Case Law

Court Denies Plaintiff’s Request to Hold Non-Party in Contempt for Failing to Produce Native Files: eDiscovery Case Law

In Smith v. TFI Family Services, Inc., No. 17-02235-JWB-GEB (D. Kan. Sep. 4, 2019), Kansas Magistrate Judge Gwynne E. Birzer denied the Plaintiff’s Motion for Order Against Defendant State of Kansas Department for Children and Families to Show Good Cause Why it Should not be Held in Contempt and Motion for Sanctions for failing to produce ESI in native format with associated metadata.  Judge Birzer found that “Plaintiff cannot point to a ‘specific and definite’ section of the Court’s June 8, 2018 Order requiring specific types of ESI be produced or requiring records be produced in native format with associated metadata” and also that “Plaintiff has not made a particularized showing” why re-production of the PDF documents in native format with associated metadata “is relevant to the case at hand”.

Case Background

In this case involving alleged abuse of a child placed in a home by the defendants, the Court conducted an in-person hearing regarding the Kansas State Department of Children and Families’ (“DCF”) Amended Motion to Quash Subpoena and ultimately granted in part and denied in part the Motion to Quash on June 8, 2018, ordering DCF to produce certain records by July 31, 2018, with any responsive records subject to in-camera review to be produced directly to the Court for review.  DCF timely produced the records by July 31.  On October 24, 2018, after a review of the records submitted in-camera, the Court entered an order directing DCF to produce most of those documents to the plaintiff by November 30, 2018 and DCF timely produced those records as well.

On May 6, 2019, Plaintiff filed an instant Motion arguing DCF failed to comply with the Court’s June 28, 2018 Order because its November production did not contain six identified types of ESI in native format with associated metadata, instead producing the court-ordered documents (consisting of 5,767 pages) in PDF format on a USB flash drive.  The plaintiff asked the Court to issue an order: (1) requiring DCF to show good cause for why it should not be held in contempt of the Court’s June 28, 2018 Order; (2) requiring DCF to show good cause why it should not produce the requested ESI; and (3) imposing various sanctions on DCF pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(A) for not obeying a discovery order.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that “the subpoena asks for the records to be produced in ‘electronic format,’ but gives no specifics regarding whether the format should be PDF or native format with metadata intact”, Judge Birzer stated: “The Court is at a loss as to why Plaintiff would believe the June 8, 2018 Order required Defendant to produce the six above types of ESI when the subpoena did not specify it and the matter was not presented to the Court for consideration.”  As a result, Judge Birzer found that “the production of records in PDF format on an USB flash drive adequately satisfied DCF’s obligation under the June 8, 2018 Order, the subpoena and Rule 45” and that “there is no occasion for the undersigned Magistrate Judge to certify facts to the District Judge or to issue an order for DCF to show cause why it should not be held in contempt.”

Noting that “DCF is not a party to this action”, Judge Birzer also found that “requiring a non-party to spend time and money to re-produce 5,767 pages of PDF documents in native format with metadata would be burdensome and not proportional to the needs to the case considering Plaintiff has provided little reason as to why the native format and metadata would be relevant.”  As a result, Judge Birzer denied the plaintiff’s motion.

So, what do you think?  Could the plaintiff have done a better job of specifying its production format requirements up front?  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 Request to Avoid Forensic Imaging of Devices in Apple Performance Case: eDiscovery Case Law

In the case In Re: Apple Inc., No. 5:18-md-02827-EJD (N.D. Cal. Aug. 22, 2019), California District Judge Edward J. Davila denied the plaintiffs’ motion to modify the Special Discovery Master order that authorized the forensic imaging of devices belonging to 10 of the more than 90 named plaintiffs in order to allow Apple’s outside experts to performance test the devices, finding that “Apple’s interest in performance testing the forensic images outweighs Plaintiff’s privacy interest because Plaintiffs put the performance of the devices at the center of the lawsuit”.

Case Background

In this litigation involving the performance of Apple devices after software updates, the Special Discovery Master entered an order authorizing the forensic imaging of the devices belonging to 10 of the more than 90 named Plaintiffs in order to allow Apple’s outside experts to performance test the devices.  The plaintiff’s objected to the order and sought to modify the Order so that Apple’s discovery of the devices is limited to the extraction of “limited diagnostic data” instead of full forensic imaging, arguing that the Special Discovery Master made “erroneous factual findings and reached incorrect legal conclusions”.

