the plaintiff’s patent.

The defendant requested emails during discovery, but the plaintiff claimed the total emails generated and received by these companies was voluminous and many would encompass matters having nothing to do with this lawsuit. The ESI order from the court contemplated that search terms should be narrowed to exclude extraneous and irrelevant information and that production requests should be limited to eight key custodians and ten search times on each side.

However, the plaintiff contended that the defendant’s proposed search terms were “overbroad, indiscriminate, and contrary to BesTop’s obligations under the Court’s ESI Order,” and despite pre-motion communication between counsel, the parties were at an impasse, leading to the plaintiff seeking a protective order “sparing Webasto from unduly burdensome email discovery, until such time as BesTop propounds reasonable email search requests containing appropriate narrowing criteria.”  The plaintiff also requested an order requiring the defendant to cover costs associated with the plaintiff’s production.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Whalen stated in his discussion, “The majority of BesTop’s search terms are overly broad, and in some cases violate the ESI Order on its face. For example, the terms ‘throwback’ and ‘swap top’ refer to Webasto’s product names, which are specifically excluded under…the ESI Order. The overbreadth of other terms is obvious, especially in relation to a company that manufactures and sells convertible tops: ‘top,’ ‘convertible,’ ‘fabric,’ ‘fold,’ ‘sale or sales. Using ‘dwg’ as an alternate designation for ‘drawing’ (which is itself a rather broad term) would call into play files with common file extension .dwg.”

Judge Whalen continued: “Apart from the obviously impermissible breadth of BesTop’s search terms, their overbreadth is borne out by Mr. Carnevale’s [plaintiff’s attorney] declarations, which detail a return of multiple gigabytes of ESI potentially comprising tens of millions of pages of documents, based on only a partial production. In addition, the search of just the first 100 records produced using BesTop’s search terms revealed that none were related to the issues in this lawsuit.  Contrary to BesTop’s contention that Webasto’s claim of prejudice is conclusory, I find that Webasto has sufficiently ‘articulate[d] specific facts showing clearly defined and serious injury resulting from the discovery sought….’”

Counsel for the parties was ordered to meet and confer in order to show a good-faith effort in focusing and narrowing the defendant’s search terms, so that the plaintiff’s production of ESI would remain relevant within the meaning of Rule 26 and exclude ESI that would have no relationship to this case.  The defendant was also ordered to submit an amended discovery request with the narrowed search terms within 14 days, after which, a new deadline for production of the ESI would be determined.

Because the opportunity was granted to the defendant to reformulate its discovery request to conform to the ESI Order, the plaintiff’s request for cost-shifting was denied, but Judge Whalen indicated the court “may reconsider” if the defendant “does not reasonably narrow its requests”.

So, what do you think? Is this ruling within the correct interpretation of proportionality under FRCP 26? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

P.S. – The case style refers to the plaintiff as “Webastro”, while the body of the order correctly refers to the plaintiff as “Webasto”.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Facial Recognition Software Coming to an Airport Near You: eDiscovery Trends

Air travelers have already become accustomed to standing in the brightly painted footprints at security checkpoints and raising their arms in order to be scanned, but this month in Orlando, a new type of scan is taking place. Last month, Geneva-based tech company SITA installed cameras with facial recognition software at the Orlando International Airport in conjunction with British Airways and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

When people step up to be scanned, a photo is taken of their face, it’s sent to CBP, who then matches the photo to the person booked on the manifest, and if it matches, the gates open and the passenger can board, all in a matter of seconds. If there isn’t a match, the passport is scanned manually by the gate agent.

The hope is to bring efficiency to the process of making sure people are who they say they are. The TSA is also testing similar technology for security check-ins, with Steve Karoly, acting assistant administrator at TSA, says it’s a “game changer.”

