Spoliation, Texas Style

The Texas Supreme Court has clarified the standards for spoliation (in Texas). The rule is that Texas has a two-step process: (1) the Trial Court must determine, as a question of law, whether a party spoliated evidence, and (2) if spoliation occurred, the Court must assess an appropriate remedy. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. v. Aldridge, 2014 Tex. LEXIS 562, 3-4 (Tex. July 3, 2014).

This Allemande Left and Do So Do requires a Trial Court to find that (1) the spoliating party had a duty to reasonably preserve evidence, and (2) the party intentionally or negligently breached that duty by failing to do so. Brookshire Bros., Ltd., at *3. This is to be done outside the presence of the jury, so the accused party is not swung around before the jurors, causing any prejudicial effect by the presentation of evidence that is unrelated to the facts underlying the lawsuit. Id. (and memories of 7th grade square dancing). 

The jury is to only hear evidence of spoliation that is related to the lawsuit. If there is spoliation, the then Trial Court can craft a proportionate remedy based upon the level of culpability of the spoliating party and the degree of prejudice, if any, suffered by the nonspoliating party. Brookshire Bros., Ltd., at *4.

The facts of the Texas case involved video footage at a grocery store of a slip and fall. The Plaintiff slipped at the store and reported the incident the following day after going to the emergency room. The store saved video of the fall, starting from before the Plaintiff entered and left the premises. The video lasted 8 minutes. However, the rest of the video was deleted per the company’s data destruction policy after 30 days. Brookshire Bros., Ltd.  at *6-7.

The Texas Supreme Court held that a party must intentionally spoliate evidence in order for a spoliation instruction to constitute an appropriate remedy. Brookshire Bros., Ltd.  at *31.

The Court held that the deletion of the video for the entire day of the incident did not justify the jury spoliation jury instruction. Furthermore, the video showing the actual fall was presented to the jury. Brookshire Bros., Ltd.  at *46-47. The Court found that the failure to preserve additional video footage did not irreparably deprive Plaintiff of any meaningful ability to present his claim. Brookshire Bros., Ltd.  at *47-48. The issuing of the spoilation jury instruction was an abuse of the Trial Court’s discretion. Brookshire Bros., Ltd.  at *48.

Bow Tie Thoughts

The preservation of electronic evidence is a challenge for many attorneys. Litigants cannot preserve “everything” in a company at the first sign of litigation. The trick is preserving what is relevant. This becomes a question on the scope of discovery.

Could the Defendants in this case have copied a half hour before the incident and a half hour after? Sure. Some companies might do that. Others might not. Whether that is reasonable would turn on the facts of the case on whether that data needed to be preserved.

Texas lawyers know a few things about spoliation. First, it is based in evidence, opposed to a cause of action. Second, Judges should not let the facts over data preservation be presented to the jury to avoid any prejudicial effect. If there is an actual issue of spoliation, then the Court must determine the remedy before going to the jury.

Blogs I Like and the ABA Journal Blawg 100

There are many great blogs for attorneys. The ABA Journal is now accepting “Friends of the Blawg” briefs in the annual ABA Journal Blawg 100. Nominations can be submitted on the ABA Journal website.

Blog in metal

There are many great litigation blogs. Here are some of my favorites:

Craig Ball’s Ball in Your Court. Craig is a scholar, a gentleman, and an exceptional attorney.

Sharon D. Nelson’s Ride the Lightning. Virginia State Bar President Nelson provides daily eDiscovery news and is a must for anyone interested in eDiscovery.

Ralph Losey’s e-Discovery Team is another excellent source of eDiscovery best practices and summaries of recent cases.

My good friend Drew Lewis (along with Phillip Favro & Dean Gonsowski) writes Recommind’s eDiscovery blog Mind Over Matters.

There are many other great legal thought leaders, from Michael Arkfeld to Jackson Palmer. Everyone of them does a great service to the practice of law. I recommend checking them all out as you consider your nominations for the ABA Journal Blawg 100.