The plaintiffs, basing their argument on the 2017 California Supreme Court case Williams v. Superior Court, argued that “[p]ersonal devices, like those at issue here, are afforded special privacy protections under the law. Apple therefore had to demonstrate a compelling need or interest to justify the forensic imaging. The Special Discovery Master should have conducted a balancing test between that compelling interest and the intrusion into Plaintiffs’ privacy posed by the imaging. But the Special Discovery Master failed to do so when she ‘deferr[ed] the basic question of scientific reliability to trial.’”

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Davila noted that the “motion is suitable for resolution without oral argument” and stated that “Plaintiffs’ concerns over their privacy rights are understandable; they are being asked to surrender their devices and passwords to strangers.”  But, Judge Davila also noted that the forensic imaging would be completed by a neutral, third-party computer forensics vendor and that those “outside experts will only provide counsel with their analyses and the data underlying their analyses…To the extent possible, the experts will redact the contents, authors, recipients, and subject-matter of the underlying data (and any associated metadata) or replace them with summary descriptions before providing the underlying data to Apple’s counsel.”

Judge Davila also concluded that “Plaintiffs actively put their devices at issue when they chose to sue Apple over Apple’s alleged intrusion and trespass to the devices through Apple’s software updates”, stating that “[i]t is well-established that a plaintiff cannot bring suit and then limit the defendant’s discovery that is targeted at the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claims.”  Noting that the plaintiffs “overreach” with regard to their argument “that the forensic imaging would ‘violat[e] Plaintiffs’ privacy with no gain’ to Apple”, Judge Davila found that “Apple has a compelling interest in the sought-after performance testing of Plaintiffs’ devices. The devices’ performance is integral to Plaintiffs’ claims. They allege that Apple’s software updates unjustly harmed the performance of their devices…Apple is entitled to defend itself against these allegations by testing whether the performance of the devices was, in fact, harmed. Later, Plaintiffs may challenge whether that testing is admissible, scientifically reliable, or ‘necessary’ for Apple’s defenses through in limine, Daubert, and other motions.”

So, what do you think?  Did the court properly weigh the balance of privacy and discovery in this 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.

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 Sanction Request for Attorney Who Hung Up on Opposing Counsel One Time: eDiscovery Case Law

In Ewing v. Aliera Healthcare, No. 19cv845-CAB-LL (S.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2019), California Magistrate Judge Linda Lopez denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for “rudely and unprofessionally” hanging up on the plaintiff during a call that defendant’s counsel made to the plaintiff to cancel a meet and confer appointment.

Case Background

In support of his motion, the plaintiff stated that “Local Rule 83.4 requires civil, courtesy and dignity in all communication, oral and written.”  The plaintiff also noted that defendant’s counsel “admitted to hanging up the phone on Plaintiff to the Court’s law clerk” and also requested permission to file a reply.

The defendant opposed the plaintiff’s motion on the grounds that “Plaintiff has failed to establish why Judge Lopez should sanction counsel for Aliera” noting that at issue is only “one phone call between Plaintiff and Aliera’s counsel on July 24, 2019.”  The defendant also stated:

“Plaintiff insists on recording every phone conversation, despite counsel for Aliera objecting to such recordings…The reason counsel cut his July 24 phone conversation short was because he had already confirmed that the meet and confer meeting with Plaintiff would take place on July 30; not on July 25 as Plaintiff later demanded, and despite Plaintiff’s protestations and desire to schedule it for the week of July 22…Plaintiff [then] insisted on demanding why Judge Lopez allowed Aliera’s counsel, Dwight Francis, to appear at the ENE on July 1, 2019. This extraneous demand was irrelevant to the topic of the July 24 call, and followed up on a letter Plaintiff had earlier written counsel on the same non-issue. Counsel, who was extremely busy, informed Plaintiff that he would need to take that issue up with Judge Lopez, and ended the call.”

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Lopez began her ruling by stating: “As an initial matter, the Court denies Plaintiff’s request for leave to file a reply. The Court has reviewed the briefing and finds that it has sufficient information on this issue. Notably, Plaintiff’s Motion lacks any law or authority in support of the request for sanctions.”

