Case Law

Did the Plaintiff Send a Letter to Confer with Defendants? It’s Anybody’s “Guess”: eDiscovery Case Law

See what I did there?  ;o)

In Simpson v. J.L. Guess et al., No. 3:18-cv-547-J-39PDB (M.D. Fla. March 20, 2020), Florida District Judge Brian A. Davis ruled on several motions from both the plaintiff and defendants, including denying the defendants’ motion for sanctions over whether the plaintiff sent a letter to confer with defense counsel about the motion to compel.

Case Background

In this case by a prisoner proceeding pro se alleging use of excessive force by six correctional officers, the Court ruled on the plaintiff’s motion to compel, the plaintiff’s motion for an extension of time to respond to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff’s request to strike a declaration of defense counsel and the defendants’ request for sanctions up to dismissal of the action.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the plaintiff’s motion to compel and motion for an extension of time, the defendants responded that three officers had no records of discipline, and three others had no records of discipline for use of excessive force on an inmate.  But, Judge Davis stated, in granting both motions: “Contrary to the defendants’ argument, records of discipline are relevant even if the discipline was for something other than use of excessive force on an inmate…In responding to the discovery request, the defendants made no objection about proportionality, instead focusing on relevancy, inadmissibility under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), and confidentiality and now provide no analysis about proportionality using the pertinent factors.”

However, Judge Davis denied the plaintiff’s request to strike a declaration of defense counsel, stating: “Accepting a lawyer’s representation that his client has no responsive documents is commonplace in civil litigation absent evidence of misrepresentation beyond conjecture. Matters about discovery collection and review will not be part of the trial as matters merely collateral to the claims tried before the jury. There is no risk defense counsel will be called to testify at trial.”

With regard to the defendants’ motion for sanctions, the plaintiff declared (under penalty of perjury) he tried to confer with defense counsel about the motion to compel by letter (and included a copy of the letter), but received no response.  Conversely, defense counsel declared (under penalty of perjury) he received no letter from the plaintiff and contended the plaintiff was “a liar and a fraudster who has maligned defense counsel’s character”.  There was a dispute over whether the prison logs outgoing mail from prisoners, but Judge Davis said:

“The declarations create material issues of fact on facts immaterial to the merits of the claims and defenses: whether the plaintiff lied when he said he mailed the letter, whether defense counsel lied when he said he never received the letter, whether no one lied because the letter was sent but not received due to inadvertent misplacement or loss at the prison, the post office, or defense counsel’s office, and whether defense counsel misled the Court by suggesting the log would reflect outgoing mail. In the interest of the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of this action…the Court declines to conduct an evidentiary hearing on these collateral issues or otherwise divert limited resources to trying to resolve them and thus denies the defendants’ request for sanctions…But to confront an alleged but unaddressed misrepresentation by a lawyer, the Court directs defense counsel to inform the Court whether any log actually would reflect outgoing mail sent by the plaintiff…The information must be provided by April 30, 2020.”

So, what do you think?  Should the plaintiff be given the benefit of doubt under the circumstances?  Please let us know if 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.

Despite Estimate of 37 Years to Crack iPhone, Government Doesn’t Have to Return it – Yet: eDiscovery Case Law

Tired of stories about COVID-19?  So are we.  So, here’s an interesting case to take a look at instead.  :o)

In U.S. v. Morgan, No. 1:18-CR-00108 EAW (W.D.N.Y. March 6, 2020), New York District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford denied the defendant’s Motion for Return of Property Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), ruling that “[t]he government’s evidentiary interest in the [defendant’s] iPhone outweighs Defendant’s interest in its return, at least at this stage of the proceedings”.

Case Background

In this case involving a Superseding Indictment alleging conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud served on this defendant on May 21. 2019, a search warrant over a year earlier was issued for Morgan Management, LLC, which included search and seizure of “multiple servers, computers or storage media … including but not limited to … devices … associated with … Robert Morgan.”  Later the same month that the search warrant was issued, a 62-count indictment was returned against other defendants, but Robert Morgan was not initially named in the indictment.

