Case Law

Court Denies Defendant’s Motion to Compel Production of Documents and Metadata: eDiscovery Case Law

Yes, it’s that time of year!  Time for another Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, which means only one thing – it’s time for Case Week on the eDiscovery Channel (a.k.a., eDiscovery Daily).  That means a week full of case law, with our webcast on Wednesday regarding Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for First Half of 2019 in between!  Here’s the first case of Case Week!

In Washington v. GEO Group, Inc., No. 17-5806 RJB (W.D. Wash. July 1, 2019), Washington District Judge Robert J. Bryan denied the defendant’s Motion to Compel Production of Documents and Metadata, ruling that the defendant “fails to identify a specific response for production to which the State did not respond”, that the defendant “has not shown that the [metadata] is relevant and proportional to the needs of the case” and that the “the parties have not met and conferred as to this recent log as required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1).”

Case Background

In this unjust enrichment case filed by the State of Washington against a private corporation that operates a detention facility, the defendant filed a motion in August 2018 for an order compelling the State to produce information from various State agencies related to State work programs, maintaining that the information was “extremely relevant to GEO’s affirmative defenses of unclean hands and laches.”  The State opposed the motion, arguing that the State Agencies were not parties to the case and that the State agencies were better positioned to respond themselves.  In October 2018, the defendant’s motion to compel was granted.

Subsequently, the defendant moved for an order compelling the State to produce: 1) relevant information from all agencies for (a) the State’s use of work programs at its correctional or rehabilitation facilities, including why it pays some (but not all) work program participants market wages, whether the participants are volunteers, the hours worked, duties performed, and pay rates for participants, and the State’s use of contractors to assist in the operation of work programs and (b) the State’s assessment of federal and/or state law as it relates to the operation of work program; 2) accurate and complete metadata for all of its productions, including custodian and author information, dates of creation and modification, and file path without modification; and 3) logged documents on the common interest privilege log that are missing date, author, sender, recipient, or subject matter information and communications between third parties for which no basis for common interest privilege exists.

Judge’s Ruling

Regarding the motion to compel documents regarding work programs, Judge Bryan stated: “GEO’s motion to compel documents regarding the work programs should be denied. The State argues that it reviewed thousands of pages of discovery from five agencies and produced hundreds of pages responsive to the requests for production. GEO fails to identify a specific response for production to which the State did not respond. In its reply, it identifies ‘discovery categories’ and then collectively cites 17 requests for production that it asserts applies.  This is not sufficient and the motion should be denied.”

Regarding the motion to compel accurate metadata, Judge Bryan stated: “GEO’s motion for an order compelling the State to produce accurate metadata should be denied. The State indicates that it has complied with the October 2, 2018 Order to the extent that it was able, particularly as it relates to the custodians. Further, GEO has not shown that the information is relevant and proportional to the needs of the case.”

Regarding the motion to compel related to common privilege log, Judge Bryan stated: “GEO’s motion to compel either an updated common privilege log or the documents for which the State has failed to meet its burden should be denied. The State has now produced an updated log. Moreover, it appears that the parties have not met and conferred as to this recent log as required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1).”

As a result, Judge Bryan denied the defendant’s motion to compel.

So, what do you think?  Should the motion to compel have been denied?  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 Protective Order, Court Orders Plaintiff to Produce Source Code and Log File Printouts: eDiscovery Case Law

In Opternative, Inc. v. Jand, Inc., 17-CV-6936 (RA)(SN) (S.D.N.Y. July 12, 2019), New York Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to compel the plaintiff to produce printouts of two files of source code, a printout of a log file, and a listing of directories and files.  Judge Netburn ordered the plaintiff to produce the source code and log file printouts requested, but not the file directory listing, choosing to reserve judgment on that for the time being.

Case Background

In this case involving alleged unlawful use of information that the plaintiff claimed the defendant used to launch a competing online eye-examination service, a big part of the case came down to source code.  The parties agreed to a protective order where “any material designated as ‘Highly Confidential — Source Code’ will not be produced in a native format…Instead, the source code must be ‘made available for inspection, in a format allowing it to be reasonably reviewed and searched, during normal business hours or at other mutually agreeable times at an office of the Producing Party’s counsel or another mutually agreed upon location’…The on-site review is highly circumscribed…It must be conducted in a ‘secured room without Internet access or network access to other computers’…The inspecting party is prohibited from copying, removing, or transferring any files from the secure location…The inspecting party may, however, request printouts ‘of limited portions of source code that are reasonably necessary for the preparation of court filings, pleadings, expert reports, discovery responses, or demonstratives (‘Papers’), or for deposition or trial, but shall not request paper copies for the purposes of reviewing the source code other than electronically.’”

