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.
 

Ascending to the Cloud Creates Negligible E-discovery Risk

Cloud computing platforms (a set of pooled computing resources that are powered by software and delivered over the Web) have been generating quite a bit of press in the last year. Indeed, just recently computing giant Microsoft launched its Microsoft 365 cloud computing platform, designed to rival Google’s "mega-cloud" platform, which launched in May 2010. Since the release of the first commercial cloud computing platform by Amazon in 2006, cost-conscious companies have been racing to evaluate the pros and cons of moving their computing operations to “the cloud.” According to the Booz, Allen, Hamilton technology consulting firm, “Cloud computing may yield:

Life cycle costs that are 65 percent lower than current architectures

  • Benefit-cost ratios ranging from 5.7 to nearly 25
  • Payback on investments in three to four years."

Notably absent from that cost-benefit analysis, however, is the effect cloud computing may have on the costs and risks associated with conducting electronic discovery. Those engaged in such activities may well ask the question, “Will the savings companies expect from moving their data to the cloud be absorbed by the additional costs/risks created by conducting e-discovery in the cloud?”

The short answer is no. Although there are risks associated with conducting e-discovery from the cloud, they are remote, manageable and eclipsed by the savings companies should expect from cloud computing. Some of the riskiest aspects of conducting e-discovery in the cloud are:

  • The loss/alteration of data and associated metadata
  • The potential violation of international data privacy laws by illegally disclosing data in the jurisdiction in which the cloud is located
  • The unintentional waiver of the attorney-client privilege by co-mingling data or disclosing attorney client communications to third parties
  • The failure to properly and timely implement and monitor litigation holds

Fortunately, companies can easily manage the risk of altering metadata and the risk of violating international data privacy laws by insisting the service agreement with their cloud provider:

  • State that none of the company’s data may be stored outside the United States
  • Provide a detailed mechanism for how the cloud will implement litigation holds
  • Address how metadata will be created and stored in the cloud environment

Similarly, companies can minimize the risk of waiving the attorney-client privilege by including “no waiver” language in their cloud computing service agreements and establishing security protocols to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of communications to the administrators of the cloud or any other third party.

When the technology has improved and cloud computing administrators have developed expertise at responding to e-discovery requests, companies might even enjoy e-discovery cost savings by moving their data to the cloud. “If the cloud fulfills its promise and supplants the hodgepodge of local hard drives, LAN servers, and removable storage that now house our data, the cloud will emerge as the simpler, ‘one-stop shop’ for preservation and search in electronic discovery,” Craig Ball, an expert on trends in e-discovery, predicts.

In fact, that technology already has been developed and is in use for other applications. In late 2010, Facebook (currently the largest functioning equivalent to a cloud computing environment) added to its regular user interface a one-button preservation tool for capturing user content. Now, by simply clicking the “Download Your Information” button (and providing the appropriate password), Facebook users can request a neatly packaged zip file containing all of their videos, messages, wall posts, friend lists and other profile content — it doesn’t require a professional background in information systems to comprehend how similar technology can be applied to collect corporate data stored in the cloud.

Furthermore, cloud administrators saddled with the responsibility of responding to many subpoenas or production requests on behalf of myriad clients will, in time, develop an expertise in culling, processing and producing data. In turn, cloud users will undoubtedly benefit from advances in technology as well as the experience that cloud administrators have gained in responding to e-discovery requests.

The hope is that these efficiencies will translate directly to the end-user. At the end of the day, in-house counsel should be confident that (if managed properly) the benefit of moving a company’s data to the cloud outweighs the risks and costs associated with producing data from the cloud as part of a lawsuit.

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This article was originally published by Steven Hunter, a Quarles & Brady partner, in Inside Counsel.

Avoiding an E-Discovery Disaster

This summer the whole country, particularly those of us living on the gulf coast, anxiously watched the seemingly endless images of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico following the deadly explosion on the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon.  While the leak has only recently been capped, litigation stemming from the oil spill has already commenced.

In a recent article on law.com, Fred Blum and Nader Mehizadeh noted that much of the litigation stemming from the BP oil spill will depend on volumes of electronically stored information in BP's control.  After noting the potential e-discovery disaster that may come upon BP if its electronically-stored information (ESI) is not properly handled, the authors outlined the following six factors that can help anyone avoid an e-discovery disaster:

1.  Preserve Relevant ESI. 

2.  Confer with your opponent.

3.  Collect Data Intelligently.

4.  Rely on your vendor.

5.  Consider using hosted databases.

6.  If all else fails, go to court.

The underlying principle behind all six factors is that retention and production of relevant ESI is something that parties in litigation simply cannot afford to ignore.  The risks are simply too high.  However, electronic discovery disasters can be averted if parties are willing to take the time, and expense, to ensure that relevant information is preserved, communicate with the opposing party and experts in the field, and utilize technology to their advantage. 

 

 

Google Docs Ready for (Legal) Primetime?

Today's predominant word processors are Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect. MS Word is also offered as a web-based application or Saas (Software-as-a-Service).  However, there is a newer type of document collaboration, where numerous people have access to the same document so that they can all contribute and monitor changes made by others.  These types of applications are becoming more common.  For example, Google has begun to offer its own Google Word Processor called "Google Docs" -- which allows users to share and collaborate on documents. 

What does it matter which type you use in your business?  Here's one comparison between the Google and Microsoft web products.  But there's much more when it comes to the battle between WORD v. GOOGLE DOCS.