Nonetheless, sometime in May of 2018, the government started to try to crack the defendant’s iPhone’s passcode, using a device called “GrayKey”, which uses “brute force” to try and access the iPhone, a process by which a computer program enters potential passcodes seriatim until the correct passcode is revealed.  A six-digit passcode yields 1,000,000 potential passcode combinations, but the iPhone’s hardware only allows two or three passcode attempts each hour.  Even though this defendant wasn’t charged until a year later, GrayKey’s “painstaking” efforts to unlock the iPhone continued, with “a mere 960,526 possible passcodes” remaining as of January 9, 2020.  As a result, on January 2, 2020, the defendant filed a Motion for Return of Property Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g).

While the government argued that it was the defendant’s burden to show that either the seizure was illegal or the government’s need for the device as evidence has ended, the defendant argued that regardless of the government’s stated need for the property, it was unreasonable for the government to continue its retention of the iPhone.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Wolford noted that “Rule 41(g) allows ‘[a] person aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure of property or by the deprivation of property [to] move for the property’s return…. If it grants the motion, the court must return the property to the movant, but may impose reasonable conditions to protect access to the property and its use in later proceedings.’”  But she also noted that “Defendant does not argue that the government’s continued possession of the iPhone and its efforts to access it constitute an untimely seizure. Instead, Defendant argues that his interest in his iPhone and the information contained therein exceeds the government’s interest in the device, and thus, the Court should order its return.”

With that in mind, after a review of the history of Rule 41(g), Judge Wolford stated: “Defendant argues that at its current pace, it may take the government 37 years to successfully unlock the iPhone. The Court agrees that anywhere close to 37 years is an unreasonable time to retain the iPhone. This does not mean, though, that the government should be compelled to return it now. The government suggests that if it is successful, the contents of the iPhone could still be used at trial, regardless of when the contents are eventually accessed. At this stage of the proceedings—with a trial not scheduled to commence until next year…the Court agrees that there is still plenty of time for the government to access the iPhone’s contents. In the context of the current motion, the Court will not resolve whether that may cease to be the case as the trial date approaches. Indeed, the question of specifically how long the government can retain the device is not before this Court. There may very well come a point where the government’s retention of the iPhone is unreasonable—and that may be a time when the government continues to maintain that it needs the iPhone as evidence—but that date has not yet occurred.”  As a result, Judge Wolford denied the defendant’s motion.

So, what do you think?  How long can the government be allowed to retain a device to attempt to crack the password in a criminal litigation case?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Here’s another interesting article about this case from David Horrigan of Relativity on Legaltech® News!

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 Observes “Timing is Everything” in Determining When Litigation is Anticipated: eDiscovery Case Law

Yesterday, I noted that COVID-19 is impacting several courts and closing many – at least for now.  But, I also noted that we still have several cases we can cover from earlier this year regarding eDiscovery.  Here’s one.

In Noah’s Wholesale, LLC v. Covington Specialty Ins., No. 19-24845-CIV-COOKE/GOODMAN (S.D. Fla. March 13, 2020), Florida Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman ruled that the defendant “anticipated litigation approximately midway between the two extreme positions urged by the clients” after reviewing in camera the filed-under-seal documents for which the defendant asserted work product protection.

Case Background

In this theft-of-business-property insurance claim case, each party had a significantly different view about the time of when the defendant first anticipated litigation. The defendant contended it anticipated litigation immediately upon receipt of the plaintiff’s notice of its loss, while the plaintiff contended that the defendant did not anticipate litigation until the lawsuit was filed, more than a year after the first loss notice was provided.

At the discovery hearing on the defendant’s claim of work product protection over the insurance claim file at issue, defense counsel presented several potential dates (starting with the earliest in time) that could conceivably be the date when the work product doctrine was to be established for the plaintiff’s claim file and filed an affidavit of the litigation specialist assigned to the subject claim, in support of its various potential dates for beginning the work product protection over the claim file.  Judge Goodman, while noting that her affidavit does not explain what legal training, if any, she has received to be a “litigation specialist”, then proceeded to review filed-under-seal documents in camera to evaluate against those dates.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Goodman began his order by stating: “’Timing,’ they say, ‘is everything’”, noting that “The ubiquitous ‘they’ may well be correct about that timing thing when it concerns the issue of when a party anticipated litigation under the work product doctrine.”

