Preservation

Court Orders Defendants to Produce Laptop for Forensic Examination – Again: eDiscovery Case Law

In HealthPlan Servs., Inc. v. Dixit, et al., No.: 8:18-cv-2608-T-23AAS (M.D. Fla. Dec. 19, 2019), Florida Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone granted the plaintiff’s motion to order a group of defendants (the “Dixit defendants) to comply with the court’s previous order compelling immediate inspection of a laptop of one of the defendants.  Judge Sansone also granted the plaintiff’s motion for fees, sanctions, a jury instruction, and order to show cause why the Dixit defendants should not be held in contempt of court order to the extent that the Dixit defendants were ordered to pay the plaintiff’s reasonable expenses incurred for the meet and confers with the Dixit defendants about this issue and filing its motion.  The plaintiff’s requests for additional sanctions, a jury instruction, and an order to show cause were denied without prejudice pending the forensic examination of the laptop.

Case Background

In this case involving copyright infringement and breach of contract (among other issues), the court granted the plaintiff’s oral motion to compel immediate inspection of defendant Feron Kutsomarkos’s laptop in defendant Rakesh Dixit’s possession on October 16, 2019. The court required Mr. Dixit to turn over the hard drives from Ms. Kutsomarkos’s laptop to his attorneys by October 19, which he did.  The court also required the plaintiff to identify an expert and gave the Dixit defendants ten days to object as required by the protective order.  Counsel for the Dixit defendants responded by saying “we object to your expert designation in relation to the hard drive matter address in the Order at Doc. 200.”

The plaintiff contended that the Dixit defendants did not provide good cause for objecting to the plaintiff’s selected expert and speculated that the Dixit defendants’ refusal to turn over the hard drive to the expert may be an attempt to cover up spoliation by the Dixit defendants.  In response, the Dixit defendants argued the plaintiff’s comments at the October 16 hearing suggested the drives were only to be forensically imaged, even though the plaintiff had stated that it was “creating a forensic image so that we can evaluate the documents that were produced and ensure that they’re properly preserved and that we’ve received the entirety of the documents that we’ve requested”.  The Dixit defendants also argued a different legal standard exists for permitting a forensic examination of the hard drives rather than permitting a mere image and cited Garrett v. University of South Florida Board of Trustees, No. 8:17-cv-2874-T-23AAS, 2018 WL 4383054 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 14, 2018) to support that contention.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the case cited by the Dixit defendants, Judge Sansone stated: “The Dixit defendants’ reliance on Garrett for the legal standard is misplaced. In Garrett, the plaintiff produced the recording sought by the defendant, but the defendant requested a forensic examination to see if there was evidence of an attempt to tamper with the recording…Here, counsel for Ms. Kutsomarkos noted Ms. Kutsomarkos provided pdf versions of documents from the laptop…However, the pdf files scrubbed the metadata from the documents and that metadata should be available on the hard drives…Also, the computer in Garrett was a personal computer, but here the computer was Ms. Kutsomarkos’s business computer and she gave it to Mr. Dixit, her employer.”

Judge Sansone also stated: “Since Ms. Kutsomarkos did not correctly comply with prior discovery requests by producing from the laptop incorrectly formatted documents with limited information, the court determined a forensic examination of the laptop was warranted…Ms. Kutsomarkos also conducted her own search of the emails rather than having an expert or her attorney conduct the search…Also, Mr. Dixit, another defendant, searched and recovered the same files Ms. Kutsomarkos produced in the native format…HealthPlan also conveyed certain documents that should have come from a professional search of the laptop were missing…These factors satisfy exceptional circumstances to warrant a forensic examination. Noting, the cost and burden for the forensic examination is falling on HealthPlan, who wants to confirm everything was turned over to them.”

As a result, Judge Sansone granted the plaintiff’s motions as noted above and denied without prejudice the plaintiff’s additional requests pending the forensic examination of the laptop.

So, what do you think?  Did the court go far enough to address the defendant’s discovery failings?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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

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

Court Denies Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanction for Spoliation of Audio Recording: eDiscovery Case Law

In Montoya v. Loya Ins., No. 18-590 SCY/JFR (D.N.M. Oct. 24, 2019), New Mexico Magistrate Judge Steven C. Yarbrough denied the plaintiff’s Motion For Sanctions For Spoliation Of Audio Recording Evidence, after a jury trial in favor of the plaintiff, finding that there was minimal prejudice to the plaintiff and that “there is no dispute over the relevant contents of the telephone conversation” which was recorded.