She ended her ruling by stating: “Here, the conduct at issue in Plaintiff’s Motion, defense counsel hanging up the phone prematurely one time during a conversation with Plaintiff, does not warrant sanctions. Indeed, defense counsel’s opposition sets forth a reasonable explanation of why defense counsel “cut short” the July 24, 2019 phone conversation. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Plaintiff’s request to impose sanctions. The Court also DENIES Defendant’s request to order Plaintiff to compensate Defendant for the time incurred in having to oppose the instant Motion. However, the Court reminds the parties that any future unprofessional conduct or otherwise improper conduct (including but not limited to filing motions with no basis in the law) may warrant a motion for sanctions by either party.”

So, what do you think?  Should attorneys be sanctioned for hanging up on each other?  Or for filing sanctions motions for opposing counsel doing so?  Or both?  ;o)  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.

Appellate Court Vacates Order Allowing Plaintiff’s Expert Access to Defendant’s ESI Prior to Privilege Determination: eDiscovery Case Law

In Crosmun v. Trustees of Fayetteville Technical Community College, No. COA18-1054 (N.C. Ct. App. Aug. 6, 2019), the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by compelling production through a protocol that provided the plaintiffs’ expert with direct access to potentially privileged information and precluded reasonable efforts by Defendants to avoid waiving any privilege, vacated the order and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with its opinion.

Case Background

In this claim of retaliatory dismissals from the defendant’s community college in violation of the North Carolina Whistleblower Protection Act, the plaintiffs served discovery requests on the defendants, including for ESI located in the school’s computers and servers.  After expressing concerns that the defendants had destroyed responsive ESI and sending several letters, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel requesting the trial court “[o]rder that the parties identify a computer forensics entity or individual who, at Defendants’ cost, will search the computer servers at FTCC to determine if Defendants have deleted emails and files pertaining to these discovery requests.”

From that motion to compel, the trial court ultimately entered a Protocol Order compelling discovery and entered an order, as requested by the plaintiffs, providing for a forensic examination of the defendants’ computer files by a computer forensic expert retained by the plaintiffs.  Per the order, the plaintiffs’ forensic expert would conduct keyword searches for all responsive data and also keyword searches for potentially privileged data. Documents retrieved in responsive searches that were not identified as privileged were ordered to be delivered directly to the plaintiffs, without the defendants being able to review them for privilege. The defendants appealed the order, contending that it amounted to an involuntary waiver of their attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine.

Appellate Court Ruling

The appellate court ruling, written by Judge Lucy Inman, started out by noting: “Seeking justice often involves enduring tedium” and also noted that “ESI has become so pervasive that the volume of ESI involved in most cases dwarfs the volume of any paper records”.  No kidding.  Despite that, the court noted that “North Carolina authority regarding eDiscovery is bare bones.”

Relying on decisions from other courts around the country as well as Sedona Conference principles, the appellate court ruled: “In short, the Protocol Order provides Plaintiffs’ agent direct access to privileged information, which disclosure immediately violates Defendants’ privileges. It furthers that violation by directing that agent, having attempted to screen some privileged documents out through the use of search terms, to produce potentially responsive documents without providing Defendants an opportunity to examine them for privilege. If, following that continued violation, Plaintiffs—their agent notwithstanding—receive privileged documents, Defendants must attempt to clawback that information, reducing their privilege to a post-disclosure attempt at unringing the eDiscovery bell. Such compelled disclosure of privileged information is contrary to our law concerning both attorney-client privilege and work-product immunity…As a result, we hold the trial court misapprehended the law concerning attorney-client privilege and the work-product immunity (however understandably given its undeveloped state within the eDiscovery arena), vacate the Protocol Order, and remand for further proceedings.”

So, what do you think?  Should parties ever be granted access to ESI before the producing party can perform a privilege review?  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.

Another Case Where Intent to Deprive is Put in the Hands of the Jury: eDiscovery Case Law

In Woods v. Scissons, No. CV-17-08038-PCT-GMS (D. Ariz. Aug. 14, 2019), Arizona Chief District Judge G. Murray Snow granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for spoliation of video footage of an arrest incident involving the plaintiff and the defendant (a police officer with the Prescott Police Department), ruling that non-party City of Prescott violated a duty to preserve evidence of the alleged incident, but that the question of intent should be submitted to the jury to determine appropriate sanctions.

