Florida Supreme Court Juices Up E-Discovery Requirements

On July 5, 2012, the Florida Supreme Court adopted seven amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (“Fla. R. Civ. P. ___”). See In re Amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure -- Electronic Discovery, ____ So.3d ____, 2012 Fla. LEXIS 1318 (Fla. July 5, 2012). These amendments are largely modeled on the 2006 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (namely, Rules 16, 26, 33, 34, 37 and 45), and are designed to encourage harmonization with federal decisions. Specifically, the seven amended rules consist of Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.200 (Pretrial Procedure); 1.201 (Complex Litigation); 1.280 (General Provisions Governing Discovery); 1.340 (Interrogatories to Parties); 1.350 (Production of Documents and Things and Entry Upon Land for Inspection and Other Purposes); 1.380 (Failure to Make Discovery; Sanctions); and 1.410 (Subpoena).

However, while the amendments parallel the changes to Federal Rules, some contain subtle variances from their federal counterparts, that arguably operate to make the Florida rules broader and more malleable than their federal counterparts.

Some of the important provisions, and a comparison to their federal counterparts, can be summarized as follows:

1.    No requirement to "meet and confer" in Florida. The “meet and confer” provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(f) are not adopted by the Florida rules. While this development might be seen as a surprising omission, Florida Rule 1.200, applicable to all Florida court divisions, provides for the a Case Management Conference to be convened by order of the Court or by a party merely serving a notice setting the conference. More importantly Rule 1.2000 specifically sets out electronic discovery matters to be discussed at the Case Management Conference, telling the parties to:

  • "consider the possibility of obtaining admissions of fact and voluntary exchange of documents and electronically stored information, and stipulations regarding authenticity of documents and electronically stored information;"
     
  • "consider the need for advance rulings from the court on the admissibility of documents and electronically stored information;"
     
  • "discuss as to electronically stored information, the possibility of agreements from the parties regarding the extent to which such evidence should be preserved, the form in which such evidence should be produced, and whether discovery of such information should be conducted in phases or limited to particular individuals, time periods, or sources;"

Additionally in cases deemed Complex Litigation, Florida Rule 1.201 has been amended to specifically require discussion during the Case Management Conference of "the possibility of obtaining agreements among the parties regarding the extent to which such electronically stored information should be preserved, the form in which such information should be produced, and whether discovery of such information should be conducted in phases or limited to particular individuals, time periods, or sources[.]"

Florida's approach thus provides flexibility to accommodate the wide variety of cases in Florida courts of general jurisdiction while providing greater guidance than found in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 16.

2.  Pre-litigation duty to preserve remains in question. Rule 1.380 adopts, verbatim, the well-known (though seldom used by courts) Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(e) safe harbor, under which sanctions cannot be awarded against a party who failed to produce ESI lost as a result of "good faith operation." The Florida Committee Note also obliquely references the duty to preserve . . . however, it does so without resolving whether there is actually a pre-litigation duty in Florida. Under federal law, a duty to preserve arises when there is "reasonable anticipation" of litigation, though the exact scope of this phrase remains to be tied down. The Florida Committee is silent as to whether any duty exists, and has left the issue to the courts to determine on a case by case basis rather than drawing any hard lines. Chances are, Florida courts will come down in line with the federal "reasonable anticipation" standard.  But there is current Florida law that appears to hold that a duty to preserve arises only by statute, contract, or a request for production. Regardless of what happens on this front, however, the intentional destruction of evidence to thwart the administration of justice (either before or during litigation) does give rises to spoliation claims under Florida law.

3.   ESI to be produced as "ordinarily maintained" or "reasonably usable form." Rule 1.280 further authorizes discovery of ESI, and Rule 1.350 treats ESI as a type of document whose production must be in the form ordinarily maintained, or else in a reasonable form. The important change in Rule 1.350 is that the producing party must specify before production and in the written response to the request for production what production format will be used. The requesting party can specify a format, and if the producing party objects or a format is not specified, the producing party must state the format of production it intends to use.

The great utility of this structure is that disputes as to format will surface early for judicial resolution.   While the amendment does not define "reasonably usable," this will vary from case to case depending on cost and utility issues. The amended Rule 1.350 does, however, make clear that the producing party may produce as "ordinarily maintained" -- it need not take any extraordinary steps to enhance the utility of the production form by (for example) converting paper into searchable OCR text. But note that because the amended Rule does not require production in "native," only in a "reasonably usable," format, native production may or may not be the right format for the case.