Case Background

In this case involving a bad faith claim against the plaintiff’s insurance company for its handling of her claim under her uninsured motorist benefits, the defendant took a recorded statement from the plaintiff in the course of its investigation but lost it.  The plaintiff was forced to file suit against the defendant in state court in February 2017 and the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff against the defendant in January 2018 in the amount of $23,742.82.  Despite that, the plaintiff sought a finding of liability against the defendant as a sanction for its failure to preserve the recorded statement the defendant took from the plaintiff during its investigation of her claim.

Judge’s Ruling

Considering the plaintiff’s claim, Judge Yarbrough stated: “The Court agrees that the loss of the recording caused Plaintiff some prejudice, as it prevented her from obtaining a full transcript of the conversation rather the parts that Ms. Boneo chose to record in her notes. This prejudice, however, is minimal.”

Continuing, Judge Yarbrough provided three reasons for this, as follows:

“First, Plaintiff herself was part of the conversation. Thus, the loss of the recording did not deny her access to the conversation. Plaintiff therefore retains the ability to testify about conversation despite the loss of the recording…Second, Plaintiff was able to depose the adjustor and thereby obtain the adjuster’s testimony about the conversation. Because Plaintiff has independent personal knowledge of this conversation that she was part of and because Plaintiff obtained the adjuster’s notes and testimony about the conversation, Plaintiff has the means to adequately prepare for trial… Third, and most importantly, there is no dispute over the relevant contents of the telephone conversation. Plaintiff testified in her deposition that she agreed with the substance of Ms. Boneo’s testimony regarding the contents of Plaintiff’s statement.”

As a result, Judge Yarbrough stated: “Any prejudice Plaintiff might suffer from not having a recording of the statement is slight and does not justify the only relief Plaintiff requests: a finding of liability against Defendant. Plaintiff’s Motion For Sanctions For Spoliation Of Audio Recording Evidence (Doc. 75) is therefore DENIED.”

So, what do you think?  Should the judge have penalized the defendant for losing the recording?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

It’s our last post of the year, so I want to thank all of you for reading our blog all year, attending our webcasts and for all of the support!  Can’t believe we are in the midst of our tenth year and your support has made it possible to keep producing blog posts daily.  In this holiday season, I’m very thankful for your support and also thankful for the love of my wife, Paige, and our kids, Kiley and Carter.  Happy holidays and see you in 2020!

:o)

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 Infers Bad Faith for Plaintiffs Use of Ephemeral Messaging App: eDiscovery Case Law

We’re catching up on notable cases from earlier in the year.  Here’s one that’s notable regarding the use of ephemeral messaging and spoliation sanctions.

In Herzig v. Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, Inc., No. 2:18-CV-02101 (W.D. Ark. July 3, 2019), Arkansas District Judge P.K. Holmes, III indicated his belief that the use and “necessity of manually configuring [the messaging app] Signal to delete text communications” on the part of the plaintiffs was “intentional and done in bad faith”.  However, Judge Holmes declined to consider appropriate sanctions, ruling that “in light of the [defendant’s] motion for summary judgment, Herzig and Martin’s case can and will be dismissed on the merits.”

Case Background

In this case where the plaintiffs alleged unlawful termination due to age discrimination, the parties conferred and agreed that the defendant might request data from the plaintiffs’ mobile phones and that the parties had taken reasonable measures to preserve potentially discoverable data from alteration or destruction.  In July 2018, the defendant served requests for production on the plaintiffs and, in September 2018, Plaintiffs Brian Herzig and Neal Martin produced screenshots of parts of text message conversations from Martin’s mobile phone, including communications between Herzig and Martin, but nothing more recent than August 20, 2018, even after a motion to compel.

After the August production, Martin installed the application Signal (which allows users to send and receive encrypted text messages accessible only to sender and recipient, and to change settings to automatically delete these messages after a short period of time) on his phone.  Herzig had done so while working at the defendant.  Herzig and Martin set the application to delete their communications and, as a result, disclosed no additional text messages to the defendant, which was unaware of their continued communication using Signal until Herzig disclosed it in his deposition near the end of the discovery period.  The defendant filed a motion for dismissal or adverse inference on the basis of spoliation.