Case Background

In this claim of excessive force against the defendant arising out of the plaintiff’s arrest in June 2016, the plaintiff alleged that after the defendant placed him in handcuffs, he struck the plaintiff several times while he lay face-down on the pavement, resulting in a fracture to his lower back which left him in severe pain and will likely require future surgery to repair.  Several officers arrived on the scene during the course of the arrest.  After the Prescott Police Department Review Board determined that no “criminal, civil or Department Policy violations” had occurred during the arrest, the plaintiff filed this action in February 2017.  Subsequently, the plaintiff filed a motion for spoliation sanctions, arguing that non-party City of Prescott violated a duty to preserve evidence of the alleged incident—video footage automatically captured by the cameras in the various officers’ vehicles—by allowing the footage to be automatically deleted from the police department’s systems.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting examples of at least two officers (in addition to the defendant’s) whose dash cams would likely have been recording, Judge Snow stated: “the available evidence, taken as a whole, establishes that dash cam footage was recorded by at least two vehicles that could have been relevant to Woods’ claim.”  Judge Snow also “decline[d] to assume that any recordings from the vehicles in question would have been irrelevant to Woods’ claim”, stating “the footage’s value cannot simply be replaced by having eyewitness testimony regarding Woods’ arrest—much of the value provided by video footage is that it allows a jury to make its own determination.”

Judge Snow also ruled that the City of Prescott (which was paying for legal representation for the defendant) “had a duty to preserve any video recordings from the responding officers’ dash cams once it knew that litigation was reasonably likely” (which was by April 2017, at the latest) and “the parties do not dispute that any footage has been erased.”  And, Judge Snow ruled that “[t]he spoliation can be imputed to Scissons”, observing that the City would pay any judgment against the defendant in the case.

As a result, Judge Snow granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions, ordering the following: “Because there is evidence that video recordings of the alleged event existed but were not preserved, the jury will hear evidence concerning the potential existence of video footage and will be instructed that it may consider that evidence along with all other evidence in reaching its decision. It will also be instructed that if it determines that the Police Department destroyed evidence and did so with the intent to deprive Woods of the use of the video footage, it may infer that the footage would have been favorable to Woods. However, the Court declines to give the instruction as requested by Woods because the question of intent will be submitted to the jury.”

So, what do you think?  Should juries decide intent to deprive in spoliation disputes?  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 Spoliation Sanctions for Defendant’s Failure to Preserve Photos of Prisoner Plaintiff: eDiscovery Case Law

In Wilmoth v. Deputy Austin Murphy, No. 5:16-CV-5244 (W.D. Ark. Aug. 7, 2019), Arkansas District Judge Timothy L. Brooks granted the plaintiff’s Motion for Relief Regarding Spoliation, finding that the “defendant’s conduct in this case was designed to deprive” the plaintiff the use of photographs in litigation that were purported to have shown injuries suffered by the plaintiff associated with his excessive force claim against the deputy defendant.

Case Background

In this case involving the plaintiff’s claim of excessive force against Deputy Murphy for an incident on August 12, 2016 in the plaintiff’s cell, Judge Brooks observed that “the facts surrounding that confrontation are disputed, but it is undisputed that Wilmoth sustained at least some bruising following the event.”  Pursuant to standard operating procedures, Deputy Zachary Hale took photographs of the plaintiff and his injuries using his personal cell phone (of which Sergeant Lira made specific mention in his resulting report), which were to be used in the resulting investigation of the incident.  But the photographs were either 1) never uploaded to the jail’s internal incident reporting system or 2) were uploaded and were subsequently misplaced or deleted – they were also never produced to the plaintiff during discovery.  Claiming that this evidence was intentionally destroyed or made unavailable to him by the defendant, the plaintiff requested an adverse inference instruction based on spoliation of evidence.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Brooks began discussion of the issue by stating: “Before a Court can impose sanctions under Rule 37, it must first determine that the party had a duty to preserve electronically stored information. In this case, that proof is abundant.”  Noting that counsel for the defendants had issued a litigation hold letter to the officers of the Benton County Jail and that the Court’s initial scheduling order directed that, within 45 days, defendants were to provide the plaintiff with “a copy of all incident reports documenting incidents referenced in the Plaintiff’s complaint, including any color photographs”, Judge Brooks stated: “As such, defendant was clearly on notice—both through his own attorney and court orders, that he was under a duty to preserve documents relevant to the incidents recounted in Wilmoth’s complaint.”