4.  Motions to compel inaccessible ESI permitted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(B) contains a presumptive exclusion of ESI production from inaccessible materials such as backup tapes. Amended Rule 1.280(d)(1) authorizes objections to the discovery of ESI from such inaccessible sources, requiring the objecting party to demonstrate "undue burden and cost." Even upon a showing of undue burden and cost, however, the Court may still order production on a showing of good cause, although it must consider appropriate conditions and limitations on such discovery including cost shifting. 

The amended Rule 1.280(d)(2) also specifically makes proportional considerations applicable "in determining any motion involving discovery of electronically stored information." The proportionality factors courts should consider (such as the expense, the time commitment, and potential usefulness the material, and so on) are helpfully listed in Rule 1.280(d)(2) as well. These factors track Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C).

5.   ESI can be used to answer interrogatories. Rule 1.340 authorizes producing ESI in lieu of interrogatory answers. In doing so it spells out the form of production instead of leaving it open, as does Fed.R.Civ.P. 33.

6.   Litigation holds are not mentioned. The Florida Committee Note does not mention litigation holds, but states that in determining “good faith” the court may consider any steps taken to comply with preservation obligations. Cf. W. Hamilton, Florida Moving to Adopt Federally-Inspired E-discovery Rules (Sept. 20, 2011) (arguing that “traditional Florida spoliation remedies are in play when a party intentionally destroys relevant information to thwart the judicial process – whether before or during litigation”); Michael D. Starks, Deconstructing Damages for Destruction of Evidence, 80-AUG Fla. B. J. 36 (July/August 2006) (noting that both sanctions and tort damages are available under Florida law, although "the first-party spoliation tort" has since been destroyed). 

7.  Inadvertent production. Effective January 2011, Florida adopted Rule 1.285 to govern the responsibilities of parties upon post-production claims of inadvertent production of privileged material. This rule is analogous to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(5)(B)'s "claw-back" provision, but broader and more comprehensive. Like the federal version, however, Florida leaves the issue of waiver to a separate proceeding.

 

In sum, Florida has enacted a nuanced and powerful set of e-discovery rules that provide excellent direction and authority for the management of e-discovery. The new Florida amendments are to take effect in September 2012.
 

The Dangers of Trusting Technology to Keep Privileged Documents From Opposing Counsel

It's every litigator's fear - inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents leading to a court finding of waiver of privilege.  A recent Illinois case shows just how easy it is to waive the privilege if you do not stay on top of the technological aspects of your production, even after conducting a complete review and indentifying privileged documents.

In Thorncreek Apartments III, LLC v. Village of Park Forest, 2011 WL 3489828 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 9, 2011), the court was faced with a defense counsel who "thought" that merely marking documents as privileged in an electronic database would keep them safe from production. Unfortunately for counsel, every document that had been identified as privileged was produced to opposing counsel. To make matters worse, defense counsel did not learn of the accidental disclosure for nearly nine months of discovery. He then waited an additional four months to produce a privilege log to opposing counsel. Not surprisingly, the court held that while some of documents were privileged when originally created, defense counsel had waived privilege by his actions, or more precisely his inaction.

Here are some key points from the case all litigators should take to heart when engaging in document production:
 

1.  Attorneys must take precautions to protect electronic disclosure of privileged documents. They should never presume that merely marking documents as privileged in an electronic database will prevent their production.

The court determined that the defendants' procedures for privilege review were "completely ineffective." Although counsel "thought" marking a document as privileged in the electronic database would automatically lead to it being withheld from opposing counsel, counsel never actually checked the production to assure that this was the case. The court also noted that counsel hardly could have taken adequate safeguards against production where every single privileged document, not merely one or two, had been produced.

2.  Attorneys should produce privilege logs close to the time when a production is made. It will act as a check on whether documents have inadvertently been produced and alert opposing counsel to a document's privileged status.

The Thorncreek court weighed heavily the defendants' nearly nine-months' ignorance regarding the disclosure of privileged documents. Defense counsel failed to check in at all, on the electronic database of documents to see what documents were present and what documents opposing counsel was viewing from the production.

Defense counsel was also faulted for failing to timely produce a privilege log. Such a log would have alerted both sets of counsel to a privileged document being accidentally disclosed. Instead, defense counsel waited more than a year after production began, and a whole four months after learning of the accidental disclosure during a deposition, to provide such a log.

3.  Where inadvertent production of privileged documents has occurred, counsel must immediately take steps to rectify the error in order to protect and maintain privilege.

