Straightening Out the Form of Production

Magistrate Judge Stanley Boone had to straighten out a form of production dispute in a consumer protection case over curling irons. As the parties in this case learned, sometimes the form of production needs a detangler.

iStock_CurlingHairThe Plaintiffs requested ESI to be produced in native file format or TIFF with associated metadata. The Defendant produced ESI as PDFs. Wilson v. Conair Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57654, 4-5 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 30, 2015).

Judge Boone began his analysis with a summary of the form of production rules under Rule 34:

(E) Producing the Documents or Electronically Stored Information. Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, these procedures apply to producing documents or electronically stored information:

(i) A party must produce documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request;

(ii) If a request does not specify a form for producing electronically stored information, a party must produce it in a form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form or forms; and

(iii) A party need not produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form.

Wilson, at *6-7.

The Plaintiff’s request for ESI to be produced in native format was very standard. However, the data requested was produced from a proprietary third-party “STARS” database. Wilson, at *8. The Plaintiffs would not be able to access or review this data as it is ordinarily maintained because of its proprietary nature.

The Defendants produced the proprietary ESI as PDFs. The Plaintiff challenged this static image form of production in favor of TIFFs with metadata. Wilson, at *9. However, the Defendants were willing to produce future ESI as TIFFs. Id.

Excel files were also produced as PDF’s in order to redact information. Id. The Plaintiffs sought the Excel files to be produced in native file format. Id.

The Plaintiffs argued in favor of a TIFF production over PDF because the “format is more efficient, cost effective, and better suited for use inside a database application and it will require additional work to get the data produced in PDF format into a usable state.” Wilson, at *9-10.

The Plaintiffs further demanded the ESI from the STARS database be produced in Excel format. The Defendants ultimately agreed to this production format, but did not explain how the issue of redaction would be addressed in the opinion. Wilson, at *10.

The Court stated, the “Rules do not require a party to produce ESI in the form most helpful to the opposing party.” Wilson, at *10, citing U.S. ex rel. Carter v. Bridgepoint Educ., Inc.,     F.R.D.    , 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26424, 2015 WL 818032, at *15 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2015). As such, the Court ultimately held that 1) the STARS data could not be produced in its native format; 2) the Defendant would produced additional discovery in TIFF format; and 3) the Defendant would produce associated metadata for its prior production if it had not already done so. Wilson, at *11.

Bow Tie Thoughts

As any good hair stylist can tell you, a good product can help detangle knotted up hair. The same can be said for virtually any of the review applications on the market today. Most pride themselves on being able to review native file format, near-native, and static images such as TIFF and PDF.

I think it is odd to have a fight over which static image to produce. Both TIFF and PDF work well in today’s modern review applications. This was not always the case, as PDFs can be both a native file and static image in older review applications. It has been awhile since I have seen this be an issue in document review. That being said, if a requesting party asks for a specific static image format, I recommend honoring the request.

There are horror stories where producing parties have produced batches of native files as massive PDF’s that are several hundred, or thousand, of pages. In those situations, the requesting party has a very strong argument that the production was not in a reasonably useable form.

Return to the TAR-Pit

Take note all, there is a new predictive coding case by Judge Andrew Peck. The good Judge waded into the TAR-pit of transparency, which in my opinion has caused much unnecessary problems with judges and parties who believe “transparency” is required when predictive coding is used, mandating the disclosure of seed sets. I do not think the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure place such a burden on producing parties by attacking the work-product doctrine or compelling the production of irrelevant information.

Judge Peck summarized that “where the parties do not agree to transparency, the decisions are split and the debate in the discovery literature is robust.” Rio Tinto Plc v. Vale S.A., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24996, 8 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2015).

Judge Peck’s new opinion did not rule on the issue of seed transparency, because the parties had agreed to an ESI protocol that “disclosed all non-privilege documents in the control sets.” Rio Tinto Plc., at *10. However, Judge Peck provided his thoughts on what I would call a bias against technology-assisted review:

One point must be stressed -it is inappropriate to hold TAR to a higher standard than keywords or manual review. Doing so discourages parties from using TAR for fear of spending more in motion practice than the savings from using TAR for review.

Rio Tinto Plc, at *10, emphasis added.

Business team enjoying victory

That statement is extremely important. There is no valid reason to treat “predictive coding,” or any other form of analytics such as conceptual searching, email threading, or clustering, to higher discovery standards because “technology” is used.

The issue is whether or not the production is adequate. A producing party should not have to disclose attorney work product in analyzing their case or proving the technology functions. Courts do not hold competency hearings on whether an attorney properly knows how to conduct online legal research to ensure attorneys are maintaining their ethical duty of candor to the court. The same logic applies to technology-assisted review and productions.