With regard to the dates proposed by the defendant, Judge Goodman ruled as follows:

  • June 27, 2017, because it was the date that the sole owner of Noah’s Wholesale recorded his statement about the loss and provided a document indicating that the alarm system was not activated on the date of the loss: Judge Goodman stated: “The Undersigned disagrees with Covington’s argument that work product protection over the claim file starts on June 27, 2017, because there was still uncertainty about whether litigation would ensue at this point. By Covington’s own actions, such as sending a reservation of rights letter in August 2017 (asking Noah’s Wholesale for more information/documentation of the loss), it is evident that Covington was still in ‘information gathering mode’ and not certain about litigation.”
  • August 3, 2017, because it was the date when “Covington’s assigned claims administrator sent the insured correspondence . . . indicating it was investigating the claim under a reservation of rights, and specifically requested certain information from the insured”: Judge Goodman stated: “the Undersigned similarly disagrees with beginning the work product protection on the date of the ROR letter because Covington was still investigating Noah’s Wholesale’s claim and had not declined or otherwise reached a final decision on coverage of the claim.”
  • June 6, 2018, because it was the date when “Covington re-opened the subject claim after it received correspondence from Joshua Widlansky, Esq., advising Covington that the insured had retained the law firm of Padula Bennardo Levine in relation to the subject claim.”: Judge Goodman stated: “After reviewing the claim file in camera, the Undersigned agrees with Covington that June 6, 2018, when Noah’s Wholesale informed Covington that it retained counsel in relation to the subject claim, is the date when the work product protection should begin over the claim file. The in camera inspection shows that Covington responded to the letter as if litigation were imminent, and created claim file documents from that point forward with the ‘prospect of litigation [as] the primary motiving purpose.’…Discussing the need for outside coverage counsel (after learning that the insured retained counsel) is a tangible illustration of a view that litigation was anticipated.”

So, what do you think?  Is the notification that the party has retained an attorney a good milestone to use for reasonable anticipation of litigation?  Or is there a better one prior to the case actually being filed?  Please let us know if 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 Denies Plaintiff’s Sanctions Request, Points Out Her Own “Misconduct”: eDiscovery Case Law

In Vaks v. Quinlan, et al., No. 18-12571-LTS (D. Mass. Feb. 24, 2020), Massachusetts District Judge Leo T. Sorokin denied the plaintiff’s Motion to Compel and for Sanctions, calling her accusations “without basis” and pointing out her own “pattern of misconduct and disregard of the governing rules”.

Case Background

In this case involving claims of age discrimination by the plaintiff against the defendants, the plaintiff, in filing the motion, accused the defendants and their attorneys of: (1) “obstructing” a deposition; (2) “relentless refusal to produce documents”; and (3) “defiantly [and] in bad faith violat[ing] every Federal Rule of Civil Procedure related to discovery[.]”

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Sorokin, in responding to the plaintiff’s accusations, stated: “These are serious accusations made in writing. They are without basis.”  Judge Sorokin also referenced a previous observation from his court where he “note[d] that there is no basis to infer improper discovery practices by defendant or anything other than reasonable forthright practices by [defense] counsel.”  Continuing, he noted:

“Indeed, to date, Plaintiff—rather than Defendants—has not conformed to the governing rules. She filed late discovery requests…which the Court ultimately found were almost entirely overbroad, unreasonable, and not proportional to the case…She induced the Court to issue an order by making a material misrepresentation: in writing, she represented that defense counsel had assented to an extension of the governing schedule which, the Court later learned, defense counsel had not.”

Judge Sorokin also outlined the plaintiff’s submission of documents produced by the defendants in a pending motion as “plainly designated as confidential” and “in direct violation of the protective order” that defendants had requested which was approved by the court, even though the plaintiff had “never challenged any confidentiality designations”.  Judge Sorokin indicated that filing “establishes a pattern of misconduct and disregard of the governing rules.”

As for the merits of the plaintiff’s motion to compel, Judge Sorokin addressed her five claims, as follows:

  • Format of the documents produced electronically by defendants: Judge Sorokin stated: “This challenge is without merit. Defendants produced the metadata both for documents and emails. As to emails, they searched their servers, and produced the relevant emails with attachments and metadata…This is a permissible practice.”
  • Defendants advanced improper general objections: Judge Sorokin stated: “Not so. Defendants augmented their ‘general’ objections with specific objections.”
  • Defendants withheld responsive non-privileged documents: Judge Sorokin stated that “nothing before the Court, contrary to Vaks’ arguments, suggests” that took place, noting that “Defendants produced multiple privilege logs” and indicated that the plaintiff “simply misunderstands” a reference from the defendants to imply there were suppressed documents.
  • Certain documents withheld by Defendants pursuant to the work product privilege doctrine were not privileged: Judge Sorokin stated: “This argument similarly fails”, noting that documents in contention were prepared at the direction of the defendant’s general counsel, “so that she could provide legal advice. In these circumstances, such documents are properly withheld.”
  • Reopen the now-completed Rule 30(b)(6) deposition: Judge Sorokin noted that there was “no basis” to do so, stating: “Indeed, Vaks has not demonstrated in any way that Mr. LeBlanc did not adequately answer questions during his deposition. Moreover, she did not, in any of the parties’ communications after Mr. LeBlanc’s deposition, claim that the deposition was deficient.”

