Even A Judged Questioned Why Ask for Permission to Use Predictive Coding

HighFiveI do not normally want to high five Federal judges, but Judge Ronald Buch, a Tax Judge in Texas, sure deserved one after his Dynamo Holdings opinion.

The discovery dispute can be summed up as a battle over backup tapes that had confidential information. The Requesting Party wanted the tapes; the Producing Party wanted to use predictive coding to produce what was relevant, because the cost for reviewing the material for privilege and relevancy would cost $450,000 with manual review. Dynamo Holdings v. Comm’r, 2014 U.S. Tax Ct. LEXIS 40 (Docket Nos. 2685-11, 8393-12. Filed September 17, 2014.)

The Requesting Party wanted the backup tapes to analyze metadata on when ESI was created. Moreover, the Requesting Party called “Predictive Coding” an “unproven technology.” The Requesting Party attempted to address the Producing Party’s cost concern with a clawback agreement. Dynamo Holdings, at *3.

After an evidentiary hearing with experts on the use of predictive coding, the Court granted the Producing Party’s motion to use predictive coding. Judge Buch had a “dynamo” quote on the entire issue of asking to use predictive coding:

 “And although it is a proper role of the Court to supervise the discovery process and intervene when it is abused by the parties, the Court is not normally in the business of dictating to parties the process that they should use when responding to discovery. If our focus were on paper discovery, we would not (for example) be dictating to a party the manner in which it should review documents for responsiveness or privilege, such as whether that review should be done by a paralegal, a junior attorney, or a senior attorney. Yet that is, in essence, what the parties are asking the Court to consider–whether document review should be done by humans or with the assistance of computers. Respondent fears an incomplete response to his discovery. If respondent believes that the ultimate discovery response is incomplete and can support that belief, he can file another motion to compel at that time. Nonetheless, because we have not previously addressed the issue of computer-assisted review tools, we will address it here.

Dynamo Holdings, at *10-11.

It is so refreshing to see a Judge address the issue of requesting to use a specific technology. No one does a motion to compel asking for permission on what lawyers should do document review. Moreover, no moving party asks permission to use visual analytics, de-duplication, or any of the other outstanding technology available to conduct eDiscovery.

The opinion ends with that if the Requesting Party believed the discovery response was incomplete, then a motion to compel could be filed, which is exactly the way the process should work. The issue should not be “can we use this technology,” whether the production is adequate or not, which requires evidence of a production gaps or other evidence that not all responsive information was produced.

Well done Judge Buch.

 

Don’t Stipulate to Not Follow the Form of Production Rules

No-jackintheboxHere is my advice: NEVER agree to a stipulation to produce native files when “it is more practical to do so” and agree to productions in PAPER, PDF’s, or TIFFs. Melian Labs v. Triology LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124343 (N.D. Cal.Sept. 4, 2014).

That is what happened in Melian Labs v. Triology LLC. It reads like a personal Sum of All Fears for anyone who has spent years working with ESI, because the Court denied motions to compel email and spreadsheets in native files with metadata, because of the parties’ Rule 26(f) stipulation.

The Requesting Party challenged the Producing Party’s email production, because the production was “7 large PDF image documents, which each appear to be a  compilation of ESI improperly collected and produced” and the collection was not forensically sound.  Melian Labs, at *4.

The Producing Party claimed it did not need to forensically collect discovery. Further, the Producing Party claimed the email was printouts directly from Gmail or Microsoft. Id. 

ScreamingMad

The Court stated that the Requesting Party was complaining about the form of production and not that the production was incomplete. As the parties had agreed to the form of production being paper, PDF’s, or TIFFs,  Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(E) did not control, but instead the parties’ stipulation. Melian Labs, at *4-5.

The Court stated the following on the stipulation and the discovery dispute:

Instead, it states that ESI may be produced in paper, PDF or TIFF. That producing the documents in a searchable format would ease Triology’s review does not render Melian’s production deficient. Triology fails to articulate why metadata is important to emails, when every email should contain the information sought on the face of the document. To the extent that emails have this information cut off or it is not apparent from the face of the email (i.e. as may be the case with BCC), Triology is entitled to the complete email with the agreed upon metadata, and Melian must provide it upon request.

Melian Labs, at *5 (Emphasis added).

Based on the above, the Court DENIED the moving party’s request  to compel the production of all emails in a searchable or native format is denied. Id. 

Things get equally frustrating for spreadsheets.

The Producing Party admitted reading some of the spreadsheets were difficult and produced those ones in native file upon request. Melian Labs, at *5-6. However, the Producing Party stood their ground that they agreed to produce native files “when it is more practicable to do so.” Id. 

The Court held again that the joint stipulation controlled and that the Producing Party could NOT be compelled to produce spreadsheets in native file format. Melian Labs, at *6 (emphasis added). However, the Court did end with a subtle suggestion the Producing Party would produce spreadsheets that were “easily readable without seeking court intervention” in the event of any disputes over the readability/legibility of spreadsheets. Id. 