But according to a report released by the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School, the system is full of technical and legal issues, with a rejection rate of 4 percent. One issue the report cites is bias, with higher rates of false rejections occurring because of race and gender. Another report, conducted by the CAPA-Centre for Aviation, said the face-recognition software isn’t good at “identifying ethnic minorities when most of the subjects used in training the technology are from the majority group.”

Privacy is another concern as the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have any rules for protecting Americans’ privacy and use of this data, but CBP says it deletes the photos within 14 days. It’s still unclear how GDPR compliance comes into play, especially with travelers who are EU citizens. But so far, most people who have used the technology aren’t concerned with privacy as long as it speeds up the boarding process.

This is still very much in the testing phase, although President Trump signed an executive order last year to increase the use of biometric tracking for airport security. As this type of technology becomes more and more widespread with uses outside of airport security, it’s also inevitable that litigation surrounding this technology with also rise.

In China, police are using AI-powered CCTV cameras to enforce jaywalking laws. If the cameras catch you outside of the crosswalk, the facial recognition software links with cellphone systems, and a text message is sent to your phone letting you know you’ve been fined.

But even if the technology isn’t the primary reason for the lawsuit, the electronically stored information created by scanners could potentially become relevant to discovery. This has certainly happened with other relatively new data sources with a rise of text messages, social media, and data from the Internet of Things being preserved as evidence more and more in both the civil and criminal courts.

It will be interesting to see how the use of this technology grows, but it’s also a reminder to organizations, who may be contemplating facial recognition software for various applications, of the need to consider the potential implications of how biometric data could be preserved and collected should litigation arise.

So, what do you think?  How do you see the rise of facial recognition technology affecting your eDiscovery practices and policies in the future?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Court Puts an End to an Inquiry to “Rival the Punic Wars”: eDiscovery Case Law

In Motorola Sols., Inc. v. Hytera Commc’ns Corp., No. 17 C 1973, (N.D. Ill., May 17, 2018), Illinois Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole, ruling on what started as a stolen intellectual property (IP) case, admitted making a mistake and put a halt to the extensive discovery of 700,000 documents over 8 months, saying, “While the inquiry should have been uncomplicated, it has become a long, drawn out, pitched battle—one, in a rhetorical sense, to rival the Punic Wars—albeit without the elephants and the Alps and the sheer drama.”

Case Background

In September 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion to compel, seeking a broad range of documents and arguing they were relevant to the issue of the defendant concealing the theft of the plaintiff’s trade secrets. There were three categories of documents going back nine years: the defendant’s internal documents explaining how they developed their radio products; documents covering the defendant’s use, receipt, and consideration of the plaintiff’s trade secrets and products; and documents covering any investigation by the defendant into its possession of the plaintiff’s trade secrets.

The defendant claimed that discovery went beyond the statute of limitations, but their request for dismissal was changed to a motion for summary judgment, and discovery was set to be complete by December. After that, as Judge Cole put it: “The parties exchanged motions to compel repeatedly. Deadlines were extended, from one month to several. Thousands of pages of memoranda and exhibits were filed. And, again, this was all over the supposedly limited discovery on a limited topic that ought to have taken little time and effort. The very nature of what occurred tends to sustain the all too prevalent observation that discovery has become more important than the actual case.”

In March 2018, the plaintiff then requested forensic investigation of former employees’ (now working for the defendant) computers, which were located in China, based on two emails that appeared to hint at the concealment of stolen IP. The defendant responded, saying those emails became a “crowbar to get everything.” At first, Judge Cole was inclined to allow the investigation of the computers, as long as it “could be accomplished without running afoul of Chinese Law.”  Then, after further consideration between the hearings on March 21 and April 4, 2018, decided, “there can be no dispute that things have already gone far beyond what was intended and what was necessary in the statute of limitations portion of this case, in terms of time and scope. Now, Motorola wants things to go very much further.”