In denying the motion, Judge Sorokin also stated: “One more issue bears comment. Vaks requests sanctions. None are merited here. Whatever the merits of Vaks’ claims—a matter upon which the Court has no view—defense counsel has discharged her discovery obligations well. She has made reasonable accommodations for a pro se party, as she must, while pressing her client’s positions firmly—all while under repeated attack. There is no basis whatsoever for the imposition of sanctions, nor even an arguable basis to request sanctions.”

So, what do you think?  Does the ruling open the door for the defendants to file their own motion for sanctions?  Please let us know if 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.

Here’s a Webcast on How to Win the Battle on Discovery Form of Production: eDiscovery Webcasts

Yesterday, I said that (despite the current COVID-19 crisis) CloudNine is continuing to provide the full range of services and high-quality support you have come to expect, including this blog.  And, webcasts too!  We’re back and better than ever with our next webcast – in just three weeks!

Let’s face it, one of the most common disputes in discovery today has to do with the form or forms of production for the electronically stored information (ESI) in the case. There are quite a few misconceptions regarding the different production forms as well as the pros and cons of each. So, what do you need to know to request the most appropriate form of production to maximize the information available to you, at a cost you can afford and a format that supports presentation activities such as depositions and trial exhibits?

Wednesday, April 8th at noon CST (1:00pm EST, 10:00am PST), CloudNine will conduct the webcast Winning the Battle on Discovery Form of Production. In this one-hour webcast that’s CLE-approved in selected states, we will cover current rules regarding form of production, options available to you, the pros and cons of each and relevant case law regarding recent form of production disputes. Topics include:

  • History Lesson: How We Got Here
  • Federal Rules Addressing Forms of Production
  • Options for Forms of Production
  • Objections to Native File Production and Counter-Arguments
  • Considerations for ESI Protocols
  • Key Recent Case Law Opinions Regarding Form of Production
  • Recommendations and Resources for More Information

As always, I’ll be presenting the webcast, along with Tom O’Connor.  To register for it, click here.  Even if you can’t make it, go ahead and register to get a link to the slides and to the recording of the webcast (if you want to check it out later).  If you want to learn how to win the battle on form of production disputes, this webcast is for you!

So, what do you think?  Do you feel like you understand how to select the form of production that is the most informative and most cost-effective for your cases?  If not, please join us!  And, as always, 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 Southwest Airlines’ Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions Against Plaintiff: eDiscovery Case Law

In Houston v. Southwest Airlines, No. 3:17-cv-02610-N-BT (N.D. Tex. Feb. 18, 2020), Texas Magistrate Judge Rebecca Rutherford “decline[d] to impose sanctions under either Rule 11 or its inherent powers” against the plaintiff for statements she made regarding her response to the defendant’s interrogatories and requests for admission in her summary judgment response.

Case Background

The defendant served interrogatories and requests for admission on the plaintiff, and claimed that she did not respond. In her summary judgment response, however, the plaintiff asserted that she responded to the defendant’s interrogatories and requests for admission via email on April 20, 2019, and even followed up with counsel on May 1, 2019, to confirm defendant’s receipt of her answers.  The defendant objected that the plaintiff’s statements were “materially false” and contended that she made them for the improper purpose of avoiding summary judgment. As a result, the defendant sought sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 and the Court’s inherent power in the form of an order: (1) striking the plaintiff’s summary judgment response without leave to amend; (2) granting the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and (3) requiring that the plaintiff pay the defendant $1,015.00 in attorney’s fees.  The plaintiff did not respond to the defendant’s Motion for Sanctions.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Rutherford began her analysis by noting that “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 authorizes a court to impose sanctions on a party or an attorney who files a pleading for an improper purpose, such as to harass the opposing party, delay the proceedings, or increase the cost of litigation.”  She also noted that “[c]ourts also have inherent authority to impose sanctions on attorneys when they find that an attorney has ‘acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons’”, while also noting that “[c]ourts ‘exercise caution’ in invoking their inherent power and should ‘ordinarily’ rely on a rule or statute rather than their inherent power.”

