eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery BREAKING Case Law: Judge Carter Upholds Judge Peck’s Predictive Coding Order

A few weeks ago, in Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe & MSL Group, No. 11 Civ. 1279 (ALC) (AJP) (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012), Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an opinion making it likely the first case to accept the use of computer-assisted review of electronically stored information (“ESI”) for this case.  However, on March 13, District Court Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr. granted plaintiffs’ request to submit additional briefing on their February 22 objections to the ruling.  In that briefing (filed on March 26), the plaintiffs claimed that the protocol approved for predictive coding “risks failing to capture a staggering 65% of the relevant documents in this case” and questioned Judge Peck’s relationship with defense counsel and with the selected vendor for the case, Recommind.  Then, on April 5, Judge Peck issued an order in response to Plaintiffs’ letter requesting his recusal, directing plaintiffs to indicate whether they would file a formal motion for recusal or ask the Court to consider the letter as the motion.  On April 13, (Friday the 13th, that is), the plaintiffs did just that, by formally requesting the recusal of Judge Peck.

Now, on April 25 (signed two days ago and filed yesterday), Judge Carter has issued an opinion and order in the case, upholding Judge Peck’s opinion approving computer-assisted review.  In the opinion and order, Judge Carter noted:

“[T]he Court adopts Judge Peck’s rulings because they are well reasoned and they consider the potential advantages and pitfalls of the predictive coding software. The Court has thoroughly reviewed the ESI protocol along with the parties’ submissions.  At the outset, the Court notes that Plaintiffs and Judge Peck disagree about the scope of Plaintiffs’ acquiescence concerning the use of the method. Judge Peck’s written order states that Plaintiffs have consented to its use, (Opinion and Order at 17 (“The decision to allow computer-assisted review in this case was relatively easy – the parties agreed to its use (although disagreed about how best to implement such review.”))), while Plaintiffs argue that Judge Peck’s order mischaracterizes their position (Pl. Reply, dated March 19, 2012, at 4-5). Nevertheless, the confusion is immaterial because the ESI protocol contains standards for measuring the reliability of the process and the protocol builds in levels of participation by Plaintiffs. It provides that the search methods will be carefully crafted and tested for quality assurance, with Plaintiffs participating in their implementation. For example, Plaintiffs’ counsel may provide keywords and review the documents and the issue coding before the production is made. If there is a concern with the relevance of the culled documents, the parties may raise the issue before Judge Peck before the final production. Further, upon the receipt of the production, if Plaintiffs determine that they are missing relevant documents, they may revisit the issue of whether the software is the best method. At this stage, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the use of the predictive coding software will deny Plaintiffs access to liberal discovery. “

“Plaintiffs’ arguments concerning the reliability of the method are also premature. It is difficult to ascertain that the predictive software is less reliable than the traditional keyword search. Experts were present during the February 8 conference and Judge Peck heard from these experts. The lack of a formal evidentiary hearing at the conference is a minor issue because if the method appears unreliable as the litigation continues and the parties continue to dispute its effectiveness, the Magistrate Judge may then conduct an evidentiary hearing. Judge Peck is in the best position to determine when and if an evidentiary hearing is required and the exercise of his discretion is not contrary to law. Judge Peck has ruled that if the predictive coding software is flawed or if Plaintiffs are not receiving the types of documents that should be produced, the parties are allowed to reconsider their methods and raise their concerns with the Magistrate Judge. The Court understands that the majority of documentary evidence has to be produced by MSLGroup and that Plaintiffs do not have many documents of their own. If the method provided in the protocol does not work or if the sample size is indeed too small to properly apply the technology, the Court will not preclude Plaintiffs from receiving relevant information, but to call the method unreliable at this stage is speculative.”

“There simply is no review tool that guarantees perfection. The parties and Judge Peck have acknowledged that there are risks inherent in any method of reviewing electronic documents. Manual review with keyword searches is costly, though appropriate in certain situations. However, even if all parties here were willing to entertain the notion of manually reviewing the documents, such review is prone to human error and marred with inconsistencies from the various attorneys’ determination of whether a document is responsive. Judge Peck concluded that under the circumstances of this particular case, the use of the predictive coding software as specified in the ESI protocol is more appropriate than keyword searching. The Court does not find a basis to hold that his conclusion is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. Thus, Judge Peck’s orders are adopted and Plaintiffs’ objections are denied.”

So, what do you think?  Will this settle the issue?  Or will the plaintiffs attempt another strategy to derail the approved predictive coding plan?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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