Judge Peck did state while he generally believed in cooperation, “requesting parties can insure that training and review was done appropriately by other means, such as statistical estimation of recall at the conclusion of the review as well as by whether there are gaps in the production, and quality control review of samples from the documents categorized as now responsive.” Rio Tinto Plc., at *9-10, referencing Grossman & Cormack, Comments, supra, 7 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. at 301-12.

The focus of discovery should be whether or not a production is adequate. Are there production gaps? Is the parent-child relationship maintained between email messages and attachments? Is the producing party conducting quality assurance testing? Is the producing party documenting their efforts?

Judge Peck’s latest opinion will not be the final word on the issue of “transparency.” However, Judge Peck is a well-respected jurist who understands technology-assisted review. His statement that “it is inappropriate to hold TAR to a higher standard than keywords or manual review” is a very welcome one.

WHOA! A Prevailing Party Recovered $57,873.61 in eDiscovery Costs!

thumb-456698_1280My God, is it true? Did a Prevailing Party recover virtually all of its eDiscovery costs?

The answer is yes, thanks to a case in Colorado.

United States District Judge Christine M. Arguello opened her order denying the Plaintiff’s motion to review the clerk’s taxation of costs with the following:

Because Defendants’ costs related to the electronically stored information (“ESI”) are expenses enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 1920(4), and Plaintiffs were aware that Defendants would have to retain an outside consultant to retrieve and convert the ESI into a retrievable format, Plaintiffs’ Motion is denied.

Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Ctr. v. Leslea, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17878, 1.

Rock on. Let’s review the Court’s reasoning.

The Plaintiff took the position that the Defendants’ eDiscovery cost award be reduced from $57,873.61 to $2,387.03, striking the work of a third-party eDiscovery service provider who performed the “retrieving, restoring, and converting data,” on the grounds the work did not constitute “copying.” Leslea, at *2.

The Court explained the Defendants hired their eDiscovery service provider to retrieve and restore ESI in order to respond to the Plaintiff’s Interrogatories and Requests for Productions. The requested discovery included “correspondence, summaries, emails, reports, and memos” relating to specific subject matter. Leslea, at *4-5. The Court noted that the work was complex and time-intensive, requiring three consecutive tolling agreements. Id.

The Defendants communicated with the Plaintiffs three times on the challenges over ESI, including providing detailed information on the scope of the data, archiving, and retention periods on multiple sources of data (hard drives, back-up tapes, etc). Leslea, at *5. In the second communication, the Defendants explained how the service provider restored 83 back-up tapes; and in the third the service provider’s forensic investigator detailed the difficulties in restoring the subject ESI. Id

The Court noted that the Plaintiffs were aware of the ESI challenges, did not recommend any changes to the scope of discovery, and even filed a new complaint with additional allegations. Leslea, at *5-6.

wealth-69524_1280

The Court held that the ESI expenses were “reasonably necessary for use in the case” and not done for the mere convenience of the parties. Leslea, at *6. The Court concluded the order as follows:

Indeed, Plaintiffs were aware of the monumental effort to retrieve and convert the data into a retrievable format in response to their Interrogatories and Requests for Production. The costs incurred by Defendants, the prevailing party, in responding to Plaintiffs’ requests are expenses that are shifted to Plaintiffs, the losing party. Indeed, Plaintiffs own litigation choices and aggressive course of discovery necessarily resulted in “heightened” defense costs. Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that these costs are improper. Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to recover their costs in full measure as determined by the Clerk, which it has identified as $57,873.61.

Leslea, at *6-7, citing In re Williams Sec. Litig-WCG Subclass, 558 F.3d at 1150.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Thank you Judge Arguello for understanding a simple truth: eDiscovery requires technology to retrieve information and translate it into reasonable useable forms that are necessary for the case. This technology and expertise costs money. Yes, this case had an expert who explained what was being done during the litigation. Not every case has such powerful facts explaining the why and how of restoring ESI to make it reasonably useable, but this is an epic victory for taxation of eDiscovery costs.

Stapling Proportionality

Proportionality and costs are not a great argument when you are complaining about your own databases.

Old-Data-Tape

Webb v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc., is a product liability case over a surgical stapler that misfired during a surgery, resulting in complications to the Plaintiff’s recovery. Webb v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8275, 2-3 (D. Minn. Jan. 26, 2015). The Magistrate Judge attempted surgery on the scope of discovery, resulting in the Defendant arguing the scope was too broad, and the Plaintiff arguing it was too narrow, over three specific discovery requests. The District Court upheld the Magistrate Judge’s order on the scope of discovery.

The Defendant offered a declaration from their risk manager to support their argument to narrow discovery based on proportionality. The Defendant argued that they had made the line of medical staplers for 18 years and the records were stored in multiple databases. Webb, at *14-15.