In this case, Judge Rutherford stated: “Here, the Court declines to impose sanctions under either Rule 11 or its inherent powers. The record in this case does not clearly establish that Houston’s assertions that she responded to Southwest’s discovery requests were made for an improper purpose. Indeed, there is no evidence in the record regarding Houston’s intent. She may have honestly, but mistakenly, believed she properly answered Southwest’s discovery requests. Sanctions under the Court’s inherent authority are inappropriate for the same reason. Accordingly, Southwest’s Motion for Sanctions is DENIED.”

So, what do you think?  Should the court have expected some documentation from the plaintiff to support her claim that she responded via email to avoid Rule 11 sanctions?  Please let us know if 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 Grants Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Discovery in Loan Dispute: eDiscovery Case Law

In Grande v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, No. C19-333 MJP (W.D. Wash. Feb. 20, 2020), Washington District Judge Marsha J. Pechman granted the plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery, finding the policies requested were “relevant under the broad civil discovery standard” and that the defendants “ha[d] not demonstrated that the policies are confidential, proprietary, or trade secrets”.  Judge Pechman also granted the plaintiffs’ request for attorney’s fees in bringing the motion.

Case Background

In this case involving the plaintiffs’ allegations that the defendants breached a loan agreement (and violated several laws), the plaintiffs served written discovery on the defendants in July 2019 – to which the defendants responded in September 2019 with a production that the plaintiffs described as “completely deficient.”  The Parties held a discovery conference in October and the defendants served amended responses several weeks later, which the plaintiffs indexed and determined that large numbers were duplicative and the defendants’ production remained deficient.  After the plaintiffs drafted a Request for a Joint Submission to the Court pursuant to Local Rule 37, seeking assistance in resolving the discovery disputes, the defendants’ attorney declined to use the joint submission but claimed that the document provided him with “additional information” that clarified the alleged discovery deficiencies and asked for plaintiffs’ counsel to “work with him” to resolve the discovery dispute.

The plaintiffs held another discovery conference in November 2019 and the defendants agreed to supplement production with additional documents totaling 1,000 pages, voice recordings of four phone calls made by the Plaintiffs to Nationstar, a full life of loan history, and communications that had not been previously produced, all before November 28.  The defendants produced the 1,000 pages but none of the other material, with no explanation.  On January 11, 2020 the plaintiffs filed a Motion to Compel, seeking complete responses to a dozen Interrogatories and Requests for Production, as well as attorney’s fees.  Several weeks later, the defendants produced additional documents, a privilege log, and supplemental discovery responses, but still did not produce documents responsive to Request for Production No. 17.  The defendants argued that the loan modification guidelines requested in that request were not relevant and confidential, proprietary, and trade secrets.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the plaintiffs’ motion to compel and the defendants arguments, Judge Pechman stated: “First, the requested documents are relevant under the broad civil discovery standard, which allows litigants to ‘obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party.’…Here, Plaintiffs contend that documents responsive to this request provide ‘information about the policies, processes, and procedures Defendants used to make various decisions regarding the Grandes’ loan modification application.’…Where Plaintiffs allege that Defendants’ evasive, shifting explanations for denying their loan modification were bad faith attempts to avoid their obligations, comparing Defendants’ policies to their behavior is relevant to Plaintiffs’ claims.”

Continuing, Judge Pechman stated: “Second, Defendants have not demonstrated that the policies are confidential, proprietary, or trade secrets… Here, Defendants have not moved for a protective order or listed the documents on a privilege log…Nor have they explained how these policies are trade secrets that give them a competitive advantage over competitors… Further, the only two cases cited by Defendants concern a third-party subpoena where the movant failed to demonstrate relevance and a case concerning a motion for a protective order, neither of which support Defendants’ position… Because the Defendants here have not described any harm that would result from producing the guidelines and have not sought a protective order, the Court declines to find the documents so confidential that they cannot be produced. Defendants must therefore produce all documents responsive to Plaintiffs’ Request for Production No. 17 within seven days of the date of this Order.”