Bow Tie Thoughts

I hate stipulations like this one. Producing in native file format is the only practical option when it comes to ESI. If I were a Federal Judge, I would summarily deny any such Rule 26(f) stipulations that called for the production of ESI as paper, PDFs, or TIFFs, on the grounds that the agreement would violate Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 1 by unnecessarily driving up costs. The fact the parties end up shackled to a bad form of production agreement should serve as a warning label to never let this happen again.

I worked on a case where over 2000 documents were produced as 8 non-searchable PDF’s. To say it was a mess was an understatement. We were able to correct the production gamesmanship with a useable production, but it made document review very difficult until it was corrected.

There is value in native files, because it provides objective coding for databases and expedites review, both of which further the goals of Rule 1. Moreover, there is amazing review technology that empowers lawyers to identify communication patterns, key players, and other useful information. Printing Gmail as PDF’s dramatically undercuts that ability to make use of these tools.

That being said, the Requesting Party could have very forceful deposition questions on what was done to preserve ESI, the steps to identify responsive discovery, and what methodology was employed to ensure substantive and embedded metadata was not destroyed after the duty to preserve triggered. Additional questions could be asked to identify formulas in printed spreadsheets of Excel files. This might force the production of un-produced native file spreadsheets.

Discovery must be collected in a defensible manner. Many people call this process “forensically sound.” This might not mean that every computer has a mirror image made of it, but a targeted collection. Using targeted collection tools can also be done in a defensible manner, with many great technology options to use. That being said, I would question the adequacy of a product done where the collection process was printing email as PDF’s. It might be justified in a small case, but if in Federal Court with high stakes, I would strongly encourage having a mirror image done of the subject computers.

Nebraska, Where Proportionality is Alive and Well in Discovery

Nebraska stampOne lesson from United States v. Univ. of Neb. at Kearney, is that maybe you should take depositions of key parties and use interrogatories to find out relevant information to your case before asking for over 40,000 records that contain the personal information of unrelated third-parties to a lawsuit.

The case is a Fair Housing Act suit involving claims that students were prohibited or hindered from having “emotional assistance animals in university housing when such animals were needed to accommodate the requesting students’ mental disabilities.” United States v. Univ. of Neb. at Kearney, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118073, 2 (D. Neb. Aug. 25, 2014).

A protracted battle over the scope of discovery broke out between the parties. The Defendants argued the search, retrieval, and review for responsive discovery was too expansive and would have been unduly burdensome. Kearney, at *5-6. As the Government’s search requests included “document* w/25 policy,” you can see the Defendant’s point on having broad hits to search terms. Kearney, at *20.

The Government’s revised search terms would have 51,131 record hits, which would have cost $155,574 for the Defendants to retrieve, review, and produce the responsive ESI. Kearney, at *5-6. This would have been on top of the $122,006 already spent for processing the Government’s requests for production. Kearney, at *7.

The Court noted that the Government’s search terms would have required production of ESI for every person with disability, whether they were students or contractors. Kearney, at *6-7. The Government argued the information was necessary, and justified, in order to show discriminatory intent by the Defendants. Id.

The Defendants wanted the scope of the discovery requests narrowed to the “housing” or “residential” content, which would have resulted in 10,997 responsive records. Kearney, at *7.

The Government did not want to limit the scope of discovery and recommended producing all the ESI subject to a clawback agreement [notice not a protective order] for the Government to search the ESI. The Defendants argued such an agreement would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by disclosing student personal identifiable information without their notice and consent. Kearney, at *8.

Motion practice followed with the Defendant requesting cost shifting to the Government for conducting searches, the use of predictive coding software, and review hosting fees. Kearney, at *8-9.

The Court ordered the parties to answer specific discovery questions, which the Government did not answer, on “information comparing the cost of its proposed document retrieval method and amount at issue in the case, any cost/benefit analysis of the discovery methods proposed, or a statement of who should bear those costs.” Kearney, at *9.

The Court was not keen on the Government outright searching the personal data of others unrelated to the case. As the Court stated:

The public and the university’s student population may be understandably reluctant to request accommodations or voice their concerns about disparate or discriminatory treatment if, by doing so, their private files can be scoured through by the federal government for a wholly unrelated case. The government’s reach cannot extend that far under the auspices of civil discovery; at least not without first affording all nonparties impacted with an opportunity to consent or object to disclosure of information from or related to their files.

Kearney, at *18-19.

The Court stated it would not order the production of over 51,000 files with a clawback order. Moreover, the cost to review all of the ESI exceeded the value of the request. Kearney, at *19.