Pursuant to that Order, the plaintiff designated the source code of an alleged prototype developed by Brian Strobach as highly confidential source code and the defendant’s counsel and its expert witness inspected the source code at the offices of Plaintiff’s counsel in May 2019, for about five hours.  The defendant followed up with that review by requesting printouts of twenty files, consisting of as much as 12,000 lines of code.  The plaintiff responded that it believed that this request was not compliant with the Protective Order, but that it “would be happy to consider a narrower request.”  In response, Defendant narrowed its request to printouts of: (1) two files of source code comprising 354 lines of code fitting on 6 pages; (2) a log file; and (3) a directory of the files contained in the source code written by Strobach.  The plaintiff refused, arguing that the request for the two files was not compliant with the protective order and that it would produce the log file and directory only if the defendant agreed to a reciprocal exchange.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the source code request and the plaintiff’s objections, Judge Netburn characterized the plaintiff’s belief that the Protective Order may allow for the use of printouts during a deposition, but that it prohibits requests for the purpose of preparing for the deposition as “frivolous”, stating “[t]hat definition would require attorneys writing their deposition outlines to sit in a secured room with the source code, away from their offices, without access to the internet or any other network. That is a significant burden that also would do nothing to promote the confidentiality of the source code.”  With regard to the plaintiff’s other objection that the defendant did not articulate why these two files were reasonably necessary for Strobach’s deposition, Judge Netburn ruled that the defendant had provided “a reasonably necessary basis for the request” that “likely would [not] be narrowed with further on-site review.”

With regard to the log file request, Judge Netburn referred to the impasse as “truly strange” and ordered the plaintiff to produce the file, ruling that “Plaintiff has not demonstrated anything resembling good cause” for denying the request and that their contention of the defendant’s definition of “Highly Confidential — Source Code” was “an airing of grievances” and “not a basis for denying Defendant’s motion.”

As for the file directory request, Judge Netburn denied the defendant’s motion without prejudice, stating: “Instead of blindly tilting the balance of this standoff, the Court will reserve its judgment. If Plaintiff or Defendant is unable to obtain file directories to its satisfaction, then they should file properly supported briefing with the Court.”

So, what do you think?  Do you agree with the judge’s reasons for ordering production of the source code and log file?  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.

No Proof of Intent to Deprive Means No Adverse Inference Sanction: eDiscovery Case Law

We’re catching up on a few cases from earlier this year in preparation for our Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for First Half of 2019 webcast next Wednesday.  Here is an interesting case ruling from April.

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.”

Case Background

In this case where the plaintiff alleged the defendants were conspiring to purchase vehicles at above market rates from Pauley Motor, the plaintiff filed a motion for spoliation sanctions against Pauley Motor.  During discovery, Pauley Motor first stated in its interrogatory responses that no text messages between Pauley Motor representatives and defendant Pettigrew existed.  However, in his 30(b)(6) deposition, Bruce Pauley stated that he had exchanged text messages with Pettigrew, but he was ultimately unable to produce the content of the text messages because he had obtained a new phone and had not preserved the contents of his previous phone, despite being put on notice to do so in November of 2016 by a litigation hold letter issued by the plaintiff’s counsel.  As a result, the plaintiff requested that the Court impose a mandatory adverse inference that the content of the text messages was unfavorable to Pauley Motor.

Judge’s Ruling

In considering the motion, Judge Smith stated that “Pauley Motor does not dispute that it had an obligation to preserve text messages between its representatives and Pettigrew or that it failed to take reasonable steps to preserve them…DriveTime has also established that the text messages cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, because neither Pettigrew nor the wireless carriers for Pauley Motor’s representatives have access to them either…Thus, in order to obtain the mandatory adverse inference it seeks under Rule 37(e)(2), the only additional requirement under the Rule is that Pauley Motor acted with the intent to deprive DriveTime of the text messages’ use in the litigation when it failed to preserve them.”

However, Judge Smith also said: “Although Bruce Pauley failed to take reasonable steps to preserve the text messages when he switched to a different phone, there is no evidence that he did so intentionally beyond DriveTime’s speculation. This is not sufficient to impose a mandatory adverse inference under Rule 37(e)(2).”  As a result, Judge Smith found that “DriveTime has not sufficiently demonstrated that Pauley Motor acted with the requisite intent.”