Judge Pechman also granted the plaintiffs’ request for attorney’s fees in bringing the motion, stating: “Here, Plaintiffs brought this Motion after several good faith attempts to obtain the requested discovery…and nothing before the Court suggests that Defendants’ delay was justified or that an award of expenses would be unjust. To the contrary, Defendants’ substantial delay in responding to the discovery requests has delayed the trial in this matter…and necessitated the present Motion”.

So, what do you think?  Was the court justified in granting the request for attorney’s fees or should it have been more patient since the defendants continued to supplement their production?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

By the way, there was some confusion about the list of EDRM Global Advisory Council members that I initially posted on Friday.  I had thought that was the entire list, but it was only a supplemental list to the list of Global Advisory Council members announced earlier this year.  I have updated my post to reflect the entire list of members — click here to view the post with the entire list this time.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant, which now is directly to the eDA site, enabling you to search within the case and see related cases (with eDA subscription).

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.

Top Ten Tips for Working with eDiscovery: eDiscovery Best Practices

I stumbled across a post in our blog that Tom O’Connor did over a year ago to conclude his series titled Will Lawyers Ever Embrace Technology?  As usual, Tom did a great job and, in this post, he offered his top ten tips for working with eDiscovery.  Tom provided a top ten list terrific enough to make David Letterman proud, but I thought the list could use some additions – in the form of links to resources for the items.  Here goes!

As a reminder, here are the top ten tips from Tom’s post:

  1. Read the Rules
  2. Read the Decisions
  3. Know the Terms
  4. Know Where Your Data Is
  5. Talk to The IT Department
  6. Talk to The Records Management People
  7. Make a Records Management Policy
  8. Make A Litigation Hold Policy
  9. Enforce the Litigation Hold Policy
  10. Meet with Your Client’s Inside Counsel

Let’s take them one (or sometimes two) at a time.

Read the Rules: As Tom notes, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) lay out the framework for your obligations in handling eDiscovery, but many states have rules that may differ from the FRCP.  Not only that, but the FRCP is comprised of a lot of rules which don’t necessarily have to do with eDiscovery.  So, which ones do you need to know?  There are two notable Rules updates that have significant eDiscovery impact: the 2006 and 2015 updates.  Fortunately, we covered them both in our webcast titled What Every Attorney Should Know About eDiscovery in 2017, which (as you can tell by the title) is three years old now (but still relevant for this topic).  You can click on the webcast to get access to the slides (via the attachments link) if you don’t want to sit through the hour-long webcast.  As for states rules, K&L Gates has a listing of states that have enacted eDiscovery rules (not all of them have), so you can check your state (and other states) here.

Read the Decisions: To find decisions related to eDiscovery, you can find plenty of those right here on the eDiscovery Daily blog – for free!  We’re up to 734 lifetime case law related posts, covering 566 unique cases since our inception back in 2010.  You can see them all here or wind them down year by year here.  If you want even more decisions (1,500 to 2,000 a year, not to mention other terrific resources), you can find those at our go to site for case law – eDiscovery Assistant.

Know the Terms: Tom notes in his post the importance of knowing the terms and even provides a terrific resource – The Sedona Conference – for a great terms list, which was just updated and we covered it and how to get it here!

Know Where Your Data Is: When it comes to knowing where your data is, a data map comes in really handy.  And, with GDPR and other factors emphasizing data privacy, that’s more important than ever.  Here are several templates to get started.

Talk to The IT Department: Tom says “You’re Lewis and Clark, they’re Sacajawea. You cannot…absolutely cannot…navigate without them.”  Knowing the terms and understanding data maps (see previous two paragraphs) will help bridge the communication gap and help here too.

Talk to the Records Management People and Make a Records Management Policy: Records Management is a term that has been around for a long time.  A more recent term that has become synonymous is Information Governance.  eDiscovery Daily has over 200 posts related to Information Governance, including this seven blog post series from Tom here.  Enjoy!

Make A Litigation Hold Policy and Enforce the Litigation Hold Policy: We’ve covered the topic of litigation holds several times as well during the almost 9 1/2 years of the blog, including these two posts (recently updated) where we discuss several things you need to consider when implementing your own litigation hold.  It’s also worth noting that a platform that automates tracking litigation holds, like CloudNine Review™ (shameless plug warning!), can make it easier.

