Case Law

Deadline Extended to Vote for the Most Significant eDiscovery Case of 2010

 

Our ‘little experiment’ to see what the readers of eDiscoveryDaily think about case law developments in 2010 needs more time as we have not yet received enough votes yet to have a statistically significant result.  So, we’ve extended the deadline to select the case with the most significant impact on eDiscovery practices in 2010 to February 28.  Evidently, calling out the vote on the last business day before LegalTech is not the best timing.  Live and learn!

As noted previously, we have “nominated” five cases, which we feel were the most significant in different issues of case law, including duty to preserve and sanctions, clawback agreements under Federal Rule of Evidence 502, not reasonably accessible arguments and discoverability of social media content.  If you feel that some other case was the most significant case of 2010, you can select that case instead.  Again, it’s very important to note that you can vote anonymously, so we’re not using this as a “hook” to get your information.  You can select your case without providing any personal information.  However, we would welcome your comments as to why you selected the case you did and you can – optionally – identify yourself as well.

To get more information about the nominated cases (as well as other significant cases), click here.  To cast your vote, click here.

And, as always, please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Vote for the Most Significant eDiscovery Case of 2010!

 

Since it’s awards season, we thought we would get into the act from an eDiscovery standpoint.  Sure, you have Oscars, Emmys and Grammys – but what about “EDDies”?  (I’ll bet you wondered what Eddie Munster could possibly have to do with eDiscovery, didn’t you?)

So, we’re conducting a ‘little experiment’ to see what the readers of eDiscoveryDaily think about case law developments in 2010.  This is our first annual “EDDies” award to select the case with the most significant impact on eDiscovery practices in 2010.  No cash or prizes being awarded, or even a statuette, but a chance to see what the readers think was the most important case of the year from an eDiscovery standpoint.

We have “nominated” five cases below, which we feel were the most significant in different issues of case law, including duty to preserve and sanctions, clawback agreements under Federal Rule of Evidence 502, not reasonably accessible arguments and discoverability of social media content.  We have a link to review more information about each case, and a link at the bottom of this post to cast your vote.

Very Important!  You can vote anonymously, so we’re not using this as a “hook” to get your information.  You can click on the link at the bottom, select your case and be done with it.  However, we would welcome your comments as to why you selected the case you did and you can – optionally – identify yourself as well.  eDiscoveryDaily will publish selected comments to reflect opinion of the voters as well as the vote results on February 7.  Click here to cast your vote now!

So, here are the cases:

Duty to Preserve/Sanctions

  • The Pension Committee of the Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, 29010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 4546 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010) (as amended May 28, 2010) – “Pension Committee”: The case that defined negligence, gross negligence, and willfulness in the electronic discovery context and demonstrated the consequences (via sanctions) resulting from those activities.  Judge Shira Scheindlin titled her 85-page opinion “Zubulake Revisited: Six Years Later”.  For more on this case, click here.
  • Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 2010 WL 3530097 (D. Md. 2010) – “Victor Stanley II”: The case of “the gang that couldn’t spoliate straight” where one of the defendants faced imprisonment for up to 2 years (subsequently set aside on appeal) and the opinion included a 12 page chart delineating the preservation and spoliation standards in each judicial circuit.  For more on this case, click here and here.

Clawback Agreements

  • Rajala v. McGuire Woods LLP, 2010 WL 2949582 (D. Kan. July 22, 2010) – “Rajala”: The case that addressed the applicability of Federal Rule of Evidence 502(d) and (e) for “clawback” provisions for inadvertently produced privileged documents.  For more on this case, click here.

Not Reasonably Accessible

  • Major Tours, Inc. v. Colorel, 2010 WL 2557250 (D.N.J. June 22, 2010) – “Major Tours”: The case that established a precedent that a party may obtain a Protective Order relieving it of the duty to access backup tapes, even when that party’s failure to issue a litigation hold caused the data not to be available via any other means.  For more on this case, click here.

Social Media Discovery

  • Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (C.D. Calif. May 26, 2010) – “Crispin”: The case that used a 24 year old law (The Stored Communications Act of 1986) to address whether ‘private’ data on social networks is discoverable.  For more on this case, click here.