The Defendant further argued that it would cost $62,400 to search the multiple databases, which was disproportional to the Plaintiff’s damages “in excess” of $50,000. Webb, at *16. This argument failed.

The Court cited that the producing party has the burden of complying with discovery requests and “a corporation [that] has an unwieldy record keeping system which requires it to incur heavy expenditures of time and effort to produce requested documents is an insufficient reason to prevent disclosure of otherwise discoverable information.” Webb, at *16-17, quoting Wagner v. Dryvit Sys., Inc., 208 F.R.D. 606, 611 (D. Neb. 2001) and citing Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 358, 98 S. Ct. 2380, 57 L. Ed. 2d 253 (1978).

The Court held that the Magistrate Judge properly determined the scope of discovery in evaluating the expense, burden, and likely benefit of the information sought for the subject discovery requests. Webb, at *17.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Searching databases is expensive. Many judges do not care for arguments from a producing party that searching multiple, or even dissimilar, databases make the cost of relevant discovery prohibitively expensive. This is like arguing a party should be protected from its own self-inflicted wound on how they manage different databases.

Technology is constantly improving, thus methods of storing data change over time. If a company maintains electronically stored information going back potentially decades, they should be prepared have the ability to search it in litigation in a cost effective manner.

Rule 34: As Basic As You Get

Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal is one of the new heroes of eDiscovery jurisprudence. In Venture Corp. Ltd. v. Barrett, the good Judge opened with the following on Rule 34:

Most lawyers (and hopefully judges) would be forgiven if they could not recite on demand some of the more obscure of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 80 (Stenographic Transcript as Evidence) and Rule 64 (Seizing a Person or Property) come to mind. But Rule 34 (Producing Documents, Electronically Stored Information, and Tangible Things) is about as basic to any civil case as it gets. And yet, over and over again, the undersigned is confronted with misapprehension of its standards and elements by even experienced counsel. Unfortunately, this case presents yet another example.

Venture Corp. Ltd. v. Barrett, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147643, 1 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 2014).

Here is what happened: The Defendant served discovery requests on the Plaintiff and wanted the discovery and organized and labeled to identify the requests to which they were responsive; The Plaintiff did not want to do that and instead produced 41,000 pages of discovery, which ended with the Court ordering re-production for not following either Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) or (ii). Venture Corp. Ltd., at *1-2.

The Tactical Document Dump

tic-tac-toe-150614_1280Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 34 is supposed to prevent the “document dump,” which was the attorney Cold War equivalent of a doomsday weapon.

Its deterrent was the threat of the opposing side also unleashing a document dump, introducing mutually assured destruction in civil discovery.

Discovery is not supposed to be an experiment in game theory. Discovery must be produced one of two ways under Rule 34(b)(2)(E):

1) “[A] party must produce documents as they are kept in the ordinary course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request.” 

2) “[I]f a request does not specify a form for producing electronically stored information, a party must produce it in a form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form or forms. A party need not produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form.”

Venture Corp. Ltd., at *2-3.

Apparently no one saw War Games or the Guns of August before producing discovery. This case had a telephonic meet and NOT confer where the Plaintiff claimed the Defendant agreed to accept PDFS or native files in bulk; the Defendant denied such an agreement. Venture Corp. Ltd., at *3.

usb-pen-146884_1280The Plaintiff produced on a flash drive and by email approximately 41,000 of PDF’s and native files with no index, table, or anything but folders with the aforementioned files. Id.

The Court explained that the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) is clear: if documents are not organized and labeled to correspond to the categories in the request, they must be produced as they are kept in the usual course of business. Venture Corp. Ltd., at *5.

The Plaintiff did not comply with Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i).

If a party that elects to produce discovery as it is kept in the ordinary course of business, the producing party has the burden to prove their production was made in such a manner beyond a mere claim. Venture Corp. Ltd., at *5-6.

There was substantial he said/she said about the alleged agreement on the organization of the production, with the Plaintiff claiming in an affidavit that Defendant agreed to the production of blended native files and PDFs instead of with a load file and index. Venture Corp. Ltd., at *6-7.

The Court noted that even if there was an agreement on the form of production under Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(ii), that would not absolve the producing party of its obligation to produce ESI as it is kept in the ordinary course of business under Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i). Venture Corp. Ltd., at *7.

Judge Grewal explained the distinction between Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) and (ii):

This distinction matters. Form under subsection (ii) is about whether the production should be native, near-native, imaged as PDF (or more commonly, as TIFFs accompanied by load files containing searchable text and metadata) or in paper (printed out). Providing information about how documents and ESI are kept under subsection (i) “[a]t a minimum . . . mean[s] that the disclosing party should provide information about each document which ideally would include, in some fashion, the identity of the custodian or person from whom the documents were obtained, an indication of whether they are retained in hard copy or digital format, assurance that the documents have been produced in the order in which they are maintained, and a general description of the filing system from which they were recovered.”