Judge Brooks went on to note that “the evidence as a collective whole indicates that there were many times when defense counsel buried her head in the sand in this case and never fully committed to producing this evidence or discovering where it was” and “that includes conduct which might readily be viewed as intentional deception before this court.”

As a result, Judge Brooks ordered the following sanctions: “First, in light of Sergeant Lira’s role in conducting the investigation into Wilmoth’s sexual assault allegations, the Court finds it literally incredible to hear Lira explain that he does not remember what he did with the pictures that he acknowledged viewing in his report or why these photographs would not have been uploaded as a crucial part of his investigatory file in accordance with county policy. The Court finds that his actions in this case have severely undermined his credibility. Given his direct involvement in viewing and in failing to ensure preservation of these photographs, the Court finds that his actions demonstrate bad faith and that it would be appropriate to prevent the defendant from calling him as a witness in his case. The same sanction will also apply to Deputy Hale. Hale admitted during his deposition that although standard policy would have already required him to preserve and upload these photographs to the system, he certainly should have done so here given the nature of Wilmoth’s accusations against Deputy Murphy. Yet, he failed to take any reasonable steps to ensure preservation of the materials that he knew were crucial to the resulting investigation… Second, under Rule 37(e)(2)(B) and in light of the Court’s earlier finding that defendant and his counsel have willfully acted to prevent Wilmoth from accessing this documentary evidence that he claims would support his case, the Court will instruct the jury that it may, but is not required to, presume that the photographs in question would have supported Wilmoth’s claimed injuries arising from his in-cell confrontation with Deputy Murphy and that the lack of such photographic evidence should not be held against Wilmoth in this case.”

So, what do you think?  Were the sanctions granted appropriate for the level of spoliation?  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 Dueling Sanctions Motions from Both Plaintiffs and Defendants: eDiscovery Case Law

In Cox v. Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona, LLC, No. 18-CV-117-CVE-JFJ (N.D. Okla. Aug. 6, 2019), Oklahoma District Judge Jodi F. Jayne denied both the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, finding no intent to deprive by either side to justify a sanction of either an adverse inference jury instruction or directed verdict (for the plaintiffs)/dismissal (for the defendants).

Case Background

In this case involving an accident between two tractor/trailers in which Plaintiff Adam Cox suffered severe injuries, both parties failed to preserve electronic data:

  • Defendant Swift Transportation Company (“Swift”) failed to preserve: (1) electronic control module (“ECM”) data of the Swift tractor/trailer driven by Defendant Sai Wai (“Wai”), which would have provided information regarding the speed of Wai’s vehicle at the time of the accident and any “Critical Event Report” prompted by hard braking or a sudden drastic change in speed; (2) messages delivered from Wai to Swift via the Qualcomm mobile communication system; and (3) Wai’s electronic driver “E-logs” for the 1.5 hours immediately prior to the accident, which were also stored electronically on the Qualcomm system.
  • Plaintiffs Adam and Kimberly Cox failed to preserve: (1) ECM data from Cox’s vehicle, which Defendants argue would have (a) provided information regarding the speed of Cox’s vehicle at the time of the accident, and (b) potentially bolstered its expert’s opinion that Cox failed to brake; and (2) Cox’s paper driver logs, which were on the dashboard at the time of the accident (“Logs”).

The plaintiffs filed a Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 for Defendant Swift’s Spoliation of Evidence, requesting two alternative sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e): (1) a directed verdict on the issue of liability; or (2) an adverse inference jury instruction.  The defendants’ filed a Motion for Sanctions for Plaintiffs’ Spoliation of Evidence, requesting either the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case or an adverse inference instruction regarding the spoliated evidence.

Judge’s Ruling

In considering the plaintiffs’ request for sanctions for failure to preserve the ECM Data/Qualcomm Messages, Judge Jayne stated: “After consideration of the record and the parties’ oral argument, the Court finds that Swift did not “act[] with the intent to deprive [Plaintiffs] of the information’s use in the litigation” and therefore declines to impose either of the severe sanctions requested by Plaintiffs…Swift’s stated reason for failing to download the ECM data or immediately place a litigation hold on evidence is adequately supported by [investigating Officer Jason] McCarthy’s investigation, conclusions, and report, and the Court finds no inference or indication that Swift engaged in bad faith or intentional conduct aimed at depriving Plaintiffs of this evidence.”