Judge’s Ruling

In assessing the defendant’s motion, Judge Holmes stated that “Herzig and Martin had numerous responsive communications with one another and with other AFMC employees prior to responding to the requests for production on August 22, 2018 and producing only some of those responsive communications on September 4, 2018. They remained reluctant to produce additional communications, doing so only after AFMC’s motion to compel. Thereafter, Herzig and Martin did not disclose that they had switched to using a communication application designed to disguise and destroy communications until discovery was nearly complete. Based on the content of Herzig and Martin’s earlier communications, which was responsive to the requests for production, and their reluctance to produce those communications, the Court infers that the content of their later communications using Signal were responsive to AFMC’s requests for production. Based on Herzig and Martin’s familiarity with information technology, their reluctance to produce responsive communications, the initial misleading response from Martin that he had no responsive communications, their knowledge that they must retain and produce discoverable evidence, and the necessity of manually configuring Signal to delete text communications, the Court believes that the decision to withhold and destroy those likely-responsive communications was intentional and done in bad faith.”

However, Judge Holmes also stated: “This intentional, bad-faith spoliation of evidence was an abuse of the judicial process and warrants a sanction. The Court need not consider whether dismissal, an adverse inference, or some lesser sanction is the appropriate one, however, because in light of the motion for summary judgment, Herzig and Martin’s case can and will be dismissed on the merits.”  As a result, the requested sanctions were denied as moot.

So, what do you think?  Should use of an ephemeral messaging app when a duty to preserve attaches lead to significant 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.

Despite Email from Defendants Instructing to Destroy Evidence, Court Declines Sanctions: eDiscovery Case Law

In United States et al. v. Supervalu, Inc. et al., NO. 11-3290 (C.D. Ill. Nov. 18, 2019), Illinois District Judge Richard H. Mills, despite an email produced by the defendants with instructions to their pharmacies to destroy evidence, denied the relators’ motion for sanctions, stating: “Upon reviewing the record, the Court is unable to conclude that Defendants acted in bad faith. If the evidence at trial shows otherwise and bad faith on the part of the Defendants is established, the Court can revisit the issue and consider one or both of the sanctions requested by the Relators or another appropriate sanction.”

Case Background

In this case, the defendants produced in discovery a January 27, 2012 email from a pharmacy district manager for 33 Shop ‘n Save pharmacies, instructing those pharmacies to “throw away all your competitor’s price matching lists and get rid of all signs that say we match prices.” The email was sent seven days after the January 20, 2012 government agents’ visits to the defendants’ pharmacies, including one of the district manager’s pharmacies, five days after the manager learned of the visit by a Special Agent with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”), and three days after the defendants received a subpoena from the Government requesting documents regarding the price match program.

The relators further alleged it appeared that another district manager ordered the destruction of signage promoting the defendants’ price match program after visits by government agents and service of the HHS-OIG subpoena and also alleged the defendants waited until almost the end of discovery to produce the January 27, 2012 email.  As a result, they requested the entry of an Order imposing appropriate sanctions against the defendants for what they alleged was (1) Defendants’ failure to timely issue a litigation hold; (2) the intentional destruction of material evidence relating to defendants’ price match program; and (3) their subsequent efforts to conceal and obstruct discovery of their spoliation of evidence, including the wrongful withholding of material evidence of the spoliation until just days before the close of discovery in this case.

The defendants, in turn, claimed (1) they timely issued a litigation hold in this matter; (2) did not intentionally destroy material evidence; and (3) did not attempt to conceal and obstruct discovery of any alleged spoliation of evidence.  The Defendants claimed they issued three litigation holds: (1) one to individuals in the corporate business department on January 30, 2012; (2) one to all Pharmacy District Managers on February 20, 2012; and (3) one to the corporate marketing and advertising executives on March 15, 2012.  Alleging there were inconsistencies in both the number and timing of the litigation holds between defendant declarations, the relators asked the Court for an in camera review of the three litigation holds noted above.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Mills, in noting that “A showing of bad faith—like destroying evidence to hide adverse information—is a prerequisite to imposing sanctions for missing evidence”, ruled as follows:

“The Court does not believe that an in camera review of the Defendants’ litigation holds is necessary at this time. At this time, the Court does not believe that sanctions are warranted based on the Defendants’ alleged failure to timely issue a litigation hold, their intentional destruction of evidence relating to the price match program, or their efforts to conceal and obstruct discovery of the spoliation of evidence. Upon reviewing the record, the Court is unable to conclude that Defendants acted in bad faith. If the evidence at trial shows otherwise and bad faith on the part of the Defendants is established, the Court can revisit the issue and consider one or both of the sanctions requested by the Relators or another appropriate sanction.