If you feel that some other case was the most significant case of 2010, you can select that case instead.  Other notable cases include:

  • Rimkus v. Cammarata, 2010 WL 645253 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 19, 2010): Where District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal examined spoliation laws of each of the 13 Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal.
  • Orbit One Communications Inc. v. Numerex Corp., 2010 WL 4615547 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 2010): Magistrate Judge James C. Francis concluded that sanctions for spoliation must be based on the loss of at least some information relevant to the dispute (differing with “Pension Committee” in this manner).
  • DeGeer v. Gillis, 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 97457(N.D. Ill. Sept. 17, 2010): Demonstration of inadvertent disclosure made FRE 502(d) effective, negating waiver of privilege.
  • Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., 2010 WL 2640492 (D. Del. June 21, 2010): Defendants’ motion to compel the production of ESI for a period of 18 years was granted, with imposed cost-shifting.
  • E.E.O.C. v. Simply Storage Management, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52766 (S.D. Ind. May 11, 2010): EEOC is ordered to produce certain social networking communications.
  • McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., No. 113-2010 CD (C.P. Jefferson, Sept. 9, 2010): Motion to Compel discovery of social network account log-in names and passwords was granted.

Click here to cast your vote now!  Results will be published in eDiscoveryDaily on February 7.

The success of this ‘little experiment’ will determine whether next year there is a second annual “EDDies” award.  😉

And, as always, please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

eDiscovery Case Law: When is Attorney-Client Communication NOT Privileged?

One answer: When it’s from your work email account, and your employer has a written policy that company email is not private and subject to audit.  Oh, and you’re suing your employer.

In Holmes v. Petrovich Dev. Co., LLC, 2011 WL 117230 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2011), a California court of appeals upheld a trial court ruling that emails from a plaintiff to her attorney via her company’s computer “did not constitute ‘confidential communication between client and lawyer’ within the meaning of Evidence Code section 952” and thus were not privileged.

The plaintiff, Gina Holmes worked as an executive assistant at Petrovich Development of Sacramento, California.  When hired, she read and signed the company’s policies regarding use of computers, which informed employees that they had no right of privacy to any personal information created or maintained on company computers, and that such information was subject to monitoring.

Holmes claimed Petrovich Development became hostile when it found out she was pregnant shortly after being hired in 2004 and used her company’s computer to communicate with an attorney, eventually quitting her job and suing her employer.  During the case, emails between her and her attorney were introduced at trial “to show Holmes did not suffer severe emotional distress, was only frustrated and annoyed, and filed the action at the urging of her attorney”.  Despite plaintiff’s protests that the emails were privileged, they were not excluded from evidence at trial.  Rather, the trial court ruled that the emails “were not protected … because they were not private.”  Because the plaintiff did not prevail on any of her claims, she appealed, claiming the court erred in failing to exclude the emails.

In a 3-0 decision by the Sacramento Third Appellate District, they affirmed the findings of the trial court, stating that the plaintiff’s use of the company computer after being expressly advised that her messages were not private was “akin to consulting her attorney in one of defendants’ conference rooms, in a loud voice, with the door open, yet unreasonably expecting that the conversation overheard … would be privileged.”.  The court also noted that “communication under these circumstances is not a “‘confidential communication between client and lawyer’ “ within the meaning of section 952 because it is not transmitted “by a means which, so far as the client is aware, discloses the information to no third persons other than those who are present to further the interest of the client in the consultation….”.

So, what do you think?  Was justice served?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

eDiscovery Case Law: Privilege Waived for Produced Servers

If you were at the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) trade show this past August, you may have noticed a huge unfinished building in the middle of the strip – the Fontainebleau Resort.  It sits idle after financing was pulled, forcing Fontainebleau Las Vegas LLC to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June of 2009.  Naturally, lawsuits followed, between the Term Lenders and Fontainebleau Resort, LLC (FRLLC), the third party parent of Fontainebleau Las Vegas – In re Fontainebleau Las Vegas Contract Litig., (S.D. Fla. Jan 7, 2011)

A company that responded to a third party subpoena and court orders compelling production by handing over three servers to lenders without conducting any relevancy review and without reviewing two of the servers for privileged materials waived privilege for documents on the two servers that were not reviewed.