Citing defendant Swift’s explanation for failure to preserve 1.5 hours of E-Logs as caused by a failure to account for a Time Zone difference between Mountain and Central Time, Judge Jayne stated: “The Court finds this explanation plausible and consistent with the actual missing data. This explanation, at most, shows a negligent failure to retain by Swift. As explained above, negligent failures to retain evidence cannot support Plaintiffs’ requested sanctions in this case, and Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions based on failure to preserve the missing E-logs is also denied.”

With regard to the defendants’ motion for sanctions, Judge Jayne stated “the Court easily concludes that Plaintiffs did not intentionally deprive Defendants of evidence or engage in any bad-faith conduct by failing to preserve the ECM data or the Logs. The engine, including the ECM device, was hauled away as debris from the scene of the accident by Environmental Remediation Services, Inc., (“ERS”), held for thirty days, and then sent to the scrap yard. Cox was in the hospital for five weeks following the accident. It strains reason to find that Plaintiffs acted with intent to deprive Defendants of this evidence when, at most, Plaintiffs failed to prevent another entity, ERS, from scrapping the engine pursuant to ERS’s own standard retention policy.”  She also characterized the plaintiffs’ explanation that the Logs on the dashboard were destroyed in the accident as “plausible” and stated: “Accordingly, Defendants’ requested sanctions of dismissal or an adverse inference instruction are denied.”

So, what do you think?  Should either party have attempted to obtain less severe sanctions instead?  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.

Cases I Will Be Covering Today During Litigation Support Day: eDiscovery Case Law

It’s a rare two-post day for us at eDiscovery Daily.  As we always do, we’re covering the notable sessions to check out at ILTACON today and that post is here.  But I’m also speaking at Litigation Support Day today in Session One (9:00 AM – 10:30 AM) on Legal Trends, discussing the most interesting case law decisions for 2019 so far with my good friend, David Horrigan!  If you’re attending that session, no need to take copious notes – the cases that we plan to discuss are also referenced and linked below so that you can check them out.  Hope to see y’all there!

Social Media Discovery and Judicial “Friending”: Here are a couple of cases that have interesting ramifications on the social media front.  Are pictures where you are “tagged” discoverable?  Should judges accept “friend” requests from litigants when a motion is pending?  See below.

  • In Vasquez-Santos v. Mathew, 8210NIndex 158793/13 (N.Y. App. Div. Jan. 24, 2019), the New York Appellate Division, First Department panel “unanimously reversed” an order by the Supreme Court, New York County last June that denied the defendant’s motion to compel access by a third-party data mining company to plaintiff’s devices, email accounts, and social media accounts, so as to obtain photographs and other evidence of plaintiff engaging in physical activities and granted the defendant’s motion.
  • In the case In Re the Paternity of B.J.M., Appeal No. 2017AP2132 (Wis. App. Feb. 20, 2019), the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, concluding that “the circuit court’s undisclosed ESM connection with a current litigant in this case {by accepting a Facebook “friend” request from the litigant} created a great risk of actual bias, resulting in the appearance of partiality”, reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings before a different judge.

Fifth Amendment and Passwords: Are mobile device passwords protected by the Fifth Amendment?  See below.

  • In Commonwealth v. Jones, SJC-12564 (Mass. Mar. 6, 2019), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed a lower court judge’s denial of the Commonwealth’s renewed Gelfgatt motion (where the act of entering the password would not amount to self-incrimination because the defendant’s knowledge of the password was already known to the Commonwealth, and was therefore a “foregone conclusion” under the Fifth Amendment and art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights), and the court remanded the case to the Superior Court for entry of an order compelling the defendant to enter the password into the cell phone at issue in the case.

Discovery vs. Dismissal Motions: Should discovery be stayed until a motion to dismiss is decided?  See below.

Case Strategy vs. Sanctions: Would a party actually object to having a claim against it dismissed to keep alive the possibility of sanctions against the opposing party?  See below.

Mobile Device Discovery and Sanctions: How often are we seeing cases involving spoliation of mobile device data?  And, how difficult is it to obtain significant sanctions in those cases?  See below.