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Cole began his ruling by quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in (Henslee v. Union Planters Nat. Bank & Trust Co. , 335 U.S. 595, 600, 69 S.Ct. 290, 93 L.Ed. 259 (1949)), saying “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”

After taking into consideration previous case law, FRCP 26, and the Sedona Principles, Judge Cole stated in his ruling, “The scope of discovery that I was initially inclined to allow was, in the context of the present inquiry that had been narrowed by the district court to the limitations issue, overbroad. What is being sought goes beyond the issue of equitable tolling.” He continued: “As we have said, ‘all judges make mistakes,’ and, when possible, it is best that judges put them right.”

He noted that it wasn’t apparent that the defendant’s computers in China were relevant to the statute of limitations issue, and the plaintiff did not explain how they might be relevant. The plaintiff indicated it hoped to rely on the doctrine of fraudulent concealment to toll the statutes and stave off the defendant’s pending motion for summary judgment, but nothing in their filings showed how it had anything to do with equitable tolling of the statute of limitations and fraudulent concealment.

Judge Cole closed his ruling, saying, “Parties are entitled to a reasonable opportunity to investigate the relevant facts—and no more. Motorola has already had that reasonable opportunity and far more. What should have been limited discovery on a straightforward issue has spiraled out of control. The time has come to say: ‘enough is enough.’ Eight months of “limited” single-issue discovery are now at an end. Motorola’s motion for forensic inspection is denied.”

So, what do you think?  Did Judge Cole ultimately come to the right conclusion? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Tinder Date Murder Case Highlights the Increasing Complexity of eDiscovery in Criminal Investigations: eDiscovery Trends

With things like social media, electronic purchases, GPS tracking, and the Internet of Things, a normal day in anyone’s life creates an in-depth data trail. So, it’s no surprise that more and more, electronic evidence plays a key component in criminal investigations. While eDiscovery technology is mostly used in the civil courts, namely because corporate and government organizations have more resources than municipal, county, and even state law enforcement agencies to conduct reviews of large data-sets, it’s still worthwhile to look at the varied ways electronically stored information (ESI) is used to help detectives piece together a chain of events in order to solve a crime.

In an article published in The Daily Beast this week, we find the seemingly mismatched couple, 51-year-old Aubrey Trail and 24-year-old Bailey Boswell, charged with the murder of a 24-year-old Nebraska woman, Sydney Loofe. The story echoes the Starkweather / Fugate crime spree throughout the same region 60 years ago, only this time digital evidence led investigators to the perpetrators.

Trail and Boswell were arrested as part of a gold coin theft racket in November, but after further investigation, are now charged with Loofe’s murder, who was last seen November 15th before going on a Tinder date with Boswell. Police found the remains of Loofe’s body in a field a few weeks later, and in the months that followed, used a wide variety of ESI, along with traditional forensics, to link Trail and Boswell to the murder. The list of evidence pieced together is remarkable from an eDiscovery point of view:

  • Tinder Profiles: 140 messages between Loofe and Boswell in the days before November 15th were pulled from their online dating profiles. The last was on Nov. 15 at 6:54 p.m., when Boswell said she’d arrived at Loofe’s apartment. Police also found that Boswell went by “Audrey” on her online-dating profile.
  • Snapchat Photo: Loofe sent a selfie to a friend via Snapchat on November 15th with the caption, “Ready for my date.”
  • Facebook Videos: Trail and Boswell both posted Facebook videos claiming innocence while police were looking for them. In one, Boswell said she was “Audrey on Tinder and a few other names because I have warrants.”
  • iPhone Reset: After her arrest, Boswell gave investigators permission to search her iPhone 7, which they found had been reset to factory default settings on November 17.
  • Cellphone Pings/GPS Locations: Loofe’s phone last pinged a cell tower near Wilber, where Boswell and Trail lived in a basement apartment. When detectives searched that residence, the landlord, who lived upstairs, “reported a strong odor of bleach coming from the basement.” Data from Boswell’s phone showed its location was “in close proximity to the area where the remains were discovered Dec. 16th.”
  • Security Video Footage: Security footage from a local Home Depot showed Trail and Boswell on Nov. 15 around 10:35 a.m., shopping for tools and supplies that could be used to cover up the crime.
  • Phone Calls from Jail: In two different phone calls, one to the Lincoln Journal Star and the other to the Omaha World-Herald, Trail gave different accounts, claiming he unintentionally killed Loofe in a sex game gone wrong.