Venture Corp. Ltd., at *7-8.

There was no agreement on the form of production, thus the Plaintiff Producing Party had a duty under Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(ii) to show that the production was either 1) as the ESI was ordinarily maintained or 2) in a reasonable form. Venture Corp. Ltd., at *8.

Judge Grewal directly summed up the reality with such a production, that “there is no serious question that a grab-bag of PDF and native files is neither how the Ventures ordinarily maintained the documents and ESI nor is ‘in a reasonably usuable form.’” Id.

The Court ordered the producing party to do the following as a remedy:

(1) Either organize and label each document it has produced or it shall provide custodial and other organizational information along the lines outlined above and

(2) Produce load files for its production containing searchable text and metadata.

Venture Corp. Ltd., at *8-9. [Bold emphasis in original].

Bow Tie Thoughts

Random files make document review a nightmare. I am a big fan of Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) because I want discovery organized to correspond to the responsive discovery requests.

It is very easy to set up your review database so there is an entire column with the request for production numbers, empowering the lawyer to issue code responsive discovery to each request. This column can be included in the production to the requesting party.

Some see this as extra work and unnecessary. I see it as a way to organize document review to correspond to the discovery requests in order. Moreover, from a producing party point of view, you want to know what discovery was produced as it relates to discovery request. Any of today’s review applications can issue code according to discovery request if document review is planned, which empowers the producing party to know exactly what is being produced to the opposing party.

An Unsung Hero on the Form of Production

scales-303388_1280Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry is a great jurist whose opinions on the form of production should be taught in first year Civil Procedure classes.

The Judge clearly explains the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and applies the rules to the case at bar in very concise analysis.

A Plaintiff in a recent case sought consumer credit reports in native file format, which was produced as static images. Judge Cherry provided textbook case analysis which I summarized in my Everlaw Blog guest post Really Thinking Through the Form of Production. Please check it out for my thoughts on the form of production and document review.

Producing as PDFs When Native Files Are Not in a Reasonably Useable Form

Not all native files are in a “reasonably useable form.” To borrow from the Dark Knight, sometimes, producing native files as PDF’s with metadata is the “reasonably useable” form you deserve, but not the one you need for convenient document review.

Search-DataA Plaintiff sought a native file production from a computer system that maintained medical files of prison inmates in a database application called “Centricity.” The Defendant produced the medical records as PDF’s in reverse chronological order and a motion to compel ensued. Peterson v. Matlock, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152994, at *3-4(D.N.J.Oct. 29, 2014).

A requesting party can state the form of production in their request. A producing party must produce the information as it is “kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request.” Peterson, at *6, Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(E).

If a producing party objects to producing as native files (or any form of production), they have the burden of showing the “undue hardship or expense” prohibiting the production in the stated form. Peterson, at *7, citing Susquehanna Commercial Fin., Inc. v. Vascular Res., Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127125, at *13 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 1, 2010).

The Defendants explained that they had limited control on the export of the medical records, thus could not produce the information the way the Plaintiff requested in a piecemeal fashion or chart form. Peterson, at *5. Moreover, to produce the information in “chart format and organized into various categories as they are viewed through Centricity ‘would be an inordinate drain of time and manpower’ because staff from the DOC would be required to ‘sort through each page of the medical record and make the determination as to which category it fits into.’” Peterson, at *5-6.

The Court held that even though the PDF production was “less convenient” for the Requesting Party, “requiring staff from the DOC to sort and identify each page of every inmate medical record would create a substantial hardship and/or expense, which outweighs Plaintiff’s interests in receiving the records in their native format.” Peterson, at *7.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Document review and medical records can become complicated. I worked on a case where we as the plaintiff produced medical records to an insurance company in a personal injury case. We were given the Plaintiff’s medical records on easy-to-use interactive DVDs that had an impressive viewer where X-Rays were in 3D and could be rotated in any direction. It was extremely dynamic in analyzing the Plaintiff’s injuries.

The attorney at the insurance company did not want to use the DVDs and requested we produced everything as PDFs, thereby destroying the insurance company’s ability to review anything. The lawyer claimed the DVDs were “too complex” for him. Despite conferring directly with the IT support for the insurance company, we produced the information again as PDFs.

The case of Peterson v. Matlock is different, because here we have an export issue that does not match the stated format in the request. One option might be to give the Plaintiff access to a database with the information. Such access would likely NOT be proportional to the case given the cost to do so, but there are situations where this could happen.

The Court’s very short ruling is based on proportionality based on cost of producing the  information stated in the request against the value of the information to the Plaintiff. This case easily could have been decided as a form of production case, in that the native files were not in a reasonably useable form, thus required translation to PDFs. This might be the less conventional approach, but would be statutorily correct in my opinion.