  • In DriveTime Car Sales Company, LLC v. Pettigrew, No.: 2:17-cv-371 (S.D. Ohio Apr. 18, 2019), Judge George C. Smith granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions against defendant Pauley Motor, denying the plaintiff’s request for an adverse inference sanction by ruling that “DriveTime has not sufficiently demonstrated that Pauley Motor acted with the requisite intent” when Bruce Pauley failed to take reasonable steps to preserve text messages when he switched to a different phone. Judge Smith did “order curative measures under Rule 37(e)(1)”, allowing the plaintiff to “introduce evidence at trial, if it wishes, of the litigation hold letter and Pauley Motor’s subsequent failure to preserve the text messages.”
  • In NuVasive, Inc. v. Kormanis, No. 1:18CV282 (M.D.N.C. Mar. 13, 2019), North Carolina Magistrate Judge L. Patrick Auld recommended that, “because the record supports but does not compel a ‘finding that [Defendant Kormanis] acted with the intent to deprive [Plaintiff] of the [lost text messages’] use in the litigation, the Court submit that issue to the ‘jury, [with] the [C]ourt’s instruction[s] mak[ing] clear that the jury may infer from the loss of the [text messages] that [they were] unfavorable to [Defendant Kormanis] only if the jury first finds that [he] acted with the intent to deprive [Plaintiff] of the[ir] use in the litigation’”.
  • In Paisley Park Enter., Inc. v. Boxill, No. 17-cv-1212 (WMW/TNL), (D. Minn. Mar. 5, 2019), Minnesota Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung granted in part the plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions Due to Spoliation of Evidence, ordering the Rogue Music Alliance (“RMA”) Defendants to pay reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees and costs, that Plaintiffs incurred as a result of the RMA Defendants’ “misconduct”, and also ordered the RMA Defendants to pay into the Court a fine of $10,000, but chose to defer consideration of adverse inference instruction sanctions to a later date, closer to trial.
  • In Legaltech® News, David Horrigan discusses the case Commonwealth v. Fowler, a criminal prosecution, and a related civil action, Little v. Fowler, that stemmed from sexual assault allegations against the actor Kevin Spacey (whose legal name is Kevin Spacey Fowler) and turned on the availability of a mobile device.

Bonus Case! In Marshall v. Brown’s IA, LLC, No. 2588 EDA 2017 (Pa. Super. Mar. 27, 2019), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, ruling that the trial court “abused its discretion in refusing the charge” of an adverse inference sanction against the defendant for failing to preserve several hours of video related to a slip and fall accident, vacated the judgment issued by the jury within the trial court for the defendant and remanded the case for a new trial.

So, what do you think?  Are you attending ILTACON this year?  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.

Another Case of Judicial “Friending”, But with a Different Result: eDiscovery Case Law

This is the second case we’ve seen recently regarding judges and Facebook “friendship” with other parties – here’s the other one where the case was the reversed and remanded for further proceedings before a different judge due to the judge’s Facebook “friendship” with one of the parties.  This time, it’s the judge’s Facebook friendship with one of the attorneys in the case.  This one had a different outcome.

In the Florida Bar Journal web site (Face-Off on Facebook: Judges and Lawyers as Social Media “Friends” in a Post-Herssein World, written by Ralph Artigliere, William F. Hamilton, David Hazouri, Jan L. Jacobowitz, and Meenu Sasser), the authors ask the question: “Should a judge be disqualified from a case based solely on a Facebook friendship with one of the attorneys?”

The Florida Supreme Court recently answered the question in the negative in Law Offices of Herssein & Herssein, P.A. v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n, Case No. SC17-1848, (Fla. Nov. 15, 2018), when it held that “an allegation that a trial judge is a Facebook ‘friend’ with an attorney appearing before the judge, standing alone, is not a legally sufficient basis for disqualification.”

The decision brings Florida in line with the majority view in other states that “have adopted an attitude of, ‘it’s fine for judges to be on social media, but proceed with caution.’”

The authors do a great job discussing the scope of the decision, traditional standards for reasonable basis for a motion to disqualify, the explosion of social media, aspects of judicial disqualification historically and guidance for lawyers and judges after the decision, among other topics.  Instead of recounting them here, I encourage you to read the article.

