Pinning Down Admissibility

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Admissibility of electronically stored information cases are almost always in criminal cases.

The Pinterest v Pintrips infringement litigation has excellent analysis by US District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr., on the admissibility of email messages and news articles in civil litigation.

Email Admissibility

Pinterest offered two email messages as evidence of confusion. Pinterest argued the emails put Pintrips on notice of confusion by third parties. Pinterest, Inc. v. Pintrips, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76545, *2 (N.D. Cal. June 12, 2015). As such, Pinterest argued the evidence would be relevant to Pintrips state of mind for the allegation of willfulness and intent. Id.

The Court agreed the emails could be admitted for the non-hearsay purpose of showing Pintrips’ knowledge and intent. Pinterest, at *3. Moreover, Pintrips objections to the relevancy of the email went to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility. Id.

The first email exhibit was a consumer email to Pintrips’ customer support regarding her password and log in credentials for her Pinterest account. Id. The Court held this email was relevant and admissible to show confusion. Id.

The Court rejected the hearsay exception arguments for the second email. The email was a message from a third party to Pintrip’s CEO with the statement, “[w]hen you say it out loud it sounds like [P]intrips . . .” Pinterest, at *4.

The Court explained the declarant was not expressing confusion herself at the names of the companies, but her opinion that the names sounded similar. Id. The declarant’s statement did not qualify under the “present sense impression” or “state of mind” exceptions to the hearsay rule and thus were inadmissible hearsay. Id.

The Court admitted both messages for the non-hearsay purpose of Pintrip’s knowledge and intent, however, only the first email exhibt was admitted as evidence of consumer confusion. Id.

Admissibility of News Articles

News articles, books, and releases were offered by Pintrips to demonstrate the generic uses of “pin” and “pinning” online. Pinterest, at *4-5. Pinterest opposed, arguing the prospective exhibits were hearsay. Pinterest, at *5.

The Court stated that there “can be no dispute that evidence of the use of the terms “pin” and “pinning”—both by media publications and other companies—is relevant to the Court’s inquiry.” Id.

The Court found that Pinterest had not cited any authority excluding news articles to show generic uses of terms in trademark cases. Pinterest, at *6. The Court noted that other courts had considered the materials for “the non-hearsay purpose of determining whether a word or phrase is used to refer to the specific goods or services of the plaintiff, as opposed to an entire class of goods or services in general.” Id.

The Court ultimately admitted the exhibits as “evidence that ‘pin’ and ‘pinning’ are words that companies and the media use to describe a particular action in the computing and internet context,” but not for the truth of the matter asserted in the articles. Pinterest, at *7.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr., issued a solid opinion on the admissibility issues in this case.

We do not see many opinions on admissibility in civil litigation, because most civil cases do not get to trial. I have seen admissibility issues arise in summary judgment motions, but most of our admissibility cases are criminal.

The Pinterest v Pintrips litigation gives a good look at the admissibility of ESI in civil litigation. Admissibility is often not conducted in document review during the first pass because it increases time and review costs. I recommend issue coding for admissibility in large cases after the dataset has been narrowed down to what will be used in deposition and motion practice. If email, text messages, or social media posts need to be authenticated, depositions are an ideal time to seek those answers. Determining what exhibits need to be explored at deposition are ideal during admissibility review.

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