Ergo, the Relators’ motion for sanctions [d/e 205] is DENIED.”

So, what do you think?  Do the defendants’ actions seem to be in bad faith or was the Court’s ruling appropriate?  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.

When Litigation Hits, The First 7 to 10 Days is Critical: eDiscovery Throwback Thursdays

Here’s our latest blog post in our Throwback Thursdays series where we are revisiting some of the eDiscovery best practice posts we have covered over the years and discuss whether any of those recommended best practices have changed since we originally covered them.

This post was originally published on June 28, 2012, when eDiscovery Daily was less than two years old.  This post has already been revisited a couple of times since and has been referenced in a handful of webcasts as well.  It’s still good advice today.  Enjoy!

When a case is filed (or even before, if litigation is anticipated then), several activities must be completed within a short period of time (often as soon as the first seven to ten days after filing) to enable you to assess the scope of the case, where the key electronically stored information (ESI) is located and whether to proceed with the case or attempt to settle with opposing counsel.  Here are several of the key early activities that can assist in deciding whether to litigate or settle the case.

Activities:

  • Create List of Key Employees Most Likely to have Documents Relevant to the Litigation: To estimate the scope of the case, it’s important to begin to prepare the list of key employees that may have potentially responsive data. Information such as name, title, e-mail address, phone number, office location and where information for each is stored on the network is important to be able to proceed quickly when issuing hold notices and collecting their data.
  • Issue Litigation Hold Notice and Track Results: The duty to preserve begins when you anticipate litigation; however, if litigation could not be anticipated prior to the filing of the case, it is certainly clear once the case if filed that the duty to preserve has begun. Hold notices must be issued ASAP to all parties that may have potentially responsive data.  Once the hold is issued, you need to track and follow up to ensure compliance.  Here are a couple of recent posts regarding issuing hold notices and tracking responses.
  • Interview Key Employees: As quickly as possible, interview key employees to identify potential locations of responsive data in their possession as well as other individuals they can identify that may also have responsive data so that those individuals can receive the hold notice and be interviewed.
  • Interview Key Department Representatives: Certain departments, such as IT, Records or Human Resources, may have specific data responsive to the case. They should also have certain processes in place for regular destruction of “expired” data, so it’s important to interview them to identify potentially responsive sources of data and stop routine destruction of data subject to litigation hold.
  • Inventory Sources and Volume of Potentially Relevant Documents: Potentially responsive data can be located in a variety of sources, including: shared servers, e-mail servers, employee workstations, employee home computers, employee mobile devices (including bring your own device (BYOD) devices), portable storage media (including CDs, DVDs and portable hard drives), active paper files, archived paper files and third-party sources (consultants and contractors, including cloud storage providers). Hopefully, the organization already has created a data map before litigation to identify the location of sources of information to facilitate that process.  It’s important to get a high-level sense of the total population to begin to estimate the effort required for discovery.
  • Plan Data Collection Methodology: Determining how each source of data is to be collected also affects the cost of the litigation. Are you using internal resources, outside counsel or a litigation support vendor?  Will the data be collected via an automated collection system or manually?  Will employees “self-collect” any of their own data?  Answers to these questions will impact the scope and cost of not only the collection effort, but the entire discovery effort.

These activities can result in creating an inventory of potentially responsive information and help in estimating discovery costs (especially when compared to past cases at the same stage) that will help in determining whether to proceed to litigate the case or attempt to settle with the other side.

So, what do you think?  How quickly do you decide whether to litigate or settle?  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.

Court Grants Motion to Compel in Elizabeth Holmes Theranos Criminal Case: eDiscovery Case Law

In United States v. Holmes, et al, No. 5:18-cr-00258-EJD-1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 5, 2019), California District Court Judge Edward J. Davila granted the defendants’ motion to compel federal prosecutors to produce material responsive to six requests from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), disagreeing with the prosecution’s contention that it could not be compelled to produce documents from under Rule 16 because it lacked access to them.