All of this led to a confession from Trail, stating that he had killed Loofe, and then he and Boswell covered up the crime scene and disposed of the body.

Using electronic evidence to solve crimes is nothing new, but now more than ever, the digital footprint that individuals and organizations leave is staggering in its depth and variance. At the same time, it’s amazing how skilled investigators are using the raw data left behind in order to put together cases in both the criminal and civil courts. The common denominator with both then becomes the ability to preserve, collect, and review this data in a timely and affordable fashion, in order to get the facts as quickly and efficiently as possible.

So, what do you think?  How do you see the influx of new data sources affecting your eDiscovery practices and policies in the future?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

As Blockchain Joins the Healthcare Profession, Are Legal Departments Prepared to Keep Up?: eDiscovery Trends

When we hear the word blockchain, most of us still think of Bitcoin, that mysterious new currency that seems to equally enthrall forward thinking investors and less-than-savory entrepreneurs who lurk around the darkest parts of the Dark Web. But blockchain technology is finding more and more practical uses, most recently in the healthcare industry.

In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, blockchain is presented as a low-cost, highly secure way to unify healthcare records, which to date has been a huge obstacle. As the article puts it, “In the current tangle of incompatible records systems that typifies U.S. health care, incorrect information can creep in when patient data gets re-entered multiple times by doctors’ offices, insurers and hospital staff. Big errors can seriously affect the quality of care that patients receive, small discrepancies can result in wrongful denials of insurance coverage, and errors of all types add to the system’s cost.”

In very simplified terms, Blockchain works like a giant Google Sheet: a single ledger that can be added to simultaneously by all users in the system, with each “transaction” creating an audit trail so that its data is nearly infallible. For healthcare records systems, this can put patients, insurers, and providers literally on the same page, providing secure and accurate information for all stakeholders across the board.

In January, Nashville-based Change Healthcare (a network of 800,000 physicians, 117,000 dentists and 60,000 pharmacies) introduced a blockchain system for processing insurance claims. The shared ledger of encrypted data gives providers a “single source of truth,” according to Emily Vaughn, blockchain product development director at Change Healthcare.

All parties can see the same information about a claim in real time, so that a patient or provider won’t have to call multiple parties to verify information. Each time data is changed, a record is shown on the digital ledger, identifying the responsible party. Any changes also require verification by each party involved, ensuring record’s accuracy.

Change Healthcare won’t reveal actual numbers about how much the new system (which processes roughly 50 million events daily) cuts costs, but the efficiencies, accuracy, and security will no doubt bring huge savings.

The question regarding the eDiscovery implications with this type of move are clear: How will this data be preserved, collected, and prepared for review? It’s not so much a question of a technical nature (though that will have to be answered by someone, but I’ll leave it to the software engineers to properly answer it). What I mean to say, is that anytime a new data source is introduced into the organization’s landscape, the question of preservation, collection, and production should already be on the minds of the legal department. Often, changes in a company’s technology infrastructure are driven by departments outside of legal: usually a combination of IT and business units looking for efficiency, security, and cost savings. Many times, large decisions will be made, leaving the legal team in the position of playing catch up when it comes to discovery should litigation arise.

So, even if your company isn’t moving to blockchain anytime in the near future, this story of what is happening in the healthcare space is important to consider, because, to quote the poet William Blake, “What is now real, was once only imagined.” And the potential uses for blockchain technology lately seems to be on everyone’s mind.