But, Judge Smith noted that “less severe sanctions are available to DriveTime under Rule 37(e)(1) upon a finding of prejudice.”  As a result, he stated that “the Court will order curative measures under Rule 37(e)(1)… In this case, the Court finds it appropriate to order that DriveTime will be permitted to introduce evidence at trial, if it wishes, of the litigation hold letter and Pauley Motor’s subsequent failure to preserve the text messages. DriveTime may argue for whatever inference it hopes the jury will draw. Pauley Motor may present its own admissible evidence and argue to the jury that they should not draw any inference from Pauley Motor’s conduct.”

So, what do you think?  Did the judge go far enough or should the failure to preserve the evidence have been considered intent to deprive?  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 to Learn About Key eDiscovery Case Law in 2019 (so far) and How it Affects You: eDiscovery Webcasts

The appearance of the shark can only mean one thing – it’s time for our eDiscovery case week on The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week! Don’t worry, it makes sense to us. :o) So far, 2019 has been another interesting year with notable and important case law decisions related to eDiscovery best practices. What do you need to know about the cases to avoid mistakes made by others and save time and money for your clients?  Here’s a webcast where you can catch up on these cases and find out what they mean to you!

On Wednesday, July 31st at noon CST (1:00pm EST, 10:00am PST), CloudNine will conduct the webcast Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for First Half of 2019.  This CLE-approved* webcast session will cover key case law covered by the eDiscovery Daily Blog during the first half of 2019 to identify trends that lawyers should consider for their own practices. Key topics include:

  • Can ESI related to an unsolved murder case be compelled to be produced in a related civil case?
  • Is the use of biometric fingerprint scanning technology an invasion of privacy?
  • When can non-parties be compelled to produce ESI in litigation?
  • Are social media photos that you didn’t post discoverable if you’ve been tagged in them?
  • Can sanctions be so important that you fight NOT to have a claim against you dismissed?
  • Is being forced to provide your cell phone password the “death knell” for fifth amendment protection?
  • Should a case ruling be reversed if a judge is Facebook friends with one of the parties?
  • Should discovery be stayed while a motion to dismiss is being considered?
  • Does Rule 37(e) eliminate the potential for obtaining sanctions for spoliation of ESI?

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 from past eDiscovery case law decisions, this is the webcast for you!

So, what do you think?  Do you think case law regarding eDiscovery issues affects how you manage discovery?  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 Requests His Entire PST File, Court Says No: eDiscovery Case Law

In Russell v. Kiewit Corp., No. 18-2144-KHV (D. Kan. June 4, 2019), Kansas Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara denied the plaintiff’s motion seeking to compel supplemental discovery responses by the seven defendants, including the request to receive his entire e-mail personal storage (PST) file, agreeing with the defendants’ contention that the request was overly broad and not proportional.

Case Background

In this case where the plaintiff alleged he was fired in retaliation for opposing age discrimination, disability discrimination, and FMLA violations in the workplace through his role in the defendant’s human resources department, the parties had several unresolved issues that they could not agree on with regard to discovery.  The defendants proposed that the scope of electronic discovery would run from May 27, 2015 through April 22, 2016 and focus on specifically identified custodians using agreed and limited search terms, but the plaintiff did not agree with those propose limitations.

Among the areas where there were disputes were: 1) plaintiff’s email, where the plaintiff moved to compel defendants to produce the e-mail file from his entire employment with defendants as a PST file; 2) the scope of discovery searches; 3) discovery requests to additional entities beyond the plaintiff’s employer; and 4) the plaintiff’s request for policies related to the HR and IT operations of the defendants for whom plaintiff was not an employee.  The parties did resolve their dispute over production of the data from plaintiff’s company-issued iPhone.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to production of the plaintiff’s PST file, the plaintiff argued that the defendants had an unfair advantage by having access to e-mails that the plaintiff could not access, also arguing that it was proportional to allow him to “see all emails in context maintained in his own email folders” because it “equalizes access.”  The defendants argued the plaintiff’s request was overly broad and not proportional, asserting they had searched for all terms requested by plaintiff, as well as many additional search terms not requested by plaintiff, and produced all responsive e-mails.

With regard to this dispute, Judge O’Hara stated: “The court agrees with defendants. Rule 26(b)(3)(c) relates to a party’s ‘own previous statement about the action or its subject matter.’ To the extent plaintiff seeks his own e-mails related to this action, those were captured in the e-mails defendants produced in response to plaintiff’s search terms, plus the additional terms defendants searched…Conspicuously, plaintiff has not cited any authority for the proposition that Rule 26(b)(3)(C) requires the production of all statements plaintiff has ever made in an e-mail about any subject, such that his entire e-mail file during his tenure with Kiewit Energy must be produced.