When we covered the other case – In Re the Paternity of B.J.M., Appeal No. 2017AP2132 (Wis. App. Feb. 20, 2019) (technically after the case written about in the Florida Bar Journal site covered in this post) – in our webcast last week (Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for the First Half of 2019), I asked Tom O’Connor if judges should ever accept social media friend requests from litigants.  Of course, he gave the answer I would have expected: “it depends”.  In the case we covered, the judge deciding the motion accepted one of the party’s “friend” request on Facebook – after the parties had submitted their written arguments – and he ultimately ruled in her favor.  Even though the Judge didn’t “like” or comment on any of the party’s posts or reply to any of her comments on his posts, when he subsequently granted the party’s modification motion.  The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, concluding that “the circuit court’s undisclosed ESM connection with a current litigant in this case created a great risk of actual bias, resulting in the appearance of partiality”, reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings before a different judge.  Clearly, timing played a part in that ruling.  So, should judges be friends with parties or attorneys appearing in their cases?  It depends.  :o)

So, what do you think?  Should judges accepting friend requests from litigants or attorneys disqualify them from ruling in their cases?  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.

Mobile Phone Spoliation Ends Not One, But Two Cases for Kevin Spacey: eDiscovery Case News

If you keep track of Hollywood news, you probably already know this story.  But, as David Horrigan discussed in an article last week, you may not know all the details or what it might mean for future cases.

In Legaltech® News (Commonwealth v. Fowler: What the Kevin Spacey Cases Mean for E-Discovery and the Law), David discusses the case Commonwealth v. Fowler, a criminal prosecution, and a related civil action, Little v. Fowler, stem from sexual assault allegations against the actor Kevin Spacey (whose legal name is Kevin Spacey Fowler).

In allegations that made headlines around the world two years later, an 18-year-old employee of a Nantucket restaurant claimed that, in the summer of 2016, Spacey plied him with alcohol and groped him at the restaurant. Of course, Spacey’s lawyers had a different take, arguing the encounter was a “mutual and consensual flirtation” and that the employee had told Spacey he was 23.  And, also of course, Spacey’s lawyers demanded discovery of the employee’s mobile phone, seeking text, video and Snapchat data from the date of the incident to the date of the discovery request.

Text messages between the employee and his girlfriend – purported to have been sent at the time of the alleged incident – had already been entered into the court record via screenshots. They included descriptions of the alleged incident by the employee and text responses from his girlfriend, including some with multiple emojis.  However, Spacey’s defense counsel argued that some of the text messages had been edited and the employee’s mother, a former Boston television news reporter, admitted that she had deleted some data (which she claimed was unrelated to the alleged incident) from the phone before turning it over to law enforcement.

But, that wasn’t the worst issue related to the phone.  The phone itself disappeared.  Law enforcement notes indicated the mobile phone had been returned to the employee’s family, but the family’s attorney told the court, “My clients do not recall ever receiving the phone.”  And, although the employee’s family said the phone had been backed up, Spacey’s counsel argued that wasn’t good enough and that they were entitled to the phone itself.  When Spacey’s counsel asked the employee whether he knew altering evidence was a crime, the employee invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, which resulted in the charges being dropped in the criminal case (after the civil case had already been dropped a few days before).  No phone = two cases closed.

In his article, David notes several interesting considerations from the cases, ranging from discovery of mobile devices to the use of emojis to the significance of social media (with a Snapchat video being important in the case as well).  Probably his most notable observation was whether the loss of the phone would have thrown out the evidence in the civil case with amended FRCP Rule 37(e) providing that sanctions were available when evidence “cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery.”  Those phone backups might have led to a different result in the civil case.

I already noted that in our webcast last week (Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for the First Half of 2019), Tom O’Connor and I discussed several cases (including this one, this one and this one) where spoliation and sanctions associated with smartphone ESI were the key issue being addressed.  Chalk up another one.

BTW, speaking of David: As I noted before, I am speaking at ILTACON in a couple of weeks as part of ILTACON’s brand new Litigation Support Day, which features a DAY of SPARK (Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable) talks by leaders in the industry.  I will be participating in Session One – Litigation Support State of the Union from 9:00-10:30am that day (my talk is slated for approximately 9:35). I will be speaking about legal trends in the industry, with David moderating, so that means recent case law trends that should be interesting.  Do you think mobile device discovery will be one of those trends?  If you’re planning to be at ILTACON, come find out!

So, what do you think?  Would the phone backups have enabled the civil case to continue?  As always, please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Image Copyright © Netflix

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.