So, what do you think?  How do you see the increased use of blockchain technology affecting eDiscovery?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Court Denies Plaintiff Request for “Quick Peek” to Privilege Log, Proposing Special Master Review Instead: eDiscovery Case Law

In Winfield v. City of New York, No. 15-cv-05236, (S.D.N.Y. May 10, 2018), New York Magistrate Judge Katherine H. Parker, ruling on a debate of what constitutes privileged ESI,  denied the plaintiff’s request for a “quick peek” at 3,300 documents listed on the defendant’s privilege log, opting to propose instead for a special master to conduct a privilege review of those documents.

Case Background

In June 2017, the defendant moved for return of an accidentally produced privileged document under the agreed-upon procedures set forth in their Clawback Agreement, which then led to further discussion between the parties about the defendant’s privilege designations, with the plaintiffs believing the defendant over-designated documents as privileged.

In July 2017, the court directed the plaintiffs to identify a subset of 80 documents from the defendant’s privilege log that had been withheld on the basis of the deliberative process privilege. The court also ruled that “the defendant would have an opportunity to rereview the 80-document subset identified by Plaintiffs and determine whether it intended to maintain its privilege claim as to each document.”

After this review, the defendant maintained a claim of privilege over only 27 documents and withdrew its privilege designation for 51 document and produced them.  The Court subsequently ordered the City to submit all 80 documents to this Court for in camera review for purposes of assessing the validity of the initial and remaining privilege designations.

The plaintiffs also contested some of the defendant’s refusal to answer at depositions on the basis of attorney-client, work product, and/or deliberative process privilege and submitted a letter to the court seeking privilege rulings on 20 questions to which the City’s witnesses were directed not to respond. The defendant subsequently withdrew its privilege objections six of these questions and provided the plaintiffs with responses.

In February 2018, the court issued a lengthy ruling granting the defendant’s Clawback Demand and granting in part and denying in part the plaintiffs’ motion to compel production of certain documents from the sample set of documents designated as privileged by the defendant on its privilege log. The court also granted in part the plaintiffs’ motion to compel answers to questions posed during depositions. At the same time, the court directed the defendant to re-review its privilege designations, after which, the defendant de-designated certain documents as privileged and produced them.

In April 2018, the plaintiffs raised a concern with the volume (3,300 documents) designated by the defendant as privileged. The court then directed the parties to meet and confer concerning a proposal to address the plaintiffs’ concerns. At that meeting, the plaintiffs proposed the Court order the defendant to turn over all 3,300 documents designated as privileged for a “quick peek” at them, promising to review them in only a few weeks. The defendant, which had already spent significant time reviewing documents for privilege prior to producing them, vigorously objected.

Judge’s Ruling

After taking into consideration FRCP 26 and FRE 502, as well as previous case law, Judge Parker ruled:

“The task of reviewing 3,300 documents is enormous and one that this Court cannot complete before the end of fact discovery on July 31, 2018 given other demands in this and other cases. Appointment of a Special Master to conduct the privilege review pursuant to Rule 53 is therefore warranted…. In accordance with Rule 53(b)(1), the parties may file a letter regarding their position on the appointment of a Special Master, whether they have identified any conflict-of-interest issues… and suggest other candidates for appointment if they so desire…. Given the costs of a Special Master, Plaintiffs are directed to evaluate whether they can narrow the documents for review so as to reduce the time and thus the costs of the review.”

Judge Parker proposed the appointment of the Honorable Frank Maas (Ret.) of JAMS, who recently retired as a Magistrate Judge in the District and was available to conduct a review (and was recently proposed for a privilege review in another high-profile case).  Judge Parker indicated that “the parties may file a letter regarding their position on the appointment of a Special Master, whether they have identified any conflict-of-interest issues that would preclude appointment of Judge Maas, and suggest other candidates for appointment if they so desire.”