The parent company of a resort in bankruptcy proceedings was served by lenders to the resort with a subpoena for production of documents. The company did not object to the scope of the subpoena, and the court granted a motion of the lenders to compel production. Counsel for the company then halted work by an e-discovery vendor who had completed screening the company’s email server for responsive documents but had not started a privilege review because of concerns that the company could not pay for the services. Counsel for the company also sought to withdraw from the case, but the company was unable to find new counsel.

Rather than seeking a stay or challenging discovery rulings from the court, the company turned over data from a document server, an accounting server, and an email server. According to the court, the three servers were turned over to the lenders without any meaningful review for relevancy or responsiveness. Despite an agreement with the lenders on search terms for the email server, the company produced a 126 gigabyte disk with 700,000 emails from that server and then, without asking for leave of court, was late in producing a privilege log for data on the email server. The lenders sought direction from the court on waiver of privilege and their obligation if they found privileged materials in the data produced by the company. The company for the first time then raised objections to the burdensomeness of the original subpoena served over six months earlier given the company’s lack of resources or employees to conduct a document review.

The court held that the company “waived the attorney-client privilege and work product protection, and any other applicable privileges, for the materials it produced from two of three computer servers in what can fairly be described as a data dump as part of a significantly tardy response to a subpoena and to court-ordered production deadlines.” The court stated that in effect, the company “took the two servers, which it never reviewed for privilege or responsiveness, and said to the Term Lenders ‘here, you go figure it out.’”

However, because the company prepared a privilege log for the email server, the court added that privileges were not waived for materials from the email server. Also, the lenders were directed to alert the company to any “clearly privileged material they may find during their review of the production on the documents and accounting servers.” Although the court was not ruling on admissibility at trial of that privileged material, the lenders would be allowed to use it during pre-trial preparations, including depositions.

So, what do you think?  Was justice served?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Summary Source: Applied Discovery (free subscription required).  For eDiscovery news and best practices, check out the Applied Discovery Blog here.

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

eDiscovery Case Law: Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc.

Yesterday, we took a look at “Major Tours, Inc. v. Colorel”, which addresses whether a party may obtain a Protective Order relieving it of the duty to access backup tapes, even when that party’s failure to issue a litigation hold resulted in the data only being available on those backup tapes.

Discoverability of social media content has been a big topic this year, with several cases addressing the issue, including this one, previously discussed on eDiscovery Daily.  The holiday week look back at cases concludes with Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (C.D. Calif. May 26, 2010), which addresses whether ‘private’ data on social networks is discoverable.

This copyright infringement claim brought by artist Buckley Crispin against defendant and designer Christian Audigier, alleges that Audigier used artwork outside the scope of the original oral license between the parties and also sub-licensed the artwork to other companies and individuals (named as co-defendants) without Crispin’s consent.  The defendants served subpoenas on social media providers Facebook, MySpace, and Media Temple, directing them to turn over all communications between Crispin and Audigier, as well as any communications referencing the co-defendants.

Crispin sought to quash the subpoenas, arguing that they sought private electronic communications protected under the Stored Communications Act of 1986 (SCA), prohibiting Electronic Communication Services (ECS) and Remote Computing Services (RCS) providers from turning over those communications, but the motion was denied because Magistrate Judge John E. McDermott determined that Facebook, MySpace, and Media Temple did not qualify for protection from disclosure under the SCA.  Crispin moved for reconsideration with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

District Court Judge Margaret Morrow’s decision partially reversed and partially vacated Judge McDermott’s order, finding that the SCA’s protections (and associated discovery preclusions) include at least some of the content hosted on social networking sites, including the private messaging features of social networking sites protected as private email.  She also concluded that because Facebook, MySpace, and Media Temple all provide private messaging or email services as well as electronic storage, they all qualify as both ECS and RCS providers, with appropriate SCA protections.

However, regarding Facebook wall postings and MySpace comments, Judge Morrow determined that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether these wall postings and comments constitute private communications as the user’s privacy settings for them were less clear and ordered a new evidentiary hearing regarding the portions of the subpoenas that sought those communications.