Case Background

In this criminal case regarding charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud against key officers of the now defunct company Theranos, on April 15, 2019, defendant Holmes (later joined by defendant Balwani) moved to compel federal prosecutors to produce material responsive to six requests from FDA and CMS.  In addition, the defendants raised concerns about the Agencies’ preservation efforts, the failure of FDA to run certain search terms and failure of the Agencies to complete production by either an original deadline of October 2 or an extended deadline of October 25.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that Rule 16 “grants criminal defendants a broad right to discovery”, Judge Davila stated: “The Prosecution does not oppose Defendants obtaining the sought-after documents, but it argues that it cannot be compelled to produce the documents under Rule 16 because it lacks access…The court disagrees. Even though the Agencies are not part of DOJ, the Prosecution’s involvement with the Agencies’ discovery efforts reveals a relationship that includes significant access, communication and assistance, such as CMS’s use of DOJ’s Litigation Technology Service Center. This cooperative relationship moves the Prosecution closer to privity of knowledge and control of the information sought. The Prosecution’s access to the requested documents is further shown through its dealings with the Agencies prior to the filing of this motion.”  As a result, Judge Davila “order[ed] the Prosecution to produce the documents discussed below as part of their Rule 16 obligation, and to assist the Agencies however possible to ensure the timely production of documents.”

Turning to the alleged deficiencies in the Agencies’ productions, Judge Davila noted, among other concerns, that “Defendants contend that over 1000 emails from a single witness have been produced as fragmentary documents—i.e, that the produced emails omit portions of the original email, such as the “to,” or “from,” or the body fields… Defendants also contend that CMS and FDA have failed to produce some hardcopy documents.”  As a result, Judge Davila “order[ed] that the Agencies shall continue their investigations of these issues and shall disclose the procedures and results of their investigations to the parties no later than November 26, 2019.”

Judge Davila also ordered FDA to “run searches of all of its custodians’ documents using the following terms: ‘LDT’, ‘Laboratory Developed Test’, ‘Theranos’, ‘fingerstick’ or ‘finger stick’, and ‘nanotainer’” and “produce any responsive documents returned by these searches” to address search term concerns expressed by the defendants.  With regard to the missed production deadlines, Judge Davila “order[ed] the Agencies and the Prosecution to complete the production of documents by December 31, 2019.”

Finally, Judge Davila “order[ed] the Agencies, the Prosecution, and Defendants to meet and confer on the above issues, and other discovery related matters” to include “(a) whether the Agencies have or will produce employee text messages, (b) any deficiencies in FDA’s production that are attributable to FDA’s instruction to employees to manually search for responsive documents instead of forensically searching for, collecting, and reviewing documents, (c) the terms the Agencies use to search for and collect potentially responsive documents, and (d) FDA’s redactions to documents and withholding of duplicate documents.”  Judge Davila also set a further status conference for January 13, 2020.

So, what do you think?  Was the judge correct to order the prosecution to produce documents from other agencies?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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

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

Court Denies Motion to Bar Plaintiff From Making Adverse Comments Regarding Defendant’s Failure to Produce Key File: eDiscovery Case Law

In Saulsberry v. Savannah River Remediation, LLC, No.: 1:16-cv-02792-JMC (D.S.C. Sep. 19, 2019), South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs denied without prejudice the defendant’s Motion in Limine to Bar Plaintiff from Making Adverse Comments Regarding Defendant’s Failure to Produce Certain Records, finding that defendant “has not demonstrated that the contents of the missing Lash Investigative File would necessarily replicate, but not add to, the information provided in the record.”

Case Background

In this Title VII and § 1981 disparate treatment action filed by the plaintiff, she had previously made an internal EEO Complaint in 2013 which allegedly arose from her participation in the 2012 investigation of Robert Lash after which she contended that she was “targeted by her managers and treated differently”.  During discovery, the plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel the contents of the Lash Investigation, but the defendant admitted that it never produced the Lash Investigative File and also admitted that, although there was a physical Lash Investigative File, it submitted written discovery responses stating that no notes or other documentary evidence existed regarding the [Lash] investigation.

However, two deposed witnesses suggested that “documentary evidence which should be in hard copy of the [Lash] Investigative File” and the plaintiff indicated that she had provided some documents from the file to the EEO Director, as part of her internal EEO claim in September of 2013.  Nonetheless, the defendant was unable to locate the file.  The plaintiff contended that the Lash Investigative File was relevant to several of her remaining claims, while the defendant claimed that the file was no longer relevant to any remaining claim and filed a motion to have the court to bar the plaintiff’s ability to elicit testimony regarding the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the file, contending the issue of “’why’ [Saulsberry] was included in the WFR is no longer relevant” to the claims before the court.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Childs stated: “While the court agrees that the disappearance of the Lash Investigative File is relevant to the WFR claims which are no longer before the court, the court does not necessarily agree that the Lash Investigative File is not also relevant to the claims presently before the court.”  The plaintiff had argued that her remaining race and retaliation claims relate to her participation in the Lash investigation and also contended that evidence of her ‘protected activity’ (that prohibited her from being rehired for a position) was in the Lash File.  As a result, Judge Childs stated: “This court, therefore, shall not, at this time, prohibit Saulsberry from introducing evidence, or eliciting testimony regarding the Lash File and the circumstances surrounding its disappearance.”