So, what do you think? Is the appointment of a special master to perform the privilege review the right ruling? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Judge’s Ruling on Scope Under Rule 26 Brings a Mixed Bag of Motions Granted and Denied: eDiscovery Case Law

In TMJ Grp., LLC v. IMCMV Holdings, No. 17-4677 (E.D. La. April 6, 2018), Louisiana Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld ruled on Motions to Compel by both parties, both of which were granted in part and denied in part.

Case Background

The plaintiff, TMJ, alleged that it had been fraudulently induced to invest in two Margaritaville restaurants (one in the Mall of America and one in New Orleans) by the defendants. An interesting aspect of the discovery motions is TMJ’s allegation that it sought and obtained financing for the investment at issue in this lawsuit from FNBC Bank and that IMCMV altered financial figures in the financial statements so that FNBC would approve the financing after initially rejecting it.

IMCMV’s Motion to Compel

The first item at issue was the defendant’s motion to compel the redacted communications between FNBC and the plaintiff, which were ordered for in-camera review, as well as several depositions given after the discovery deadline. As a result, issues arose around scope of discovery under FRCP Rule 26.

The plaintiff submitted much of their document production right before or on the discovery deadline (around 3,700 pages) and as a result, the defendant said it didn’t have all the relevant documents available for the depositions where some FNBC documents were discussed, and because it did not have sufficient time to review those documents prior to the deposition, they argue that they “had an incomplete picture of the relationship, agreements, and documents, exchanged between FNBC and TMJ.”

The defendant also sought to compel the deposition of one or more former FNBC representatives, pointing out that the FNBC representatives are listed on both parties’ witness lists. However, because they did not have all of the FNBC documents prior to the discovery deadline, they initially decided not to depose FNBC. The late production of documents caused them to revisit this decision.

The plaintiff opposed the deposition of any FNBC representatives, claiming the request is untimely, because they identified FNBC personnel in its initial disclosures and earlier document production and that the defendant had long had sufficient information to determine whether to take such depositions. The plaintiff insisted it would be prejudiced if the depositions were allowed, given that trial was imminent.

TMJ’s Motion to Compel

The plaintiff’s motion to compel sought certain financial documents, including tax returns and schedules, financial statements, and accounting ledgers for all of the defendant’s other Margaritaville restaurants, insisting the documents were relevant, because the defendant’s financial forecasts were based on comparable IMCMV owned restaurants, which influenced their decision to invest.

The defendant claimed these financials were irrelevant and disproportional as the other restaurants are not a part of this litigation. The defendant explained that this data was already produced in Excel files which was considered by their expert.

The plaintiff also demanded responses to its interrogatories regarding the reasoning behind changes to financial statements made while the investments at issue here were being negotiated, alleging that the defendant altered them to make the investment appear more attractive to the plaintiff and FNBC. The plaintiff makes note that their identical responses to the three requests aren’t “boilerplate,” but that they meaningfully explain how changes were made by stating that “in preparing financial projections, [IMCMV] takes into account planned seating capacity, estimated revenue per seat per year, the financial results of other Margaritaville-themed restaurants, the location, market competitors, and the labor market.”

The plaintiff also sought text messages between the parties, pointing out that they frequently corresponded in this manner. The defendant responded that their former chief development officer left the company, and they had not been able to access his iPhone. The defendant requested passcodes from the former CDO, but those didn’t work. Another individual who also was no longer working for IMCMV, had custody of the phone in the interim, but he had reset the phone and added a new passcode. The defendant then contacted Apple and its carrier, AT&T, who both indicated that the passcode could not be bypassed without resetting the phone.

Judge’s Ruling

Regarding IMCMV’s motions, there was no real dispute that a deposition of an FNBC representative is within the scope of discovery. Judge van Meerveld ruled that “a second deposition of Motwani [an FNBC Bank representative] is appropriate here in light of the documents produced after his deposition. The scope of the deposition shall be limited to the documents produced after Motwani’s deposition, and any other documents or issues required to give context to, provide clarification of, to contrast with, or explain discrepancies with the documents produced after Motwani’s deposition. This could, therefore, permit reference to earlier produced documents.” Accordingly, an extension of the discovery deadline was provided, and the defendant “may proceed with a deposition of one FNBC representative and, if necessary due to that representative’s inability to provide complete answers, a second FNBC representative.”