The court came down on defense counsel for not knowing of the inadvertent production of privileged documents for months, and then failing to act with diligence after finding out.

It may be basic, but the lesson is that there must be additional checks and balances other than simply checking off documents as privileged in an electronic database, ten steps before they are actually produced. While this hardly means that an attorney must re-check every single document marked for production or privilege a second time, there could be, for example, a search of a sample of privileged documents to ensure they are privileged; and a sample of non-privileged documents to make sure nothing privileged has snuck into the pile. Another method is to run a search for a few attorney names, and verify that the resulting hits are marked privileged.

The bottom line is that counsel should always check a production for privileged documents, monitor documents in an electronic database, and act immediately to assert privilege when an accidental production is found. 

Bill Hamilton's Seven Deadly Sins of the Rule 26(f) 'Meet-and-Confer' Conference

**This article was published by Bill Hamilton, a partner at Quarles & Brady and Chairman of the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), www.aceds.org, the member organization for professionals in the private and public sectors who work in the field of e-discovery.**

 

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f) requires parties in litigation to "…confer as soon as practicable … [and to]…state the parties’ views and proposals on …any issues about disclosure or discovery of electronically stored information….."  Proper handling of these "meet and confer" sessions about electronically stored information (ESI) and e-discovery is crucial to a winning litigation strategy. Don't think of the session as a procedural formality and just go through the motions.  STOP!! Take a deep breath and think.  The Rule 26(f) conference is where you begin the management of the opposition, and sets the structure of a case's e-discovery process. Your goal is to minimize your e-discovery costs and risks and to make sure you will be able to get the data you need from the opposition.

 

Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of the Rule 26(f) conference and you’ll be well on your way to making e-discovery work for your case.

Deadly Sin #1: Failure to Set the Agenda. Come prepared to the Rule 26(f) conference . . . and make sure your opponent is prepared. Write a letter to the opposing counsel saying what you expect to accomplish at the conference, what information you will bring to the conference, and what information you expect from the opposition. Allowing the opponent to come to the conference unprepared wastes time and money, and impedes achieving your conference goals. If the opposition shows up at the conference “empty handed,” let the opposition know that you will advise the court of any further failures. Additionally, re-schedule the conference immediately. You need to insist on a genuine, meaningful Rule 26(f) conference for the very reasons the opposition is intent on avoiding it. Don’t let them escape this opportunity for you to structure electronic discovery in a way that works best for you.

Deadly Sin # 2: Failure to Manage Preservation.  While your instincts at the beginning of litigation may be to keep information close to the vest, disclose your preservation decisions at the Rule 26(f) conference. Be prepared to explain them. You cannot preserve all client data. Unnecessary preservation takes time and money and is wasteful. For example, it is probably not necessary to preserve forensic images of laptops and desktops or Internet browsing histories. It is also unlikely that back-up media containing unimportant and cumulative data will be needed. Disclosure allows you to sleep at night. If unpreserved data suddenly becomes relevant, your initial disclosure will help you avoid or minimize judicial sanctions. Demand the same from your opponent. Their data is part of your case. Make sure it is secured.

Deadly Sin # 3: Failure to Corral E-Discovery Limit and phase e-discovery. E-discovery is typically not an "all at once" game. Most cases can only afford so much e-discovery. E-discovery is bounded by the dollar value and importance of the case. ESI volume is often staggering. Present a sensible plan to corral the important data. Only a handful of documents are likely to be used at trial. Why process and review the data of 20 company employees who might have some marginally relevant ESI when a few key players can be identified quickly? Suggest starting with these two or three key employees and building from there. Reach agreement on a flexible, rolling e-discovery plan. Include this phased plan in the scheduling order that is entered pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16. Be sure to disclose the locations of electronically stored information that you consider not reasonably accessible under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) (2) (B). Be prepared to defend your claims. When the opposition declares ESI locations not reasonably accessible, put them to the test. Don’t accept generalized representations of counsel. Technology moves on. Much of what was once thought not reasonable accessible is today readily available. Demand the details, and consult an expert on ESI accessibility.