This opinion sets a precedent that, in future cases, courts may allow protection to social networking and web hosting providers from discovery based on SCA protections as ECS and RCS providers and may consider social media ESI protected, based on the provider’s privacy controls and the individual user’s privacy settings.

So, what do you think?  Is this the most significant eDiscovery case of 2010?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Happy New Year from all of us at Trial Solutions and eDiscovery Daily!

eDiscovery Case Law: Major Tours v. Colorel

Yesterday, we took a look at “Rajala v. McGuire Woods”, Judge David Waxse’s opinion regarding the applicability of Federal Rule of Evidence 502(d) and (e) in McGuire Woods’ request for a clawback provision for privileged documents.

The holiday week look back at cases continues with Major Tours, Inc. v. Colorel, 2010 WL 2557250 (D.N.J. June 22, 2010), which addresses whether a party may obtain a Protective Order relieving it of the duty to access backup tapes, even when that party’s failure to issue a litigation hold resulted in the data only being available on those backup tapes.

Major Tours appealed a 2009 Magistrate Judge’s order concluding that certain backup tapes were not reasonably accessible under Rule 26(b)(2)(B) and that the plaintiffs had not shown good cause to require their production under the seven factor test set forth in the Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 26(b)(2)(B). The Magistrate Judge made this determination despite finding that the defendant, Michael Colorel, had not instituted adequate litigation hold notices until several years after the duty to preserve had attached.

Upon appeal to U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Simandle, Major Tours claimed that the Magistrate Judge had not given “appropriate weight to the defendants’ culpability for the emails being inaccessible, given that the reason for the increased cost of recovery was the defendants’ failure to institute a timely and effective litigation hold.” and also argued that a party cannot rely on Rule 26(b)(2)(B) if that party’s negligence caused the inaccessibility of the requested data in the first place.

Judge Simandle first addressed “whether, as a matter of law, a protective order under Rule 26(b)(2)(B) can ever be granted to a party when the evidence is inaccessible because of that party’s failure to institute a litigation hold” and concluded that “no such bright line rule exists.”, finding that Colorel’s culpability in failing to preserve the information did not override application of the multi-factor good cause test under Rule 26(b)(2)(B). Judge Simandle cited the decision in Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington v. Washington Metropolitan Transit, 242 F.R.D. 139 (D.D.C. 2007), in which Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola considered the same issue and “concluded that the proper approach was to balance the defendants’ culpability as one factor in the seven factor analysis.”  Judge Simandle noted that “The Rules compel exactly this discretionary balancing of costs and benefits of discovery, not a bright line requirement of production, no matter how burdensome, how likely to succeed, or how necessary to the litigation, if a party fails to adequately preserve every byte of previously accessible data.”

As to whether the magistrate judge adequately considered defendants’ culpability, Judge Simandle found that he did and affirmed his order, noting that considering the volume of evidence produced by Colorel, the backup tapes were “likely to produce evidence of only marginal, cumulative benefit and at great expense” and that “this outweighed the slim likelihood of the discovery of non-cumulative evidence even if there was some unknown degree of negligent spoliation.”

So, what do you think?  Is this the most significant eDiscovery case of 2010?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

eDiscovery Case Law: Rajala v. McGuire Woods

Yesterday, we took a look at “Pension Committee”, Judge Shira Scheindlin’s significant opinion regarding the duty for plaintiffs (as well as defendants) to preserve ESI and sanctions for failing to live up to that duty.

The holiday week look back at cases continues with Rajala v. McGuire Woods LLP, (D. Kan. July 22, 2010), which addresses the applicability of Federal Rule of Evidence 502(d) and (e) in McGuire Woods’ request for a clawback provision for privileged documents.

As part of negotiations over an appropriate protective order covering the treatment of confidential information, defendant McGuire Woods drafted a proposed order that included a clawback provision. Plaintiff opposed inclusion of a clawback provision in the agreement, arguing that the protective order should not deal with privilege issues and that “[t]he parties are free to enter stipulations at other times over other discovery issues, including … waiver of privileges and clawbacks… There is no need to force the issue here.” The protective order was subsequently entered without a clawback provision. After further meet and confer sessions, plaintiff still would not enter into a clawback agreement, and defendant filed a motion for entry of a clawback provision.