In regard to the plaintiff’s motions, Judge van Meerwald agreed that “the financial documents for the other Margaritaville restaurants are not relevant or proportional to the needs of this case. TMJ already has the key performance indicators extracted from those financials for the purpose of creating the business cases and pro formas for the proposed investment. The relevance of the financial statements of the other restaurants is too tangential to justify the burden of production.” As to these documents, the motion to compel was denied.

As to the plaintiff’s demand that certain financial documents be produced in Excel rather than PDF format, the court found the burden to the defendant “too great to justify IMCMV undertaking that endeavor here. However, the Court has ordered the parties to work together to provide the documents in their native format. If this is unsuccessful, the parties may contact the chambers of the undersigned to set up a telephone conference to discuss.”

So, what do you think? Did the judge interpret the idea of scope under Rule 26 correctly?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Former Employee Sanctioned for Lying Under Oath, Destruction of ESI: eDiscovery Case Law

In Heggen v. Maxim Healthcare Servs., Inc., No. 1:16-cv-00440-TLS-SLC (N.D. Ind. April 27, 2018), Indiana Magistrate Judge Susan Collins ruled that the plaintiff’s destruction of requested cellphone recordings, as well as lying under oath, were sanctionable under FRCP Rule 37.

Case Background

The plaintiff filed the case against her former employer – a provider of temporary medical staffing, home health care, and wellness services – with claims of sexual harassment and retaliation. The plaintiff stated under oath that she chose to leave these employers “voluntarily” because the two clients with whom she worked were going into a nursing home.

However, the defendant pointed out that records show that the plaintiff was terminated after she refused to discuss a complaint that the plaintiff stole $300 from a client under her care, as well as mismanagement of the client’s financial assets. A discovery request to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development revealed that the plaintiff had worked for Interim Health Care immediately prior to joining the defendant, even though she responded to the first request for production with a different former employer, and then stated a second employer during her deposition. Based on the records from Interim, the defendant claimed that the circumstances of the plaintiff’s departure from Interim were “strikingly similar” to the plaintiff’s time at the defendant, including that a patient’s medications went missing – the plaintiff then tested positive for the missing medications on a drug test, and the plaintiff failed to return to work after the complaint.

The clearest contention that the defendant brought is that the plaintiff destroyed key evidence in at least three different ways and this, along with the other actions by the plaintiff, the defendant contended was grounds for a dismissal sanction. The plaintiff testified at her deposition that she made about seven recordings of unidentified defendant employees and said these recordings supported her claims against the defendant, she also testified that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) had the recordings, because she deleted the recordings from her cell phone since she “didn’t want them to have [her] phone lost and have them be out there.” She claimed she had emailed the recordings to the EEOC, but couldn’t find any copy of the emails transmitting the recordings. After sending the emails, she performed a factory reset of her phone (an older Apple model) that basically had “broke[n] down,” and that she was trying to get working again. The reset deleted all of the data stored on it, including the recordings.

She felt that emailing the recordings to EEOC was a form of preservation and “thought it was okay to get rid of them[.]” Copies of three of the recordings were found, and the plaintiff submitted transcripts of these recordings with her response brief, and she also provided a copy of the recordings and transcripts to the defendant. However, there was no explanation for the other missing recordings.