With regard to the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff should be “precluded from seeking an adverse inference charge regarding the lost file”, Judge Childs stated: “The court has a similar view on this issue… SRR has not demonstrated that the contents of the missing Lash Investigative File would necessarily replicate, but not add to, the information provided in the record. Further, ‘Even if a court determines not to exclude secondary evidence, it may still permit the jury to draw unfavorable inferences against the party responsible for the loss or destruction of the original evidence.’ Vodusek, 71 F.3d at 156.  As a result, in denying the defendant’s motion, Judge Childs stated “the court declines to substantively exclude, at this time, all references to the disappearance of the Lash Investigative File or indefinitely preclude Saulsbury from making a showing that an adverse inference instruction based on its disappearance is warranted. Moreover, SRR has not addressed or demonstrated what, if any, prejudice would result if its motion is denied.”

So, what do you think?  Should parties be able to bar opposing parties for commenting about lost records in court proceedings?  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.

Wal-Mart is Allowed to Clawback Inadvertent Disclosures, But Still Sanctioned Over What They Revealed: eDiscovery Case Law

In Bellamy v. Wal-Mart Stores, Texas, LLC, No. SA-18-CV-60-XR (W.D. Tex. Aug. 19, 2019), in a case that was discussed earlier this week at Relativity Fest, Texas District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled that the defendant was entitled to “claw back” the documents it inadvertently produced in the case, but still considered those documents in analyzing the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions and granted that motion to the extent that he ruled that the defendant could not assert any comparative negligence defense in this case, including arguing that the danger (of a pallet being left unattended in the store) was open and obvious.

Case Background

In this case involving a slip and fall, the plaintiff alleged that she sustained severe injuries to her knees and ankles when she tripped over a pallet in one of the defendant’s stores.  After the Magistrate Judge ordered the defendant to supplement its disclosures and discovery responses and provide the plaintiff with a privilege log as to any withheld documents as part of dismissing an earlier plaintiff motion for sanctions without prejudice, a paralegal in counsel for the defendant’s office inadvertently produced documents that the defendant claimed were privileged under the attorney-client privilege or work product. While arguing that some of the inadvertently produced documents were not privileged, the plaintiff also argued that the inadvertently produced documents demonstrated that defendant’s counsel acted in bad faith and engaged in discovery abuse.

Judge’s Ruling

While noting that “This Court encourages parties to enter into a Rule 502(d) Order” (which we have covered here previously), Judge Rodriguez also remarked that failing to request such an order “was the first of many mistakes by Defendant’s counsel in this case”, so he performed an analysis under Rule 502(b) to determine whether the defendant had waived privilege for the inadvertently disclosed documents.

Because the plaintiff ultimately conceded the documents were privileged after an in camera review by the Court, the Court decided not to “dwell on this issue”.  But, Judge Rodriguez did remark that “the privilege log was woefully deficient”, noting that he was “unable to ascertain the identities of various recipients of the emails in question.”  Nonetheless, finding that the disclosure was inadvertent, that the defendant took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure and that the defendant promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error, Judge Rodriguez ruled that “Defendant is entitled to ‘claw back’ the documents it inadvertently produced” under Rule 502(b).

However, Judge Rodriguez also stated: “But that is not the end of this analysis. Although Plaintiff may not further use these documents in this case, preventing their use in analyzing the pending motion for sanctions would result in a perverse result, upending the rules of civil procedure and encouraging discovery abuse.”  In reviewing the inadvertently produced emails, Plaintiff’s counsel became aware of the following:

  • As early as July 23, 2018, Defendant’s counsel knew of the identity of the store manager who interviewed Plaintiff shortly after her accident;
  • As early as July 23, 2018, Defendant’s counsel knew of the identity of the employee who left the pallet unattended;
  • By August 6, 2018, counsel for Defendant knew of the addresses and phone numbers for these two persons; and
  • By February 9, 2019, counsel for Defendant knew the identity of the asset protection manager that was supposed to obtain the surveillance footage.