Meet with Your Client’s Inside Counsel: With all of the info you learned above, you’re well equipped to (as Tom puts it) “discuss all of the above”.  One more thing that can help is understanding topics that can be covered during the meet and confer that will benefit both you and your client.  Here’s a webcast that will help – again, you can click on the webcast to get access to the slides (via the attachments link) if you don’t want to sit through the hour-long webcast.

One more thing that Tom notes in his post is that “eDiscovery is a process comprised of separate distinct stages, any one of which may have specific software available for that stage” and that’s very true.  Certainly, that’s true at CloudNine, where, in addition to our Review product mentioned above, we also have a product that collects data from O365 and One Drive (CloudNine Collection Manager™), an Early Data Assessment platform (CloudNine Explore™), a processing and production platform known as the “swiss-army knife of eDiscovery” (CloudNine LAW™) and a tried and true desktop review platform (CloudNine Concordance®).  There are as many workflows as there are organizations conducting eDiscovery and getting the most out of software products available from CloudNine or other providers to maximize your own workflow is key to succeeding at eDiscovery.  Work with your software provider (whoever they are) to enable them to help maximize your workflow.  Help us help you!  :o)

So, what do you think?  Are you familiar with all of these resources?  If not, now you can be!  As always, 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.

Plaintiff Tells Defendant “File Motion to Compel”, Defendant Does and Wins: eDiscovery Case Law

In White v. Relay Res. & Gen. Servs. Admin., NO. C19-0284-JCC (W.D. Wash. Feb. 14, 2020), Washington District Judge John C. Coughenour granted the defendant’s motion to compel, requiring the plaintiff to provide documents responsive to the defendant’s requests for production, provide the information requested in each interrogatory and provide initial disclosures and that “[f]ailing to provide this information may result in sanctions under Rule 37, including dismissal of the matter.”

Case Background

In this employment discrimination claim against the defendant where the plaintiff alleged the defendant discriminated against her because she is deaf, the defendant served 31 requests for production and 13 interrogatories on the plaintiff in November 2019.  The plaintiff responded to these requests about a month later, objecting to the requests for production on various grounds and failing to indicate whether she was withholding responsive documents.  In response to the interrogatories, the plaintiff raised broad objections and did not provide any of the requested information, indicating in each response that she would later provide the requested information if it was “relevant” to responding the interrogatory.  The defendant also claimed that the plaintiff did not produce initial disclosures.

The defendant attempted to meet and confer with the plaintiff two days after receiving her responses, expressing concern with sufficiency of her responses and offering an extension for the plaintiff to supplement her responses.  The defendant also requested an in-person meeting to attempt to resolve the discovery dispute, but the plaintiff refused to meet outside the State of Virginia and also refused a teleconference, stating that she did “not have any line of communication open except emails and written communication.”  So, the defendant proceeded to email the plaintiff specific examples of its “serious concerns regarding the insufficiency of [her] responses.” The plaintiff then supplemented her responses to the requests for production with three screenshots of email correspondence between the plaintiff and the defendant’s employees about benefits, as well as a scanned page from a yearbook.  In response, the defendant informed the plaintiff that if she did not provide responsive documents or answers to its interrogatories by the extended deadline, it had no choice but to file a motion to compel with the Court.  Instead of further supplementing her responses, the plaintiff replied, “Ok. File Motion to Compel.”

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Coughenour first noted that “although the parties did not meet in person or have a telephone conference, Defendant made a good faith effort to satisfy the meet-and-confer requirement before filing the instant motion to compel. Defendant made multiple attempts to resolve its discovery dispute before reaching a genuine impasse on December 30, 2019, when Plaintiff told Defendant to ‘File Motion to Compel.’…Consequently, Defendant has satisfied the meet-and-confer requirement.”

With regard to the requests for production, Judge Coughenour stated: “the Court has reviewed Defendant’s requests for production, and they appear to be relevant and proportional to the case… The Court acknowledges Plaintiff is not represented by counsel and that she may be responding to and cooperating with Defendant to the best of her ability…Nevertheless, Plaintiff’s perfunctory objections do not reflect a good faith effort to comply with discovery rules. Plaintiff must make reasonable efforts to provide documents responsive to Defendant’s requests for production. Failure to do comply may result in sanctions, including dismissal of the present action.”

With regard to the interrogatories, Judge Coughenour found “Defendant’s interrogatories to be facially relevant and proportional to the needs of the case.”  He also stated: “Here, Plaintiff raised vague, broad objections to each of Defendant’s 13 interrogatories and did not provide any of the requested information…Within 30 days, Plaintiff must provide Defendant with the information requested in each interrogatory. Failing to make reasonable efforts to respond to Defendant’s interrogatories may result in sanctions under Rule 37, including dismissal of the matter.”