The defendant had sought the recordings from the plaintiff for months through traditional discovery and because it did not have the recordings when it deposed the plaintiff, it felt that resulted in prejudice against them. They also argued that there was a significant difference between original recordings and copies of recordings. What the plaintiff submitted appeared to be at least two different layers of recorded conversations: “an ongoing face-to-face interaction between individuals who are supposedly simultaneously listening to and participating in a different interaction by telephone, all recorded on top of each other.”  Also, because they were copies, there was no way to delve into the original metadata of the recordings. Further, while the original recordings were made on an iPhone, the files produced were in 3GP format, a format generally used by Android phones, raising even more questions.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Collins ruled that the defendant’s failure under oath to disclose Interim as a prior employer and for her destruction of the original cell phone recordings was sanctionable. But noted that a sanction for discovery abuse must be “a proportionate response to the circumstances.”

Judge Collins stated, “The draconian sanction of dismissal is not presently warranted here. Rather, the present circumstances warrant the imposition of lesser sanctions in the form of a monetary penalty—that is, ordering Heggen to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, that Maxim incurred in filing the motion to compel [See FRCP Rule 37]. The Court has no reason, at least at this juncture, to conclude that the imposition of this monetary penalty would be fruitless. The Court will also consider a spoliation instruction upon a pretrial motion by counsel should this case go to trial. The motion for sanctions is otherwise denied. Heggen is duly warned that any additional discovery transgressions may result in further sanctions against her, up to and including dismissal of this case.”

So, what do you think?  Was the ruling correct or was a sanction of dismissal warranted in this case?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

Former Football Players Sanctioned for Failure to Produce: eDiscovery Case Law

In Michael E. Davis, et al. v. Electronic Arts, Inc., No. 10-cv-03328-RS, (N.D. Cal., April 3, 2018), California Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu ruled that the plaintiff’s failure to fully comply with the discovery requests by the defendant were sanctionable under FRCP Rule 37, which states, “Such sanctions may include ordering a party to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees, caused by its failure to comply with the order or rule.”

Case Background

Three former NFL players claimed that Electronic Arts (EA) used their likenesses in the Madden NFL videogame series without authorization. In July 2017, EA moved to compel plaintiffs to provide further responses to discovery, and the court ordered the parties to meet and confer regarding the disputes set forth in the letters and to file joint letters regarding any remaining disputes. After a hearing, the Court granted in part EA’s motions to compel further responses to requests for the production of documents (“RFPs”), interrogatories, and requests for admission (“RFA”), setting a deadline for response on September 28, 2017.

A day after the deadline, the plaintiffs responded by saying they had, “engaged in a reasonable and diligent search” but found no responsive documents to certain requests. The plaintiffs also said the requested privilege log was rendered unusable due to a computer error even though both the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs’ attorney had stated in an earlier hearing that they had regular communications via email regarding the case.

EA requested sanctions of $45,000 against the plaintiffs under Rule 37. However, the billing records EA provided to the court did not segregate the fees by task or category, which makes it difficult to evaluate the reasonableness of the time expended, or to calculate precise sums that should be allowed or disallowed. But even with the problems with EA’s billing records, it was clear that EA incurred substantial attorneys’ fees in attempting to obtain plaintiffs’ compliance and seeking court intervention.

Judge’s Ruling

Given the inconsistencies between counsel and plaintiffs’ statements about communications regarding this litigation, Judge Ryu expressed concern about the adequacy of the plaintiffs’ search for responsive documents and ordered them to “search thoroughly all . . . email, going all the way back, for communications between [Plaintiffs] and other people who are not lawyers about this case.”

Judge Ryu also ruled that the plaintiffs’ response to the defendant’s discovery request was deficient and found monetary sanctions appropriate in this case, in addition to the evidentiary sanctions, as their conduct forced EA and the court to continue to expend significant resources to address plaintiffs’ failure to meet its discovery obligations and provide basic discovery.

“A sanction of $25,000 is justified in these circumstances and acknowledges that this amount represents a significant discount from the actual attorneys’ fees incurred by EA as a result of plaintiffs’ counsel’s actions. The court finds that $25,000, coupled with the evidentiary consequences set forth above, are an appropriate sanction here.”

So, what do you think?  Was the ruling correct or were sanctions unwarranted in this case?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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