I would be honored to have your nominations for both Bow Tie Law and The Legal Geeks with Jessica Mederson, if you enjoy my blogs.

To file your “Friend of the Blawg” brief, please visit http://www.abajournal.com/blawgs/blawg100_submit/

 

Native Files & Protective Orders

What do parties do when they anticipate documents, testimony, or information containing or reflecting confidential, proprietary, trade secret, and/or commercially sensitive information are likely to be disclosed or produced during the course of discovery, initial disclosures, and supplemental disclosures in a case? Agreeing to a protective order is a the solution the parties sought in Farstone Tech., Inc. v. Apple Inc.

ConfidentialPaperClip

The protective order stated the following on native files:

Where electronic files and documents are produced in native electronic format, such electronic files and documents shall be designated for protection under this Order by appending to the file names or designators information indicating whether the file contains “CONFIDENTIAL,” “CONFIDENTIAL – ATTORNEYS’ EYES ONLY,” or “CONFIDENTIAL – OUTSIDE ATTORNEYS’ EYES ONLY – SOURCE CODE,” material, or shall use any other reasonable method for so designating Protected Materials produced in electronic format. When electronic files or documents are printed for use at deposition, in a court proceeding, or for provision in printed form to an expert or consultant pre-approved pursuant to paragraph 12, the party printing the electronic files or documents shall affix a legend to the printed document corresponding to the designation of the Designating Party and including the production number and designation associated with the native file. No one shall seek to use in this litigation a .tiff, .pdf or other image format version of a document produced in native file format without first (1) providing a copy of the image format version to the Producing Party so that the Producing Party can review the image to ensure that no information has been altered, and (2) obtaining the consent of the Producing Party, which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld.

Farstone Tech., Inc. v. Apple Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89604, 10-12 (C.D. Cal. June 24, 2014).

The section of depositions demonstrated a lot of forethought on behalf of the attorneys who prepared the stipulated protective order (or Judge) with the party printing the electronic files or documents shall affix a legend to the printed document corresponding to the designation of the Designating Party and including the production number and designation associated with the native file. The only way this could be stronger would be the legend also including a MD5 hash value for authentication (which it potentially would include) and the system file pathway.

The final sentence on allowing review of a static image to the opposing side for review also addresses a concern many attorneys have over native files converted to static images. There is the obvious method of reading the document to determine it is “identical,” but using near-de-duplication technology to verify the text is an exact match, assuming the static image is a searchable PDF. If it is a TIFF, then conducting a line by line comparison is the best option.

My compliments to the attorneys who drafted the stipulated protective. I hope the litigation avoids any discovery disputes and focuses on the merits.

Proportionality Prevents Mirror Imaging of Family Computers

The Defendants in employment litigation sought the mirror imaging of the Plaintiff’s personal computers three years after she had been terminated. The crux of the eDiscovery centered on the former employee forwarding emails from her supervisors email to her personal account, which the Defendants claimed were lost by the Plaintiff. The Court denied the motion to compel. Downs v. Va. Health Sys., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74415, 6-11 (W.D. Va. June 2, 2014).

Young woman with a laptop on her head

Judge James G. Welsh did a very nice job of summarizing ESI relevant to a case, proportionality, and the rules for conducting forensic analysis on an opposing party’s hard drive. The Court held the following:

(1) Nothing in the record suggests any willful failure, fault or bad faith by the plaintiff on her discovery obligations that would justify the requested computer forensics examination;

(2) The “mirror-imaging” of the plaintiff’s family computers three years after her termination raises significant issues of confidentiality and privacy;

(3) There was no duty on the part of the plaintiff to preserve her family computers as evidence;

(4) Principles of proportionality direct that the requested discovery is not sufficiently important to warrant the potential burden or expense in this case; and

(5) On the current record that the defendants have failed to justify a broad, and frankly drastic, forensic computer examination of the plaintiff’s two family computers. 

