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.

Stuck in the Predictive Coding Pipeline

ExxonMobil Pipeline had a problem in discovery: their discovery responses were overdue. The requests for production was served in November 2013 and due after one extension in January 2014. The Plaintiffs rightly brought a motion to compel.

The Defendants had enough discovery to give most eDiscovery attorneys a migraine with a nosebleed: 16 separate lawsuits, with 165 discovery requests in one case, a total of 392 requests in all the related cases, and 83 custodians with approximately 2.7 million electronic documents. Other discovery going back to 1988 had over 63,000 paper documents that were scanned and to be searched with keywords. Additionally, there were approximately 630,000-800,000 documents that had to be reviewed for responsiveness, confidentiality, and privilege. The Defendants had produced 53,253 documents consisting of over 191,994 pages. United States v. ExxonMobil Pipeline Co., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81607, 5-8 (E.D. Ark. June 9, 2014).

pipeline

The Defendants suggested using predictive coding in light of the large volume of discovery, but the Plaintiff the United States did not agree with the use of predictive coding (at least since the filing of the motions). ExxonMobil Pipeline, at *6. Moreover, the parties did not seek relief from the Court on the use of predictive coding, other than to order the parties meet and confer. ExxonMobil Pipeline, at *6-7.

The Defendants explained that using traditional review with 50 attorneys that document review could be completed by the end of June 24 and production by the end of August 2014. ExxonMobil Pipeline, at *6.

The United States disagreed with the Defendants assumption of lawyers only reviewing 250 documents/files a day. Moreover, the Defendants did not raise concerns about document review when they entered an agreed upon scheduling order in October 2013. ExxonMobil Pipeline, at *6-7.

The Court acknowledged that the Defendants had a large volume of discovery to review. Moreover, it was unclear if the parties had agreed to a review methodology before the Court issued its order. Regardless, the Court ordered the Defendants to complete their review and production by July 10, 2014, absent good cause. ExxonMobil Pipeline, at *7-8.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Most attorneys do not think about document review strategies at the beginning of a case. They should. Discovery is the backbone of civil litigation. Unless you know the information you have to review, strategies to maximize efficiency, and reviewing for claims or defenses, document review can be a nightmare experience.

This case does not go into why the Defendants sought agreement from the Plaintiff on the use of predictive coding. I do not agree with that strategy, unless a specific review protocol was ordered at the Rule 16 conference that the producing party wanted to change.

The issue with a document production is whether or not the production is adequate. Lawyers should agree to the subject matter of the case, custodians, data ranges, and other objective information that goes to the merits of the lawsuit. When lawyers start asking each other for permission on whether they can use predictive coding, visual analytics, clustering, email threading, or any other technology, civil litigation becomes uncivil. Case in point: the Plaintiffs argued the Defendants could review more than 250 documents a day in this case. Such disputes turn into an academic fight over how much lawyers can read and analyze in a 9-hour workday. The end result of such motion practice would be a Judge ordering lawyers to read faster.

My advice is to focus on the merits and not derail the case with a fight over what review technology can be used. Fight over whether the production is adequate, not what whether you can use predictive coding.

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.