However, the defendant failed to list these individuals in their Rule 26(a)(1) initial disclosures and failed to timely list them in answers to interrogatories.  Judge Rodriguez stated: “It is apparent from a reading of the materials submitted either Defendant’s counsel was grossly negligent in fulfilling their discovery obligations or they realized they had an uncooperative manager who was refusing to assist in their investigation, and they did not want to disclose the identities of potentially ‘bad’ witnesses.”

In reviewing the inadvertently produced emails, Plaintiff’s counsel also became aware of the following:

  • On November 21, 2016, the manager completed a Document Preservation Directive requesting that surveillance video be collected, along with photos taken at the scene and the statement from the customer;
  • By January 16, 2018, Defendant was aware that the store lost the video and that the store manager was refusing to provide any statement;
  • Wal-Mart’s outside claim investigation agency reported that exposure on this claim was probable and suggested that the claim be “compromise[d] to avoid spoliation potential”; and
  • On June 29, 2018, one of Defendant’s outside counsel wrote an email to “Travis Rodmon-Legal” indicating that the claim file notes video from the scene was saved; “however, the Walmart discovery sources have not been able to provide a video to date.”

Judge Rodriguez stated: “Counsel for Defendant never disclosed to Plaintiff’s counsel that at one time video may have existed that was now lost. Rather, counsel merely kept repeating that video does not exist.”  It was also discovered that the defendant hired an investigator to conduct an undisclosed full social media/background check on the plaintiff on June 20, 2018.

While noting that the defendant had a duty to preserve the video, that it failed to take reasonable steps to preserve that video and that the video cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, Judge Rodriguez stated that “Rule 37(e)(2) is not applicable because Plaintiff has failed to establish that Wal-Mart acted with the intent to deprive her of the video.”  But he did rule that “Plaintiff has established prejudice under Rule 37(e)(1)” and, noting that “Defendant has raised a contributory negligence defense in this case” (arguing that the danger of the pallet was open and obvious), ruled that “Defendant may not assert any comparative negligence defense in this case, including arguing that the danger was open and obvious.”

So, what do you think?  Should inadvertently disclosed privileged documents be considered in ruling on sanctions motions?  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.

Issuing the Hold is Just the Beginning: eDiscovery Throwback Thursdays

Here’s our latest blog post in our Throwback Thursdays series where we are revisiting some of the eDiscovery best practice posts we have covered over the years and discuss whether any of those recommended best practices have changed since we originally covered them.

This post was originally published on March 23, 2012, and concludes our two-part series on this topic.  There is more to litigation holds than just issuing an automated hold, suspending auto-delete programs (including those for text and other messaging apps) and tracking the responses.

Last week, we discussed identifying custodians, preparing a written litigation hold, issuing the hold and tracking responses.  Today, we’ll discuss interviewing hold notice recipients, follow up on notices, releasing holds when the obligation to preserve is removed and tracking all holds within an organization.  Here are the rest of the best practices for implementing a litigation hold.

Interviewing Hold Notice Recipients: Depending on the case, follow-up interviews (with at least the key custodians) are generally accepted as a best practice and may be necessary to ensure defensibility of the notice.  The point of these interviews is to repeat the duty to preserve, provide a detailed explanation of the requirements of the hold, answer the recipient’s questions (if any), and confirm that the recipient understands and agrees to adhere to the notice. You should keep written records of each of these interviews and document the reasoning for determining which individuals to interview.

Follow-Up on Hold Notices: For a litigation hold plan to be successful and defensible, it needs to include periodic follow-up reminders to recipients of the notices to inform them that the data in question remains under hold until the case concludes. Follow-up reminders could simply be a retransmission of the original notice or they could be a summary of all of the notices the individual has received, if there are multiple cases with holds for that individual. There is no specific requirement on how often the reminders should be sent, but it’s best to send them at least quarterly.  For some cases, it may be necessary to send them monthly.

Release the Hold: Not to be confused with “release the hounds”, it is just as important to inform people when the duty to preserve the data expires (typically, when the case is completed) as it is to notify them when the duty to preserve begins.  Releasing the hold is key to ensure that information doesn’t continue to be preserved outside of the organization’s document retention policies – if it is, it may then become subject to litigation holds in other litigations unnecessarily.  Releasing the hold also helps keep custodians from being overwhelmed with multiple retention notices, which could cause them to take the notices less seriously.  However, the release notification should be clear with regard to the fact that data subject to hold in another matter should continue to be preserved to meet discovery obligations in that matter.