Downs, at *9-10, referencing McCurdy Group v. Am. Biomedical Group, Inc., 9 Fed. Appx. 822, 831 (10th Cir, 2001); see also Basile Baumann Prost Cole & Assocs., Inc. v. BBP & Assocs. LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51264, *8 (DMd. Apr. 9, 2013).

Bow Tie Thoughts 

Conducting forensic analysis by an opposing party on personal computers is one of the most touchy subjects in eDiscovery. The United States Supreme Court drove home how much personal data can be on a smart phone, so that information only explodes on a personal computer. Tax records, vacation photos with children, and a host of other non-relevant or privileged information can be on a personal computer. The idea of a Court ordering the mirror imaging of personal computer by an opposing party is as invasive as ordering a physical examination of a party. It is not something done lightly.

I think it is part of a lawyer’s duty of competency to ensure relevant information on a client’s personal computers is preserved at the beginning of litigation. However, that does not mean that the entire contents would ever be produced, only what is relevant.

Targeted collections are one way to ensure ESI is preserved. There is also self-executing technology that can be used, as well as remote collections. I would avoid self-collection at all costs.

That being said, I would hold the line and fight against an opposing party that wanted to rummage through a personal hard drive without significant legal justification.

Arkansas Bar Association Annual Meeting

I had the honor of speaking at the 2014 Arkansas State Bar Annual meeting on eDiscovery Ethics and new trends in eDiscovery in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had an amazing time and greatly appreciated the hospitality of the Arkansas Bar Association.

Arkansas_Ethics-Presentation

My new Ethics seminar is a Star Trek themed presentation based on the Ingenuity 12 LLC v Doe case, that also covered the evolving rules of attorney and judicial ethics on social media; how to conduct a reasonable inquiry with ESI; the duty of candor to the Court; compliance with Rule 11 in an age of Terabytes; Production obligations under FRCP 26(g); and the duty of confidentiality and computer security. It was also a ton of fun.

MirrorSpock-Agonizer

My two sessions were attended by 150-200 attorneys in the convention center exhibit hall. We also covered the proposed California ethics opinion on eDiscovery competency, which will require attorneys to be competent in the following areas:

Initially assess eDiscovery needs and issues, if any;

Implement appropriate ESI preservation procedures, including the obligation to advise a client of the legal requirement to take actions to preserve evidence, like electronic information, potentially relevant to the issues raised in the litigation;

Analyze and understand a client’s ESI systems and storage;

Identify custodians of relevant ESI;

Perform appropriate searches;

Collect responsive ESI in a manner that preserves the integrity of that ESI;

Advise the client as to available options for collection and preservation of ESI;

Engage in competent and meaningful meet and confer with opposing counsel concerning an eDiscovery plan; and

Produce responsive ESI in a recognized and appropriate manner.

Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 11-0004 (ESI and Discovery Requests) (State Bar of California).

Khan-FormofProduction

This proposed opinion has teeth, because lawyers who are not competent in eDiscovery should either learn how to handle eDiscovery issues, associate with those who are, which can be retaining an expert, or decline representation. Given the fact virtually all civil litigation has data of some kind in it, the third option could end careers.

ESI-Tribbles

“Tweeting Discovery,” my second session, explored recent social media/eDiscovery issues. The material also covered two of the new and proposed statutes limiting the use of Drones by law enforcement. The Drone limitations would prohibit law enforcement to use Drones to gather evidence, images, sounds, or data. The key exceptions would be in a high risk of terrorist attack, finding a mission person, preventing imminent loss of life, or a search warrant (limited in scope to only person subject to the search), and data retention rules. See, 2013 ILL. ALS 569 and 2013 Bill Text NC H.B. 312.

I want to thank the Arkansas Bar Association for their hospitality. I had a corner suite in the Arlington Hotel, which included a Washington, DC, theme, complete with a large sitting room and conference room. Truly a lot of fun. I even took a moment to enjoy the suite and record this promo video for The Legal Geeks submission to the Geekie Awards:

 

A Measured Response to Social Media Preservation

A Plaintiff in a civil lawsuit deactivated her Facebook profile on the advice of her attorney after the duty to preserve triggered. The Plaintiff claimed she used the account to primarily communicate with her family. Chapman v. Hiland Operating, LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74248, 4-7 (D.N.D. May 29, 2014).