Although plaintiff is entitled to request the production of files in .pst format, which are ‘generally associated with the Microsoft Outlook email program,’ Document Request No. 29 seeks the entire file for the ‘email account assigned to plaintiff during his employment with defendants.’  Plaintiff purports to address the ‘proportionality standpoint’ by arguing the .pst file would allow him to more efficiently review the file. But producing the entire PST is ‘simply requesting discovery regardless of relevancy,’ which most definitely is not the standard under the 2015 amendments to Rule 26(b). The language in Document Request No. 29 is not tied to plaintiff’s protected activity or his employment with the company; rather, plaintiff requests the entire e-mail account during the entire length of his employment. That request is facially overly broad and not proportional. Plaintiff has not shown how every e-mail he has sent and received is relevant to this action, particularly in light of defendants’ production of 775 documents from e-mail searches.  The court sustains defendants’ objection to Document Request No. 29.”

Judge O’Hara also found that “defendants have adequately responded to plaintiff’s discovery requests” and rejected his requests for ESI from other entities, sustaining the defendants’ objection that the requests were overly broad and not proportional.

So, what do you think?  Should a former employee have the right to look at his or her entire email repository in litigation?  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 That Privilege Assertion and Potential Fraud Don’t Mix: eDiscovery Case Law

See what I did there?  ;o)

In Gates Corp. v. CRP Indus., Inc., No. 16-cv-01145-KLM (D. Colo. May 21, 2019), Colorado Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix overruled the Defendant’s Objection to Report and Recommendation of Special Master on Gates Corporation’s Motion to Pierce Attorney/Client Privilege and proceeded with the Discovery Master’s recommendation, ordering the defendant to submit for in camera review readable and searchable versions of the documents identified as privileged by the defendant (along with an Excel spreadsheet of the privilege log) to the Special Master for review.

Case Background

This dispute involved whether actions by the defendant (alleged to be “a direct competitor of” the plaintiff) in response to the plaintiff’s inquiry about its former employee’s theft of proprietary information can serve as the basis for invocation of the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege.  After plaintiff’s counsel notified the defendant of the potential theft of proprietary information by plaintiff’s former and defendant’s then-current employee, Laura Bale (“Bale”), the company eventually commenced an “investigation”, by having a non-lawyer human resources executive perform a keyword search of David Hirschhorn’s (“Hirschhorn”) emails, Bale’s supervisor throughout her employment with the defendant.  That search “did not find any evidence that [Hirschhorn] had received any proprietary information from Bale.”

As noted by Judge Mix in her recount of the facts “it is now undisputed that this conclusion [that Hirschhorn did not “receive” any of Plaintiff’s proprietary information from Bale] was incorrect.”  The defendant acknowledged that Hirschhorn subsequently admitted to the FBI that he received and opened the file containing Plaintiff’s confidential information, and the defendant had made no argument that Hirschhorn lied to the FBI.  Bale subsequently testified under oath that Hirschhorn knew about her possession of the plaintiff’s proprietary database approximately six months after she started working for the defendant, long before the “investigation” began. Despite Bale’s compromised credibility, her testimony in this regard had been amply confirmed by other evidence.

In objecting to the Discovery Master’s report, the defendant contended:

  1. That because Plaintiff’s counsel’s letter about the alleged theft “implicated Bale alone, [Defendant] reasonably focused its investigation on Bale, who worked off of her own laptop and used a personal email address, instead of launching a company-wide investigation”;
  2. That Hirschhorn did not admit any knowledge of wrongdoing at the time of the investigation and that the company only learned several years later that he received and opened the file containing Plaintiff’s confidential information;
  3. That the Discovery Master erroneously recognized mere spoliation as a “crime” or “fraud” which triggers the exception; and
  4. That the Discovery Master took it upon himself to find a basis for application of the crime-fraud exception on grounds not asserted by Plaintiff.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the defendant’s contentions, Judge Mix responded as follows:

  1. Noting that Bale “was not a solitary or isolated employee” and that “her work contemplated and required frequent interactions with other company employees”, Judge Mix stated that “I cannot agree that so limiting the investigation was reasonable or prudent.”
  2. Judge Mix noted that “if Defendant were correct, corporate parties to litigation could avoid scrutiny of their attorney-client communications by simply contending that although some employees did bad things, the wrongdoers neither admitted it to select company representatives nor did those representatives otherwise find out about it, so the crime-fraud exception does not apply.” She indicated that “argument flies in the face of long-standing precedent holding that corporate agents’ acts are attributable to the corporate entity.”
  3. Judge Mix observed that “spoliation can occur as a result of mere negligence or intentional destruction of evidence, so to the extent that the Discovery Master concluded that intentional spoliation supports application of the crime-fraud exception, his conclusion is not inconsistent with the intent requirement of the doctrine.” She also stated that “the Court need not decide whether Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of intentional spoliation to invoke the crime-fraud exception, as the evidence of fraudulent concealment discussed above is a sufficient basis to do so.”
  4. Agreeing with the plaintiff’s contention that it actually did raise the issues discussed in the Discovery Master’s Order, Judge Mix pointed out that “Defendant itself concluded, in responding to Plaintiff’s Motion [#88], that Plaintiff was ‘insinuat[ing] that [Defendant] engaged in spoliation of materials relevant to this action.’”

As a result, Judge Mix overruled the Defendant’s Objection to the Discovery Master’s recommendation, ordering the defendant to submit its identified privileged documents for in camera review.

So, what do you think?  Should the defendant have have been forced to turn over the documents it identified as privileged?  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.

Simon Says – Once, Twice, Three Times a Spoliator: eDiscovery Case Law

OK, it’s not as catchy as Lionel Ritchie’s hit song, but it’s funny. :o)

In Univ. Accounting Serv., LLC v. Schulton, No. 3:18-cv-1486-SI (D. Or. June 7, 2019), Oregon District Judge Michael H. Simon granted in part the plaintiff’s Motion for Terminating Spoliation Sanctions Against Defendant Ethan Schulton, finding that the defendant “acted with the intent to deprive” the plaintiff of information that he deleted, but granted the plaintiff’s alternative motion for lesser sanctions, choosing to provide the jury with a permissive inference spoliation instruction against the defendant instead of case termination sanctions.

Case Background

In this dispute over a software platform provided to the plaintiff, named defendant Ethan Schulton was the lead software developer and chief architect of the software platform.  According to the plaintiff, in February 2016, named defendant ScholarChip told the plaintiff it would have to pay substantially higher fees if it wanted to continue using the software platform it developed.  In March 2016, Schulton recognized the possibility that the plaintiff might bring a lawsuit by asking ScholarChip’s CEO and CTO about giving the plaintiff the source code to avoid a lawsuit.  The following month, Schulton sent an email to his legal counsel, and copied others within ScholarChip, about forming a new legal entity.  The situation between the parties continued to deteriorate over the next several months, with the parties filing lawsuits against each other.

In July 2018, approximately seven months after Schulton voluntarily left ScholarChip’s employment, Schulton sent an email both to the plaintiff and the CTO of ScholarChip, where he announced his intent to create a loan servicing system that would compete directly with the plaintiff. He further said that he would create the system based on knowledge acquired during his 15 years at ScholarChip and added that he would be communicating with and soliciting business from the plaintiff’s customers that he learned about through his work at ScholarChip for the plaintiff.  The next month, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit.

On March 7, 2018, Schulton accepted service of a deposition and document subpoena to which he responded: “I left ScholarChip with nothing but the knowledge gained over 15 years of employment. To use definitions from my recent document subpoena, I have no ‘CLIENT DATA,’ ‘DELIVERABLES,’ ‘SOFTWARE,’ or ‘WORK PRODUCT.’”

Despite that, as the opinion noted, Schulton had previously acknowledged that he used a “mechanism called Take Out” to export his entire ScholarChip e-mail account, which included all of its contents dating back to 2014, to Schulton’s personal “One Drive” cloud storage account. He also saved a copy of his ScholarChip email account on his personal computer.  He also saved electronic copies of several webinars with the plaintiff’s clients to his personal computer, which he took with him and kept after he left ScholarChip’s employment.  And, the day before a hearing in August 2018, Schulton located and deleted the file known as UAS’s “Private Client List,” which listed the plaintiff’s clients in descending order by ScholarChip revenue.  In the hearing, he stated “I deleted the file as fast as I could, because I was petrified at its existence, because it’s exactly the type of damning information that UAS wants to catch me with.”

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that the information deleted was 1) electronically stored information, 2) that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation, 3) (that) is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it and, 4) cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, Judge Simon stated: “These four threshold or predicate conditions have been satisfied” (to impose sanctions).