The Court did not accept the Government’s claim that it needed to conduct an expansive search. Kearney, at *19-20. The Court stated the following on the fundamentals of civil discovery:

Searching for ESI is only one discovery tool. It should not be deemed a replacement for interrogatories, production requests, requests for admissions and depositions, and it should not be ordered solely as a method to confirm the opposing party’s discovery is complete. For example, the government proposes search terms such as “document* w/25 policy.” The broadly used words “document” and “policy” will no doubt retrieve documents the government wants to see, along with thousands of documents that have no bearing on this case. And to what end? Through other discovery means, the government has already received copies of UNK’s policies for the claims at issue.

Kearney, at *20.

The Court further stated that “absent any evidence that the defendants hid or destroyed discovery and cannot be trusted to comply with written discovery requests, the court is convinced ESI is neither the only nor the best and most economical discovery method for, and depositions should suffice—and with far less cost and delay.” Kearney, at *21.

Bow Tie Thoughts

This case has significant privacy interests, but at its core the issue is one of proportionality. What was the cost of discovery and its benefit? In the end, the cost of expansive search terms that impacted the third party rights of others, outweighed the benefit of the discovery to the case.

The fact we have amazing search technology that can search electronic information does not mean we can forget how to litigate. The use of “search terms” cannot swallow the actual claims of a case.

It is heartening to see a Court say no to the data of unrelated third parties being enveloped into a discovery production. While there are many ways to show discrimination, requesting the electronically stored information, protected by Federal and most likely state law, of third parties should give any Court pause.

The use of predictive coding to focus the scope of discovery, or visual analytics to identify relevant information, or clustering to organizing similar information is fantastic technology to expedite review. However, the fact that technology exists still means lawyers have to use requests for admissions, interrogatories, and have requests narrowly tailored for responsive ESI.

 

Remembering Browning Marean

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Browning Marean. Both Craig Ball and Chris Dale have written very eloquently about Browning. I encourage you to read both of their tributes.

Browning Marean was the senior statesman of eDiscovery. There are few people who had the grace and knowledge of Browning. The man had the voice of a classic radio broadcaster who made audiences stop and listen.

Browning_JudgePeck_LTWC2009

Browning set the gold standard when it came to giving a presentation. Whether he was moderating a panel discussion, delivering a keynote, or holding court with a judge, his style was unmatched.

To say Browning was an “early adopter” of technology is an understatement. Browning was the geek’s geek. The man loved technology. He joked he liked trying out a product before even the Beta test.

Browning had a natural gift to identify useful new technology. It was Browning who introduced me to Zoom.us, the product I now use for my audio and video podcasts. His one call to tell me about the product made a huge impact on work I do weekly.

I enjoyed my video calls with Browning. He usually greeted me with, “Joshua my good man, how are you?” I am going to greatly miss discussing the law, politics, and life with Browning.

I will never forget my adventures with Browning. He was a gentleman who cared about people, and a lawyer who set a high bar for the rest of us to follow.

Browning was a legend across the entire world of eDiscovery and he will be missed.

Browning_Iconect-April2012

Does Proportionality Disappear If a Lawyer Says “Predictive Coding” Three Times?

The In re Bridgepoint Education case is not one about the merits of predictive coding, but one of proportionality over expanding the scope of discovery by nine months. In re Bridgepoint Educ., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108505, 10-11 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2014). While the cost of document review and the use of predictive coding have a starring role in the opinion, let’s not forget the second discovery dispute in the case ultimately is about proportionality.

The Defendants claimed that expanding the scope of discovery by nine months would increase their review costs by 26% or $390,000 (based on past review efforts in the case). In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *6-7.

Computer-Search-Magic

The Plaintiffs countered that the review costs would more likely be $11,279, because of the predictive coding system the Defendants would use instead of manual review. In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *7.

The Defendants countered that “predictive coding” did not make “manual review” for relevance elective, because the predictive coding software assigned a percentage estimate to each record on the record’s probability of being relevant. Id. As such, attorney review is still required for relevance and privilege review. Id.

The Court denied expanding the scope of discovery by nine months based on the “proportionality” rule of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(2)(C). The Rule states a Court can limit discovery if the “burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs the likely benefit.” In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *9-10.

The Court found expanding the scope to be unduly burdensome. Moreover, while there might have been relevant information in the expanded timeframe, the Court agreed with the Defendants that relevant information would be in the originally agreed timeframe. In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *10-11.

Predictive Coding was also at the center of the fourth discovery dispute. The Plaintiffs argued discovery produced from three Individual Defendants should be added to the Defendants’ predictive coding software. In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *12. According to the Plaintiffs, the Defendants “unilaterally-selected search terms” to identify the original production. Id.

The Defendants argued their review process for the original production was reasonable. Moreover, adding the original production to the predictive coding process could “negatively impact the reliability of the predictive coding process.” In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *12-13. However, the Defendants were willing to run additional searches on the Individual Defendants’ production. In re Bridgepoint Educ., at *13.