Facebook-Alerts

The Court granted in part the Defendant’s motion to compel production of the profile, with very specific instructions:

1. Plaintiff and attorney were to make a reasonable, good faith attempt to reactivate the Facebook account. Plaintiffs did not have to permit defense counsel to be present during the attempt to reactivate the account, and if the account was reactivated, plaintiffs did not have to provide defense counsel the account login and password or full access to the account.

2. If the Facebook account was reactivated, plaintiffs had to produce in the form of a screen shot other similar format all information from the account referencing one plaintiff’s health since a specific date, his relationship with the other plaintiff, and defined activities related to the lawsuit. 

Chapman, at *6-7.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Attorneys should discuss with their clients what types of social media they use for preservation of relevant electronically stored information. No lawyer should tell a party to deactivate an account that could have relevant information for a lawsuit, but it might not be a bad idea to give instructions limiting use during a case. This would depend on the facts of the case.

There are many options for preserving social media. Screen shots and print outs are perfectly acceptable if time is of the essence. I know many attorneys in family law, DA’s who prosecute deadbeat dads, or those seeking TRO’s who have done this “low tech” approach to social media preservation.

Social media preservation technology is readily available and commercially affordable. I strongly encourage attorneys who need to preserve social media to retain an expert who can capture relevant Tweets, Instagram photos or similar social media. The reason is simple: an expert can testify to have the social media was identified and preserved for authentication. While a party can also testify to how they printed a Facebook page or took a screen shot of Instagram, no lawyer wants to turn themselves into a testifying witness for preserving social media evidence.

I agree with the Judge’s production order. The Judge was upfront in questioning if there would be any relevant social media in the case, however issued a balanced order focusing on dates and the subject matter of the case. The fact passwords did not need to be produced and the Plaintiffs could attempt to reactivate the profile without defense counsel was an excellent acknowledgement of reality that social media is not Voo Doo. Passwords should not be provided under normal circumstances, because it is the producing party’s obligation to identify responsive discovery, not the requesting party’s right to rummage through non-responsive data on a fishing expedition.

Let’s Not Print Social Media For Productions

Here are two tips on social media discovery:

Tip One: Get an expert who knows how to collect the electronically stored information on social media.

Tip Two: Downloading a Facebook profile, printing it, and conducting document review for redactions is not the best way to produce social media.

SocialMediaExamples_iStock

The Defendants in Stallings v. City of Johnston City, requested the Plaintiff produce the following social media:

Each and every social media posting by Stallings from 2011 to the present concerning her employment at Johnston City, allegations of wrongdoing against her, her suspension or termination, the investigation into missing money or wrongdoing in the Water Department, her lawsuit, her emotional or physical well-being, or any other matter identified in her Amended Complaint. This request includes all postings made by Stallings at any time on a Facebook account, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media site.

Stallings v. City of Johnston City, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68566, at *7 (S.D. Ill. May 19, 2014).

The Plaintiff stated that Facebook only allows for a download of data in its entirety. As such, the Plaintiff’s attorney and paralegal spent a week printing and redacting the 500 pages of the Plaintiff’s Facebook account. Stallings, at *7-8.

The Court was not thrilled with the Plaintiff’s claimed technological hardships. The first Court ordered the Plaintiff to produce the un-redacted pages of the Facebook profile, then to produce the entire un-redacted file from 2007 to present day. Id.

The Plaintiff did not identify with whom she had relevant discussions with on Facebook or whether any privileged attached to those conversations. Moreover, the Plaintiff argued that she had conversations with minors on Facebook, but not whether any of those discussions were relevant to the lawsuit. Stallings, at *8.