Judge Simon summed up the spoliation, as follows:

“The Private Client List, the ScholarChip emails, and the webinar recordings are all electronically stored information. In March 2016, Shulton anticipated the possibility of litigation. By June 2017, litigation between UAS and ScholarChip had begun. In the fall of 2017, Schulton downloaded to his personal computer and personal cloud account the electronically stored information at issue. On March 7, 2018, with litigation pending between ScholarChip and UAS in federal court in New York, Schulton received a document subpoena, and his first act of spoliation occurred four days later, on March 11, 2018. Schulton’s second act of spoliation occurred on April 9, 2018. In August 2018, UAS commenced this lawsuit in federal court in Oregon and requested a TRO, which was scheduled for August 22, 2018. The day before the TRO, Schulton committed his third act of spoliation. The Private Client List, the ScholarChip emails, and the webinar recordings all appear to be relevant to the several lawsuits. Accordingly, they should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation. Further, intentionally destroying evidence satisfies the standard for failing to take reasonable steps to preserve that evidence. Finally, UAS has attempted to restore or replace through additional discovery the deleted information but has been unsuccessful. Thus, UAS has satisfied the four threshold elements under Rule 37(e).”

As a result, Judge Simon granted in part the plaintiff’s motion, choosing to provide the jury with a permissive inference spoliation instruction against the defendant instead of case termination sanctions.

So, what do you think?  Should the defendant have received case termination 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 Rejects Plaintiff’s Timeliness and Form Served Arguments; Grants Defendant’s Motion to Compel: eDiscovery Case Law

In Frey v. Minter, No. 4:18-CV-191 (CDL) (M.D. Ga. June 12, 2019), Georgia Chief U.S. District Court Judge Clay D. Land rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that the defendant’s discovery requests were untimely and were not properly served and granted the defendant’s motion to compel against the plaintiff.  With regard to the defendant’s motion to compel against a non-party law firm, Judge Clay ordered that firm to provide the defendant with an estimated cost for responding to the requests, and upon payment of those costs, to produce the documents within twenty-one days.

Case Background

In this defamation case filed by one attorney against another attorney and his client regarding their claims of alleged fraudulent and unethical conduct by the plaintiff as a creditor against a former client, the parties filed a joint case management report, proposing a discovery deadline of January 26, 2019 and agreeing that “all discovery must be commenced in time to be completed before this date.”  The parties also agreed that each party would “timely serve discovery requests so that the rules allow for a response prior to the discovery deadline.”  After the plaintiff appealed several of the Court’s rulings in January 2019 and the appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, the Court found good cause for an amended scheduling order and instructed the parties to submit a joint proposed scheduling order that included an updated discovery deadline.

The parties agreed to a deadline for motions to compel previously issued discovery requests and the Court initially entered an amended scheduling order that provided for no motions to compel, noting that any discovery motions should have been filed during discovery. However, the defendant sought reconsideration, asserting that the parties had agreed that “no new discovery requests would be issued, but that they could seek Court action on requests that had already been issued.”  The plaintiff opposed the motion for reconsideration, anticipating that the defendant might seek to compel responses to discovery requests that were made on the eve of the discovery deadline.

The Court granted the motion for reconsideration and adopted the deadlines that the parties originally proposed, knowing that any motion to compel would likely relate to discovery requests that were served during discovery, even those that were technically untimely under the Case Management and Scheduling Order.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Clay stated: “Given that the Court had found good cause for an amendment of the scheduling order and had invited the parties to extend all of the deadlines, including the discovery deadline, the Court’s ruling that permitted post-discovery motions to compel likewise included the right to compel responses to any discovery that had been propounded prior to the expiration of the discovery deadline, even if responses to that discovery could not have been made prior to the previous discovery deadline. To hold otherwise would make the Court’s order extending the motion to compel deadline meaningless because there would be no discovery requests that could be compelled. Accordingly, the Court finds that Minter’s motion to compel shall not be denied based upon his failure to serve his discovery requests within the deadline established by the earlier case management order.”

Judge Clay also rejected the plaintiff’s other objection to the motion – that he was not properly served with the requests because he did not consent in writing to service of discovery requests via email.  Noting that the plaintiff had responded to the defendant’s former attorney’s question regarding whether email service to his email address is sufficient for the federal court filings by stating “Yes, this email is good”, Judge Clay stated: “Minter was justified in believing that Frey had consented to service of discovery requests by email. Even if Frey had not so consented, any deficiency in Minter’s service was harmless because it is clear that Frey received the document requests. The Court declines to deny the motion to compel on this ground.”  As a result, the defendant’s motion to compel was granted and the plaintiff was ordered to respond within twenty-one days.