Agreeing with defendant’s arguments, the Court held that both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f) and Federal Rule of Evidence 502 contemplated the use of clawback provisions and that “entry of an order containing a clawback provision is not dependent on the agreement of the parties.” Because of the extensive amount of ESI in the litigation, and because defendant is a law firm with thousands of clients and a high risk of potential inadvertent disclosure, the Magistrate Judge concluded that defendant had made the requisite showing of good cause for entry of a clawback provision:

“[T]his case is precisely the type of case that would benefit from a clawback provision. Such a provision will permit the parties to conduct and respond to discovery in an expeditious manner, without the need for time-consuming and costly pre-production privilege reviews, and at the same time preserve the parties’ rights to assert the attorney-client privilege or work product immunity.”

So, what do you think?  Is this the most significant eDiscovery case of 2010?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Summary Source: Sidley Austin LLP.

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

eDiscovery Case Law: Pension Committee

This holiday week, we’re taking a look back at some of the cases which have had the most significance (from an eDiscovery standpoint) of the year.  The first case we will look at is The Pension Committee of the Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, 29010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 4546 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010) (as amended May 28, 2010), commonly referred to as “Pension Committee”.

In “Pension Committee”, New York District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin defined negligence, gross negligence, and willfulness from an eDiscovery standpoint and cementing her status as the most famous “Judge Scheindlin” in New York (as opposed to “Judge Judy” Sheindlin, who spells her last name without a “c”).  Judge Scheindlin titled her 85-page opinion Zubulake Revisited: Six Years Later.  The

This case addresses preservation and spoliation requirements of the plaintiff and information which should have been preserved by the plaintiffs after the lawsuit was filed. Judge Scheindlin addresses in considerable detail, defining the levels of culpability — negligence, gross negligence, and willfulness in the electronic discovery context.

Issues that constituted negligence according to Judge Scheindlin’s opinion included:

  • Failure to obtain records from all employees (some of whom may have had only a passing encounter with the issues in the litigation), as opposed to key players;
  • Failure to take all appropriate measures to preserve ESI;
  • Failure to assess the accuracy and validity of selected search terms.

Issues that constituted gross negligence or willfulness according to Judge Scheindlin’s opinion included:

  • Failure to issue a written litigation hold;
  • Failure to collect information from key players;
  • Destruction of email or backup tapes after the duty to preserve has attached;
  • Failure to collect information from the files of former employees that remain in a party’s possession, custody, or control after the duty to preserve has attached.

The opinion also addresses 1) responsibility to establish the relevance of evidence that is lost as well as responsibility to prove that the absence of the missing material has caused prejudice to the innocent party, 2) a novel burden-shifting test in addressing burden of proof and severity of the sanction requested and 3) guidance on the important issue of preservation of backup tapes.

The result: spoliation sanctions against 13 plaintiffs based on their alleged failure to timely issue written litigation holds and to preserve certain evidence before the filing of the complaint.

Scheindlin based sanctions on the conduct and culpability of the spoliating party, regardless of the relevance of the documents destroyed, which has caused some to label the opinion as “draconian”.  In at least one case, Orbit One Communications Inc. v. Numerex Corp., 2010 WL 4615547 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 2010)., Magistrate Judge James C. Francis concluded that sanctions for spoliation must be based on the loss of at least some information relevant to the dispute.  It will be interesting to see how other cases refer to the Pension Committee case down the road.

So, what do you think?  Is this the most significant eDiscovery case of 2010?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Law: Spoliate Evidence and Go to Jail–OR NOT?!?

As previously referenced in eDiscovery Daily, defendant Mark Pappas, President of Creative Pipe, Inc., was ordered by Judge Paul W. Grimm to  “be imprisoned for a period not to exceed two years, unless and until he pays to Plaintiff the attorney’s fees and costs that will be awarded to Plaintiff as the prevailing party pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(C).”.

Judge Grimm found that “Defendants…deleted, destroyed, and otherwise failed to preserve evidence; and repeatedly misrepresented the completeness of their discovery production to opposing counsel and the Court.”  As a result, he ordered “that Pappas’s pervasive and willful violation of serial Court orders to preserve and produce ESI evidence be treated as contempt of court”, resulting in the severe sanction.