The Court stated it was clear that the Plaintiff had relevant conversations on Facebook about the litigation. Id. Moreover, the Court recognized that the communications could have admissions against interest and impeachment value. As such, the Plaintiff had to provide the names and residences of the individuals she communicated with on Facebook. Stallings, at *8-9.

The Court ultimately ordered the Plaintiff to produce a redacted hard copy of all relevant Facebook pages from 2011 to the present. The Plaintiff also had to provide defendants with the names and towns of residence of the individuals with whom the Plaintiff had relevant conversations. The Court defined the relevant Facebook pages as those containing statements about this case or the litigation, including discussions of her physical or mental health. The Plaintiff did not have to provide the names and location of minors without a Court order. Stallings, at *9-10.

Bow Tie Thoughts

I thought the requesting party did a good job with their request, because it sought what was relevant to the case, not a social media fishing expedition.

This case highlights the challenges lawyers have in not retaining experts to perform collections. While not directly stated, it seemed the Plaintiff’s attorney was trying to collect the Facebook profile through the download option without an expert and then conduct a manual review. I would encourage a law firm client to try a different approach.

There are products on the market that can be used to collect social media profiles. Some products can capture the data directly, search it, tag it, and produce it. X1 Social Discovery is one such product, but there are other product solutions as well. One of these tools could have made situations like this case much easier to litigation. I would encourage lawyers to look at their different options and find a partner who could assist them. No one should have to print entire social media profiles with the technology we have today.

How Not to Be Progressive: Court Rejects Predictive Coding Not Agreed to By Parties

RichardNixonStampFighting over discovery search methodology makes me think of President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech: “Always remember, there are those who hate you. And the only way to keep them from winning is to hate them right back. And then you destroy yourself.”

Attacking a party who used predictive coding to reduce discovery review time to save money and time, only to result in a larger collection of ESI produced upon the requesting party, means the requesting party now has more to review. This is the end result of Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Delaney.   

I have never been a fan of agreeing to the use of predictive coding in ESI Protocols. I do not believe such agreements are required at all by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The issue is whether or not a production is adequate. That requires the requesting party offering evidence that the production is somehow delinquent with facts. That discussion does not happen without first having a production.

Parties do not have a veto power over which review application is used by a reviewing party and what features they may or may not use.  The requesting party should not attack a review methodology, unless there is a production to challenge. The entire discussion is premature and the issue is not ripe for the Court.

In the case at bar, the original dataset was narrowed by search terms to 565,000 “hits” from the original 1.8 million dataset. This search term methodology had been agreed to in an ESI Protocol by the parties. After one month of document review, the producing party realized that it could take 6 to 8 months to manually review the narrowed dataset for responsiveness or privilege. The party unilaterally decided to use predictive coding instead. Moreover, after telling the other side about their change in technology, motion practice followed. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Delaney, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69166.

The Requesting Party wanted the Producing Party to 1) produce the 565,000 culled from the 1.8 million data set using the parties’ agreed-upon search terms subject to a clawback for privileged documents, or 2) the Producing Party apply the predictive coding methodology to the entire 1.8 million record dataset. Progressive, at *12 and *15.

The Producing Party did not want to do either approach, specifically concerned that searching the entire dataset would result in a larger privilege review.

The Court noted what has been judge-made law on using technology assisted review: Courts require the producing party to provide the requesting party with “full disclosure about the technology used, the process, and the methodology, including the documents used to “train” the computer.” Progressive, at *27-28, citing Da Silva Moore 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23550 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012).

The Court ordered the producing party to follow the original agreed to protocol and produce the “hit” documents to the Requesting Party within fourteen days without further review. Progressive, at *30.

The Court stated that following the Requesting Party’s protocol, the cost of review would be shifted to them. Progressive, at *31. Moreover, the Requesting Party believed they had the manpower to complete the review within one month. Id. 

The Requesting Party could apply privilege filters before production and produce a privilege log. Id. 