Hold Tracking System: It’s important to have a reliable “system” for tracking litigation holds across all matters within the organization. Depending on your needs, that could be part of the litigation hold tracking solution discussed in last week’s post, or it could even be a simple database or spreadsheet to track the information.  You should keep historical tracking data even for completed matters as that information can be useful in guiding hold issuance on new matters (by helping to identify the correct custodians for new matters that are factually similar or related to current closed or open matters).  At a minimum, a tracking system should:

  • Track responses from individual custodians and identify those who have not yet responded,
  • Track periodic reminder notices and release notices,
  • Provide ability to report a list of people with a duty to preserve for a specific matter as well as all matters for which a person is under retention.

So, what do you think?  Do you have a solid “hold” on your hold process?  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.

Hold It Right There!: eDiscovery Throwback Thursdays

Here’s our latest blog post in our Throwback Thursdays series where we are revisiting some of the eDiscovery best practice posts we have covered over the years and discuss whether any of those recommended best practices have changed since we originally covered them.

This post was originally published on March 22, 2012, when eDiscovery Daily was just over a year and a half old.  Even though the Federal Rules changes of 2015 have made sanctions more difficult to obtain with the “intent to deprive” standard in Rule 37(e) for significant sanctions for spoliation of ESI, failure to issue a litigation hold has been seen in the eyes of some courts as an intentional act, leading to adverse inference instruction sanctions or even dismissal or default judgment of the case.  So, implementing a solid litigation hold is as important than ever.  Also important is suspending any auto delete programs that are running for key custodians.  Seven and a half years ago, those were primarily associated with email auto delete programs, but it now is just as important for text message and other message programs as well, as illustrated by these three recent cases.  Enjoy!

When we review key case decisions every year related to eDiscovery, the most case law decisions are almost always those related to sanctions and spoliation issues.  Most of the spoliation sanctions were due to untimely or inadequate preservation of the data for litigation.  As noted in the historic Zubulake decision, Judge Shira Sheindlin ruled that parties in litigation have an obligation to preserve potentially relevant data as soon as there is a reasonable expectation that data may be relevant to future litigation.  However, even if the party reacts in a timely manner to take steps to preserve data through a litigation hold, but executes those steps poorly, data can be lost and sanctions can occur.  Here are some best practices for implementing a litigation hold.

The most effective litigation hold plans are created before actual litigation arises and applied consistently across all matters. While cases and jurisdictions vary and there are not many hard and fast rules on implementing litigation holds, there are generally accepted best practices for implementing holds.  Implementation of a litigation hold generally includes each of the steps identified below:

Identify Custodians and Suspend Auto-Delete Programs: As we have learned in many cases over the years, it’s important to completely identify all potential custodians and suspend any automatic deletion programs that might result in deletion of data subject to litigation.  As noted above, those auto-delete programs extend to more than just email these days, as we have seen several cases (especially lately) involving failure to suspend auto-delete programs for text and other messaging apps.

Custodians can be individuals or non-individual sources such as IT and records management departments.  To determine a complete list of custodians, it’s generally best to conduct interviews of people identified as key players for the case, asking them to identify other individuals who are likely to have potentially relevant data in their possession.

Prepare Written Hold Notice: Hold notices should be in writing, and should typically be written in a standard format.  They should identify all types of data to be preserved and for what relevant period.  Sometimes, hold notices are customized depending on the types of custodians receiving them (e.g., IT department may receive a specific notice to suspend tape destruction or disable auto-deletion of emails).

Distribute Hold Notice: It is important to distribute the notice using a communication mechanism that is reliable and verifiable. Typically, this is via email and litigation hold distribution and tracking mechanisms have become much more common in recent years. Distribution should occur only to the selected and specific individuals likely to have potentially relevant information, usually not company-wide, as not everyone will understand the parameters of the hold.  Believe it or not, notices with overly broad distributions have, in some cases, been deemed inadequate by courts.

Track Responses: It is advisable to require recipients of the litigation hold notice to confirm their receipt and understanding of the notice via a method that can be tracked (again, a litigation hold program can help automate this process as it can keep track of those who have acknowledged receipt of the hold notice as well as who hasn’t).  These litigation hold distribution and tracking programs have become preferable to any manual programs for tracking read receipt notifications through email.

Next week, we’ll discuss follow up on notices, releasing holds when the obligation to preserve is removed and tracking all holds within an organization.  Hasta la vista, baby!

So, what do you think?  Do you have a solid “hold” on your hold process?  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.