Judge Coughenour also stated, in fully granting the motion to compel: “Plaintiff is ordered to provide Defendant with initial disclosures at this time. Failing to provide this information may result in sanctions under Rule 37, including dismissal of the matter.”

So, what do you think?  Is the plaintiff’s failure to obtain counsel representation jeopardizing her case before it even gets going?  Please let us know if 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 on Status of “Functional Employee, Declines Sanctions as Premature: eDiscovery Case Law

In Digital Mentor, Inc. v. Ovivo USA, LLC, No. 2:17-cv-01935-RAJ (W.D. Wash. Feb. 4, 2020), Washington District Judge Richard A. Jones granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to compel, ruling that the plaintiff had not shown that a consultant to the plaintiff met the criterion of being considered a “functional employee” for which all communications with the plaintiff could be considered privileged, but denying the defendant’s request for preclusion sanctions, determining those to be “premature”.

Case Background

In this case involving trademark and copyright infringement and breach of contract claims that the defendant created a “pirated” version of the plaintiff’s product, the parties had a discovery dispute stemming from William Chastain’s consulting role with the plaintiff.  The plaintiff claimed that Chastain was its “functional employee” and so his communications with the plaintiff were subject to attorney-client privilege or work product protection.  Chastain was purportedly involved in the negotiation, discussion and execution of the pertinent contracts and agreements at issue with the defendant, was a direct conduit of the plaintiff in the events leading up to this litigation and was never paid for his role and was never employed by the plaintiff.

The defendant disagreed, claiming that Chastain did not qualify as a “functional employee” and moved to compel the plaintiff to produce all documents relating to Chastain, including correspondence between Chastain, the plaintiff and/or its counsel; even documents identified DMI’s privilege log.  The defendant also sought to prohibit the plaintiff from relying upon any documentation including or relating to Chastain and any testimony from, or referring to, Chastain during hearings or trial and also sought reasonable fees and expenses in bringing the motion.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that “as one district court indicates, ‘the dispositive question is the consultant’s relationship to the company and whether by virtue of that relationship [s]he possesses information about the company that would assist the company’s attorneys in rendering legal advice’”, Judge Jones stated: “When answered in the affirmative, the consultant is ‘in all relevant respects the functional equivalent of an employee’ and communications between corporate counsel and the consultant may be covered under attorney-client privilege.”

But, Judge Jones continued: “On the record presented, DMI has not shown that Chastain’s involvement meets this criterion. There is no documentation of Chastain’s duties vis-à-vis DMI or its corporate counsel, nor does the record demonstrate that Chastain had specialized knowledge such that counsel would rely on him to facilitate legal advice for the company…There is also little to indicate that communications between Chastain and DMI’s counsel were primarily of a legal, as opposed to a business, nature…Having found that DMI has not met its burden, the Court GRANTS Ovivo’s motion to the extent documents are only being withheld on this basis of privilege. Having found the ‘functional employee’ requirements not met, the Court will not analyze Ovivo’s claims of waiver.”

However, considering preclusion sanctions based on the defendant’s claim that Chastain destroyed relevant documents because (as the plaintiff stated) he “does not keep any emails and/or documentation as he has been a victim of corporate theft and hacking incidents in the past”, Judge Jones stated: “The Court cannot impose sanctions based on Ovivo’s allegations under Rule 37. Sanctions under Rule 37 are allowed only against a party that disobeys a court issued discovery order. However, the court’s inherent authority to impose sanctions for the wrongful destruction of evidence includes the power to exclude evidence that, given the spoliation, would ‘unfairly prejudice an opposing party.’…Although Chastain’s purported email practices seem particularly dubious, the Court agrees with DMI that Ovivo’s request for preclusion sanctions is premature. Ovivo has not presented any evidence in support of its spoliation theory other than Chastain’s failure to produce documents in response to its subpoena…Without evidence about what was purportedly destroyed, when it occurred, what extent DMI had any involvement, and any resulting prejudice, preclusion sanctions are inappropriate. The Court also declines to award attorney’s fees related to this motion.”

So, what do you think?  Is it premature to consider sanctions if the party acknowledges destroying relevant documents?  Please let us know if 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.