Judge Clay also observed that “Minter also filed a motion to compel against non-party law firm Hunton, contending that the firm failed to respond adequately to his subpoena.”  Noting that “[t]he Court is sensitive about imposing unnecessary costs upon a non-party”, Judge Clay stated that “[t]hat concern can be addressed, however, by requiring Minter to pay for Hunton’s expenses associated with responding to the request.”  As a result, Judge Clay ordered that firm to provide the defendant with an estimated cost for responding to the requests, and upon payment of those costs, to produce the documents within twenty-one days.

So, what do you think?  Should the motion have been denied if they were untimely in the Case Management and Scheduling Order?  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.

Discovery “Cautionary Tale” Leads to Recommendations of Default Judgment Against Defendants: eDiscovery Case Law

In Abbott Laboratories, et al. v. Adelphia Supply USA, et al., No. 15 CV 5826 (CBA) (LB) (E.D.N.Y. May 2, 2019), New York Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom, noting that the plaintiff’s motion for case ending sanctions against H&H Wholesale Services, Inc., its principal, Howard Goldman, and its marketing manager and Mr. Goldman’s wife, Lori Goldman (“H&H Defendants”) for wide-scale discovery misconduct “presents a cautionary tale about how not to conduct discovery in federal court” recommended that the plaintiffs’ motion be granted, and that the Court should enter a default judgment against the H&H Defendants.

This case (covered here by Law360, subscription required; report and recommendation linked here) involves trademark and trade dress infringement, unfair competition, trademark dilution and other claims associated with the illegal sale of Abbott’s FreeStyle blood glucose test strips in the US.  Judge Bloom began the report and recommendations document with this statement:

“This motion presents a cautionary tale about how not to conduct discovery in federal court.”

Among the discovery issues according to Judge Bloom (and plaintiff allegations):

  • The documents the H&H defendants originally produced were printed “in hard copy, scanning them all together, and producing them as a single, 1941-page PDF file”;
  • H&H used search terms it knew wouldn’t turn up results (“such as ‘International’ and ‘FreeStyle,’ whereas H&H’s internal systems used item numbers and other abbreviations such as ‘INT’ and ‘INTE’ for International and ‘FRL’ and ‘FSL’ for FreeStyle”) and specifically removed other damning documents – particularly those involving Howard Goldman and Lori Goldman – and provided numerous false excuses for these omissions;
  • The testimony from H&H’s general manager regarding the discovery woes was “clearly inconsistent if not perjured from his deposition” opposing the sanctions motion, Howard Goldman’s testimony was “evasive and self-serving at best” and H&H’s corporate representative’s testimony was “clearly perjured”;
  • “H&H would have gotten away” with its fraud if not for Abbott being allowed to seize H&H’s computers as part of a related counterfeiting case, which allowed previously withheld documents to come to light.

“H&H only complied with the court’s orders and their discovery obligations when their backs were against the wall,” Judge Bloom wrote. “Their email server had been seized. There was no longer an escape from responsibility for their bad faith conduct … But for being caught in a web of irrefutable evidence, H&H would have profited from their misconduct.”

She added that the lies were part of a “calculated pattern of pervasive misconduct that started early on and continued even after defendants were caught red handed,” meaning the case must be ended with a victory handed to Abbott.

H&H had previously been sanctioned for its discovery misconduct, with Judge Bloom in 2018 blocking the supplier from raising attorney-client or work-product privilege defenses for a certain set of discovery production.

Even other companies that Abbott had also sued had gone after H&H and Kerr Russell for letting Goldman listen to remote depositions of other parties, in violation of a protective order.

In recommending that the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions be granted and a default judgment being issued against the H&H defendants, Judge Bloom stated:

“The Court finds that the H&H defendants have committed a fraud upon the court, and that the harshest sanction is warranted. Therefore, plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions should be granted and a default judgment should be entered against H&H Wholesale Services, Inc., Howard Goldman, and Lori Goldman.”

So, what do you think?  Do you agree with the harsh sanction recommendations?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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

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

Court Orders Plaintiff to Share in Discovery Costs of Non-Party: eDiscovery Case Law

In Lotus Indus., LLC v. Archer, No. 2:17-cv-13482 (E.D. Mich. May 24, 2019), Michigan Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti granted in part and denied in part without prejudice non-party City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) motion for protective order in connection with the Court’s order granting in part and denying in part the plaintiff’s motion to compel documents requested by subpoena, ordering the plaintiff to pay some of DDA’s discovery costs, but not as much as DDA requested.