Pursuant to Magistrate Judge Grimm’s September 9 decision and order and the relevant local rule, however, defendants were allowed to object to the same order. In that briefing, Mr. Pappas’ counsel argued that “[t]his Court’s power to impose a coercive civil contempt sanction … is limited by a party’s ability to comply with the order,” and further that, “[i]f the fee awarded is so large that Mr. Pappas is unable to pay it, the ordered confinement would not be coercive, but punitive, and could not be imposed without criminal due process protections.” Defendants thus requested that Magistrate Judge Grimm’s order be modified such that, following the quantification of the fee award, Mr. Pappas be permitted to demonstrate his inability to pay it, and further to provide that Mr. Pappas would only be confined if he is able to pay but refuses to do so. The District Court agreed with Mr. Pappas’ counsel and, on November 1, 2010, issued a Memorandum and Order holding as follows: “[T]he Court does not find it appropriate to Order Defendant Pappas incarcerated for a future possible failure to comply with his obligation to make payment of an amount to be determined in the course of further proceedings. Certainly, if Defendant Pappas should fail to comply with a specific payment order, the Court may issue an order requiring him to show cause why he should not be held in civil contempt for failure to comply with that payment order. Also, under appropriate circumstances, criminal contempt proceedings might be considered.”

That same day, the Court further ordered that defendants must pay plaintiff the amount of $337,796.37 by November 5 and, if such payment is not made, defendants must appear on November 8 for a civil contempt hearing. Moreover, if defendants failed to pay and Mr. Pappas failed to appear at the civil contempt hearing, “a warrant may be issued for his arrest so that he shall be brought before the Court as soon as may be practicable.” From the docket it appears that ultimately the parties resolved the issue between them without the need for a further contempt proceeding.

So, what do you think?  What will happen next?  Please share any comments you might have (including examples of other cases where sanctions included jail time) or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Summary Source: E-Discovery Law Alert, by Gibbons P.C.

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

eDiscovery Case Law: Discovery Compelled for Social Media Content

Discoverability of social-media usage continues to be a hot topic for eDiscovery.  Information for litigants’ LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace accounts can be the “smoking gun” for litigators looking to pursue or defend a claim.

In McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., No. 113-2010 CD (C.P. Jefferson, Sept. 9, 2010), defendant Hummingbird Speedway, Inc. sought to compel discovery of the plaintiff’s social network account log-in names, and passwords.  A copy of the opinion granting that Motion to Compel is available here.

The plaintiff was allegedly injured during a stock car race in the summer of 2007.  During the litigation that followed, defendant Hummingbird Speedway, Inc. requested production of plaintiff’s user names, log-in names, and passwords for any social network accounts – to which the plaintiff objected, arguing that the information was confidential.  Based on information in the public sections of the plaintiff’s social network accounts, the defendant filed a Motion to Compel.

In his opposition to the motion, the plaintiff argued that communications with friends via social media sites were private and protected from disclosure. The court disagreed, indicating that the plaintiff was essentially asking the court to recognize an evidentiary privilege for such communications, but that there is no “social media privilege” recognized by Pennsylvania’s court or legislature.

The court also noted that those communications were not privileged based on “Wigmore’s test for privilege”, which requires the plaintiff to establish four factors:

  • “His communications originated in the confidence that they would not be disclosed”;
  • “The element of confidentiality is essential to fully and satisfactorily maintain the relationship between the affected parties”;
  • “Community agreement that the relationship must be sedulously fostered”; and
  • “The injury potentially sustained to the relationship because of the disclosure of the communication outweighs the benefit of correctly disposing of litigation”.

Because the plaintiff failed to establish these factors, the court ultimately ruled that “Where there is an indication that a person’s social network sites contain information relevant to the prosecution or defense of a lawsuit…and the law’s general dispreference for the allowance of privileges, access to those sites should be freely granted”.

So, what do you think?  There have been other cases where the discoverability of social media was called into question – have you experienced any?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

P.S. – For those (like me) who didn’t know what the word “sedulously” meant, I’ve provided a link to the definition above… 🙂