The Court noted that the Defendants’ linear search methodology for the three Individual Defendants had been approved by the Court. As such, the Court ordered the parties to meet and confer on additional search terms on the original production for the Individual Defendants. Id.

Bow Tie Thoughts

In re Bridgepoint Education is an interesting spin on predictive coding cases, because effectively the REQUESTING party is arguing for the producing party to use predictive coding to reduce proportionality issues.

Businessman managing electronic documentsFirst things first: Saying, “predictive coding” has no magical properties. Nor will review costs decline by getting the opposing party to say Rumpelstiltskin. Even if an attorney is somehow tricked into saying Mister Mxyzptlk’s name backwards in a hearing, a Court will always be concerned about proportionality before expanding the scope of discovery.

Proportionality will always be concerned with cost of review, but discovery review does not exist independent of the case. The scope of discovery should not be expanded because the cost of review can be reduced leveraging advanced search capabilities alone. The issue is whether there are relevant records in the expanded universe and if the “burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs the likely benefit.”

Finally, just because one search methodology was used to identify records over another does not devalue the responsiveness of the production. If a requesting party is concerned with the adequacy of a production, challenge it accordingly by showing production gaps or other evidence to demonstrate the production is inadequate.

Don’t Phone in Adverse Inference Allegations

I have a nut on the phoneCan a Plaintiff win adverse inference instructions for the destruction of a phone recording destroyed after a one-year retention policy and whose relevance (or existence) was not known by the Defendants for two years after the event happened?

Short answer is no.

The test for establishing adverse inference instructions for the destruction of evidence is:

(1) That the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed;

(2) That the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and

(3) That the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim or defense.

Candy Marcum v. Scioto County, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112100, 42-43 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 13, 2014).

The case involved the Plaintiff seeking adverse inference instructions for the recording of a phone call in November 2008. The deceased called his wife from the county jail. The recording was deleted per the one-year document retention.

The Magistrate Judge initially found that the phone recording was destroyed per the Defendant’s document destruction policy, but granted adverse inference instructions because of the Defendants’ “negligence.” The Magistrate Judge looked to the facts that the Sheriff requested an investigation into the death of the victim and the Plaintiff had hired an attorney. Marcum, at *43.

The District Court Judge found these facts did not constitute enough for an adverse inference instruction for the phone recording. The Defendants did not know of the recording, which goes against the “culpable state of mind” requirement for adverse inference instructions. Marcum, at *43-44.

The Plaintiff further declined an interview with the investigator in 2008 and did not notify the Defendant of the existence of the phone call. Moreover, the Plaintiff waited two years to file a lawsuit and request the recording. Marcum, at *44. The existence of the recording was not made until 2010. Id.

The Defendants did retain relevant video, but claimed they never knew of the phone call or its relevance. As such, the District Court modified the Magistrate Judge’s order regarding adverse inference instructions. Marcum, at *48.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Attorneys cannot phone in spoliation allegations. If one side believes information exists that should be preserved, include that in your preservation letter to the opposing party. It is difficult for one party to be attacked for the destruction of evidence if they were never on notice of its existence. Moreover, discuss possible sources of relevant ESI during the meet and confer to ensure the electronic information is both identified and preserved.

Social Media Hearsay Objections

Social media being offered into evidence in any case will almost always have hearsay objections if the proffered evidence is a status update, comment, Tweet, or even video.

The reason? Virtually everything on social media is a statement. Unless the social media is only a photo with no text, there is a almost certainty that any social media evidence will have a hearsay objection.

spilledwafflecone

Case in point: a Plaintiff in employment age discrimination litigation during summary judgment attempted to introduce deposition testimony from the Plaintiff about a Facebook status message from a current employee about customer complaints and that the declarant was “sick and tired” of it. Fairweather v. Friendly’s Ice Cream, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100755, 12 fn 11 (D. Me. July 24, 2014).

The Court found the Facebook status message “problematic,” because it was made more than a year after the Plaintiff had been terminated, thus would not be admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 (likely because it would confuse the issues or cause prejudice). Id.

The Defendant also objected to the statement as hearsay (an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted). The Court opined that the statement was not being offered to prove the declarant was actually “sick and tired” of customer complaints, but evidence of the frequency of customer complaints. Fairweather, at *17. This would mean the statement was being offered for the truth of the matter asserted and thus would be hearsay. The Court further found the deposition testimony about the status message to be cumulative and would not be admitted. Id. 

Ironically, the Court did not invoke the Best Evidence Rule. The dispute focused on the Plaintiff’s deposition testimony about a status message she saw from another person. There is no reference to a print out, screen shot, or any capture of the Facebook status message. This arguably would also violate the “Best Evidence Rule,” because the “writing” was not actually included as evidence.