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Court Disagrees with Plaintiff’s Contentions that Defendant’s TAR Process is Defective: eDiscovery Case Law

In Winfield, et al. v. City of New York, No. 15-CV-05236 (LTS) (KHP) (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 27, 2017), New York Magistrate Judge Katharine H. Parker, after conducting an in camera review of the defendant’s TAR process and a sample set of documents, granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ motion, ordering the defendant to provide copies of specific documents where the parties disagreed on their responsiveness and a random sample of 300 additional documents deemed non-responsive by the defendant.  Judge Parker denied the plaintiff’s request for information about the defendant’s TAR process, finding no evidence of gross negligence or unreasonableness in their process.

Case Background

In this dispute over alleged discrimination in the City’s affordable housing program, the parties had numerous disputes over the handling of discovery by the defendant in the case.  The plaintiffs lodged numerous complaints about the pace of discovery and document review, which initially involved only manual linear review of documents, so the Court directed the defendant to complete linear review as to certain custodians and begin using Technology Assisted Review (“TAR”) software for the rest of the collection.  After a dispute over the search terms selected for use, the plaintiffs proposed over 800 additional search terms to be run on certain custodians, most of which (after negotiation) were accepted by the defendant (despite a stated additional cost of $248,000 to review the documents).

The defendant proposed to use its TAR software for this review, but the plaintiffs objected, contending that the defendant had over-designated documents as privileged and non-responsive, using an “impermissibly narrow view of responsiveness” during its review process.  To support its contention, the plaintiffs produced certain documents to the Court that the defendant produced inadvertently (including 5 inadvertently produced slip sheets of documents not produced), which they contended should have been marked responsive and relevant.  As a result, the Court required the defendant to submit a letter for in camera review describing its predictive coding process and training for document reviewers.  The Court also required the defendant to provide a privilege log for a sample set of 80 documents that it designated as privileged in its initial review.  Out of those 80 documents, the defendant maintained its original privilege assertions over only 20 documents, finding 36 of them non-privileged and producing them as responsive and another 15 of them as non-responsive.

As a result, the plaintiffs filed a motion requesting random samples of several categories of documents and also sought information about the TAR ranking system used by the defendant and all materials submitted by the defendant for the Court’s in camera review relating to predictive coding.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Parker noted that both parties did “misconstrue the Court’s rulings during the February 16, 2017 conference” and ordered the defendant to “expand its search for documents responsive to Plaintiffs’ document requests as it construed this Court’s prior ruling too narrowly”, indicating that the plaintiffs should meet and confer with the defendant after reviewing the additional production if they “believe that the City impermissibly withheld documents responsive to specific requests”.

As for the plaintiffs’ challenges to the defendant’s TAR process, Judge Parker referenced Hyles v. New York City, where Judge Andrew Peck, referencing Sedona Principle 6, stated the producing party is in the best position to “evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information.”  Judge Parker also noted that “[c]ourts are split as to the degree of transparency required by the producing party as to its predictive coding process”, citing cases that considered seed sets as work product and other cases that supported transparency of seed sets.  Relying on her in camera review of the materials provided by the defendant, Judge Parker concluded “that the City appropriately trained and utilized its TAR system”, noting that the defendant’s seed set “included over 7,200 documents that were reviewed by the City’s document review team and marked as responsive or non-responsive in order to train the system” and that “the City provided detailed training to its document review team as to the issues in the case.”

As a result, Judge Parker ordered the defendant “to produce the five ‘slip-sheeted’ documents and the 15 NR {non-responsive documents reclassified from privileged} Documents”, “to provide to Plaintiffs a sample of 300 non-privileged documents in total from the HPD custodians and the Mayor’s Office” and to “provide Plaintiffs with a random sample of 100 non-privileged, non-responsive documents in total from the DCP/Banks review population” (after applying the plaintiffs’ search terms and utilizing TAR on that collection).  Judge Parker ordered the parties to meet and confer on any disputes “with the understanding that reasonableness and proportionality, not perfection and scorched-earth, must be their guiding principles.”  Judge Parker denied the plaintiffs’ request for information about the defendant’s TAR process (but “encouraged” the defendant to share information with the plaintiffs) and denied the plaintiffs’ request to the defendant’s in camera submissions as being protected by the work product privilege.

So, what do you think?  Should TAR ranking systems and seed sets be considered work product or should they be transparent?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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