Deadly Sin #4: Failure to Set Search Expectations.  Make sure your opponent knows you will insist on search quality and demonstrable, statistically valid recall. High recall means the search is pulling most, if not all, the responsive documents. The opposition will normally be attentive to search precision and not pulling false positives, i.e. unresponsive documents. Don’t let the opposition test for precision and not test for recall. Find out how the opposition will search the data and whether the opposition will employ manual searching or automated search tools using key words and concept filters. Make sure your opponent knows that search quality is your focus. It is your job to deter sloppy, casual searching for the data you may need to win your case. Your client deserves the best possible data, not just what the other side happens to find. Be sure to meet your own search standards or you will not be able to effectively call the opposition to task. Don't settle for a "don't ask, don't tell" strategy and blind reliance on what the opposition produces.

Deadly Sin #5: Failure to Specify the Production Format. Establish the production format. You usually get only one bite at the production apple. Make sure you get the data in a format and with a load file that works for the technology you will be using. The opposition will not know how you need the data delivered unless you tell them. Don’t wait for delivery and then complain. You should reach agreement on how you want the electronically stored information from your opponent produced and how you will produce your own. Do you intend to produce data in "native" (meaning a copy of the original electronic file) or in TIFF or PDF formats with load files containing extracted searchable text? What metadata will be produced? Discuss how each side's data will be organized and delivered and what metadata will be produced. If you are using a vendor, get the vendor’s delivery specifications and provide it early to the opposition. Don’t let the opposition decide what format is reasonably useable for the case.

Deadly Sin # 6: Failure to Protect Against Privilege Waiver from Inadvertent Production. Make sure to get the entry of a court order, under Federal Rules of Evidence 502, protecting you against inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents and providing that any determination of non-waiver arising from an inadvertent production is also binding on state court proceedings. Negotiate a written protocol with the opposition as to the procedures to be followed if a privileged document is discovered to have been inadvertently produced. Mistakes happen even after rigorous - and expensive - review and double checking. Don’t think your production will always be flawless. The greater the volume of ESI, the greater the chance of mistake and error. Neither automated searches nor human reviewers are 100% perfect.

Deadly Sin # 7: Failure to Document. Don't let what you won at the Rule 26(f) conference get lost in the fog of competing - and faulty - memories. Confirm in writing all the agreements and understandings. No one will recall a year later what transpired unless you confirm it in writing. Memorialize the conference as you would a settlement agreement or a contract. This documentation is your roadmap to a successful case.

 

Avoiding these Seven Deadly Sins will help you take control of your case and manage e-discovery. Taking control means taking control of the Rule 26(f) conference and achieving your e-discovery goals, a crucial component of any winning strategy.
 

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**Bill Hamilton will be a featured speaker at the ACEDS 2011 Annual E-Discovery Conference on March 23-25, 2011 at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida.  For more information and to sign up for the Conference -- a chance to learn the ins and outs of e-discovery through hands-on experience, practical guidance and interactive learning from 28 experts in the field -- visit /conferencewww.aceds.org** 

FRE 502: A Reasonable Step to Reduce Costs?

I’m sad to report that despite the political hype, FRE 502 is not likely to provide you with any substantial cost savings related to your electronically stored information ("ESI") and document productions. This is because FRE 502 does not eliminate the need for one of the largest discovery costs - namely, the dreaded page-by-page document review (not to mention the ensuing carpal tunnel of the finger). 

FRE 502 merely codifies the current law of the majority of federal courts on the inadvertent production of privileged material – i.e., there can be no waiver of privilege on inadvertently disclosed documents if you took reasonable steps to prevent and rectify the disclosure.  But what reasonable steps? Although omitted from the law itself, the FRE Advisory Committee informs us that: 

A party that uses advanced analytical software applications and linguistic tools in screening for privilege and work product may be found to have taken reasonable steps to prevent inadvertent disclosure.

And that may actually be helpful, but for the fact that the federal courts have long recognized that such screening comes with limitations and risks because the proper selection and implementation of such technology involves both legal and scientific knowledge.  Is it really a reasonable step to use methods judicially deemed "not foolproof?"

Moreover, cases interpreting the new FRE 502 reiterate and do not eliminate the need for attorneys to conduct a page-by-page privilege review:

Rhoads Industries, Inc. v. Building Materials Corp., No. 07-4756 (E.D. Penn. Nov. 14, 2008): upheld privilege only on inadvertently disclosed documents that were manually reviewed and logged by an attorney.  

Relion, Inc. v. Hydra Fuel Cell Corp., 2008 WL 5122828 (D. Or. Dec. 4, 2008): held that privilege was waived because, even though the issue of inadvertent production was raised by opposing counsel, the holder failed to conduct a page by page review.

Bottom line: keep flexing that finger – at least for now!