Bow Tie Thoughts

I do not encourage clients to have ESI Protocols that limit their ability to review discovery efficiently. I also strongly argue against the idea you need approval from the opposing party on what search methodology you can use to identify responsive discovery. It is the producing party’s right to use keywords, concept search, visual analytics, email threading, clustering, find similar, or any other form of technology-assisted review. That includes predictive coding. The requesting party does not get a veto power over what technology the producing party can use. The requesting party has “the burden of proving that a discovery response is inadequate.” Abt v. Jewell, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50766, 12-14 (D.D.C. Apr. 11, 2014), citing Barnes v. D.C., 289 F.R.D. 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2012) and Equal Rights Ctr. v. Post Props., Inc., 246 F.R.D. 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2007).

You cannot prove a discovery response is inadequate if you do not have a discovery response. The entire idea of attacking the use of predictive coding is premature if there is no production to be reviewed.

The ugly wrinkle in this case is the search and production methodology mandated in the ESI Protocol agreed to by the parties. I strongly encourage parties to not agree to actual technological steps to be used, because it limits the ability to conduct discovery in a cost effective manner. These agreements are often enacted without the advice of an eDiscovery Consultant who knows how the actual technology works.

What parties should discuss and codify in an ESI Protocol is the subject matter of the lawsuit. Who are the key players? What are the relevant date ranges? What are the terms of art used by the parties? What is the data actually making up the case? Those, and many others, are the topics parties need to agree to, not whether you can use visual analytics to identify date ranges or data clustering to determine what was relevant.

The use of predictive coding has been twisted because lawyers think they need permission to use it. They do not. The burden is on the opposing side to prove a production was inadequate, not the fact the producing party used one form of technology-assisted review over another.

 

Lessons From Drafting Overly Broad Requests

Paint_BrushesDrafting discovery is an art. While painting in oils or pastels is certainly more colorful than drafting requests in Times New Roman or Ariel, both require thought. And like any masterpiece, drafting a request for production can have its challenges.

A Requesting Party demanded an opposing party produce “[a]ll email and text messages sent or received on Mayo email and text messaging accounts.”

The Magistrate Judge found the request to be overly broad.

However, the Producing Party had produced responsive discovery with redactions, thus the Requesting Party challenged the overbroad ruling as unwarranted and moot. Elkharwily v. Mayo Holding Co., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53890, 8-10 (D. Minn. Apr. 18, 2014).

The Producing Party countered that discovery produced with redactions and claims of privilege were subject to the future consideration of the Magistrate Judge. Id.

The Court stated that the Magistrate Judge had “expressly excluded from his order any determination regarding redactions or assertions of privilege, reserving consideration of those topics. As a result, notwithstanding the magistrate judge’s conclusion of overbreadth, it appears that Elkharwily has no actual objection to a ruling by the magistrate judge regarding Requests for Production 1 or 2.” Id. 

The Requesting Party also challenged an overbroad ruling for a request for production of, “[a]ll documents, notes, communications, emails and text messages relating to or to any of the claims or defenses in this action prepared, sent or received by [various entities, departments and individuals].” Elkharwily, at *9-10.

The Producing Party stated that they had produced all responsive discovery, as such, the Court found there was not an objection to the Magistrate Judge’s ruling. Elkharwily, at *10.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Reviewing the requests for production and challenging the objections make me think of two different issues: drafting a narrowly tailored request and being able to prove a production was inadequate.

As to the first issue, a request for production should include more than identifying the sender and all communications. That could be overly broad on its face, given the number of emails and texts sent in a day. Attorneys are well served to ask for specific communications between individuals, date ranges, and on specific subjects. The trick is not having the request become too narrow, but you cannot simply ask for everything, because you might actually get everything. That could make document review a nightmarish quagmire, because you actually got what you asked for.

The second issue requires a different strategy. If you think a production is inadequate, because there “should be more” emails or text messages, you have to prove it. This is not a metaphysical discussion of whether something exists or not, but you need some evidence of production gaps. This can include missing files that the requesting party has that should have been produced (such as part of an email chain), if not outright days or weeks of missing email. If there is such a production gap, a party can demonstrate by affidavit that the production is not complete.