Case Background

In this civil RICO and First Amendment retaliation case associated with redevelopment of property in Detroit, the Plaintiff filed a motion to compel production of documents requested in his September 2018 subpoena to nonparty DDA in January 2019.  A hearing was held on the plaintiff’s motion on March 26, 2019, after which the Court entered an order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff’s motion, ordering DDA to produce, by April 26, 2019, documents responsive to Request Nos. 4-6 of Plaintiff’s subpoena for the November 19, 2016 to present time period, and to produce a privilege log for any documents withheld on the basis of privilege.

On April 19, 2019, DDA filed the instant motion for protective order, seeking an extension of time to produce responsive documents and requesting that the plaintiff pay DDA its share of the expenses of production before being obligated to begin to comply with the Court’s order, contending that the volume of potentially responsive documents was substantially larger than anticipated (48.5 GB of data) and would impose a significant expense on DDA to produce and require far more time to complete than allowed by the Court’s order.  DDA initially anticipated the total expense of production at $127,653.00, which included $21,875.00 in costs to upload the data and approximately $105,778.00 in attorney’s fees in connection with a privilege review. DDA requested Plaintiff pay the $21,875 in costs and 25% of the anticipated attorney’s fees ($26,444.50); in response, the plaintiff opposed that motion and questioned why the costs were so high.

At the May 8, 2019 hearing on the motion, the parties agreed on new search terms to further refine the number of responsive documents and the Court scheduled a status conference for May 23, 2019 to discuss the results of that search. On May 22, 2019, DDA submitted a supplemental brief explaining that the revised search yielded 8.5 GB of data that must be reviewed for privilege, at a cost of $2,125.00 to upload the data to counsel’s eDiscovery platform and anticipated costs of $44,705.00 in attorneys’ fees to conduct a privilege review, so it sought an order for the plaintiff to pay DDA $2,125.00 in costs and $11,176.25 in attorneys’ fees (still 25% of the total attorneys’ fees anticipated).

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Patti found that “DDA has sufficiently established that it will be forced to incur $2,125.00 in fixed costs to upload the 8.5 GB of data to its third-party e-discovery platform in order to review it for production, and that it anticipates incurring $44,705 in attorneys’ fees to conduct a privilege review, prepare a privilege log and prepare the non-privileged documents for production.”

He also noted that “DDA has demonstrated that it has no interest in the outcome of this litigation, as it is not a party and Plaintiff’s prior case against it was dismissed as a sanction for Plaintiff’s ‘repeated misrepresentations’ and ‘failures to comply with discovery orders — despite warnings and the imposition of less severe sanctions…While DDA may more readily bear the expense of production than Plaintiff, that factor alone does not dictate that Plaintiff is relieved of the obligation to pay for some of the expense of production, particularly where this litigation has no particularized public importance and considering the ‘unusual circumstances’ in this case, including that Plaintiff’s prior lawsuit against the DDA was dismissed as a sanction, and he and his clients have been at the receiving end of multiple sanction awards in related and unrelated litigation, significant portions of which this particular plaintiff and his counsel have apparently failed to pay…In addition, the subpoena was directed in part at the general counsel for DDA, and Plaintiff should have anticipated that production of documents in response would require a robust privilege review prior to production, especially given the litigation history between Plaintiff and the DDA.”

As a result, DDA’s motion was granted in part and denied in part without prejudice and Judge Patti ordered that:

  1. “Plaintiff must pay to DDA the sum of $4,360.25, which constitutes the $2,125.00 in costs to upload the 8.5 GB of data to DDA’s counsel’s e-discovery platform, and $2,235.25 in attorneys’ fees (5% of the anticipated attorneys’ fees to conduct a privilege review, prepare a privilege log and prepare the non-privileged documents for production).
  2. Plaintiff must deliver the $4,360.25 check payable to City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority (although the check can be delivered to counsel for DDA) on or before 5:00 p.m. Monday, June 3, 2019. Plaintiff shall also promptly certify such payment to the Court, and include a copy of the check.
  3. DDA need not continue further efforts to produce documents until it is paid in full. Once paid, DDA shall have 45 days from that date to produce responsive documents, and a privilege log for any documents withheld on the basis of privilege.”

So, what do you think?  Do you agree with the distribution of costs?  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.