Sass and Microsoft Word.  SaaS, which Word uses, is really a form of cloud computing, or internet-based computing. Applications such as a word processor is accessed via the Internet, and the resulting data created by the user (documents) is stored on servers managed by particular service providers. This form of service delivery has a siginificant advantage over "localized" computing from a cost and management standpoint.  For example:

  • By paying a SaaS provider to run applications and store documents, businesses no longer have the need to purchase/upgrade their word processing software.
  • It reduces and/or allows the redeployment of hardware (servers) used to store documents.
  • Applications can be accessed anywhere, anytime as long as the user has Internet access.
  • For remote users, an iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, or other Android-powered phones can be used to access documents, and there is no need to login to an internal network using software such as Citrix or any flavors of VDI.
  • SaaS providers typically guarantee 24/7 access due to elaborate network redunduncies.
  • Fewer or no technical staff is needed to manage software and handle storage issues.  This frees them up for other tasks.

Google DocsDepending on your perspective, Google Docs could be a blessing or a curse. Documents created by Google Docs are devoid of metadata. This means that no document scrubbing (e.g., iScrub) is needed before they're being sent to a recipient. There is no chance of inadvertently disclosing confidential information.  Additionally, numerous people can be in the document at one time, make changes, and monitor the changes others are making.  This can work wonders for collaboration.  Unfortunately, there are some down sides for Google Docs:

  • Google Docs tracks all document edits in the form of a "revision history" trail that cannot be eliminated by the user. This same trail could potentially be subpoenaed by the courts for e-discovery purposes.  Google Docs, and Gmail, stores everything. 
  • Google Docs exists as an independent product from Document Management Systems (DMS). As a result, it cannot be integrated with an in-house DMS or part of a company's overall enterprise content management (ECM) strategy.  In other words, you can't develop a record retention policy that can be followed with these documents. 
  • The document versioning method is quite different. For example, a particular MS Word document in a DMS such as iManage will present itself as "document_number.1" and a new version is saved as "document_number.2". The same document created in Google Docs will present itself as two separate entries in the "revision history". Hence, a Google Docs document would be saved as "document_name" and a new version would be saved as a separate document but renamed as "document_name_revised".  As a result, there is no easy way to move all the separate entries into a DMS as a single document with different versions.

Google Docs may be more appealing to smaller businesses that do not want to worry about internal networks and in-house DMS issues.  But large or small, whether Google Docs is a feasible solution depends on your business infrastructure, records compliance requirements, and the resources available to manage it.  Before taking the plunge, consult with Google, your legal department, and perhaps your existing e-discovery vendor on how Google handles litigation holds and document search and retrieval in e-discovery situations.

Regardless of its short-comings, Google Docs could be a solution for certain businesses that don't require a DMS and the main focus is document collaboration without overburdening the IT staff.

Litigation Holds Can Be "Tire"some, But Hang In There!

"It ain't over 'till it's over."  Yogi Berra was talking about baseball, but the quote applies just as well to lawsuits.  It is no secret that litigation can be a very protracted process, and, when a party is subject to a litigation hold, it seems that much longer. 

One question that lawyers get with some frequency is "how long do we have to maintain this hold?"  The answer is that it depends.  One touchstone, though, is that the hold should remain in effect until all deadlines for appeal or further review have expired.

In a recent Louisiana case, Pipes v. UPS, UPS was hit with a motion for sanctions due to alleged spoliation of evidence.  One of its drivers was involved in an accident.  After the accident, UPS fired the driver and he filed a grievance protesting his termination.  He argued that the accident was not his fault, but rather was caused by a faulty tire on his delivery van.  His grievance was denied at all stages, and his firing was upheld.  Following the end of the grievance process, van maintenance records were destroyed, and the allegedly faulty tire was released to a vendor.

However, the fired driver then sued both UPS (for firing him) and his union (for inadequate representation) in federal court.  When he discovered that the maintenance records and tire were gone, he brought a motion for sanctions.  UPS's managers testified that they thought they could put the matter behind them when the grievance was decided, and so had gotten rid of the evidence.  The court ultimately declined to sanction UPS because the driver's claim lacked merit, and the tire and maintenance records were ultimately only slightly relevant to his claims.

As demonstrated by this case, it is imperative that litigation holds remain in place until appeal or review opportunities have passed.  This is a tricky issue where, as here, the avenue for appeal may be novel (one of UPS's managers testified that he had never seen a grievance decision appealed).  It is important that the person managing the hold make sure that all key players are on the same page about when the hold may be released, and that attorneys keep their clients informed about the possible avenues and timelines for appeal.

Ode to E-Discovery in 2008

Flooding the internet, they consistently accrue:
Blawgs offering e-discovery 'Year in Review's;
But these go on about facts and case histories too,
Before getting to the point of what you can and can't do.

Why not cut to the chase? Why not give it up straight?
Stripped below are the basics of two thousand and eight.
We'll start off with the general dos and the don'ts;
The haven'ts, the shouldn'ts, the emphatically won'ts.

Quite instructive are Canon's and Keithley's examples
Of "lackadaisical attitude" of defendants. As samples:
Do not find that hard drive behind the client's home door,
When discovery has been ongoing for a year or for more.

Do not stumble on computer reports you said "did not exist"
In an e-folder marked "Reports" that you for some reason missed.
And periodically remind clients and their IT personnel
Of the need to preserve the source code that was written on that Dell.

When you don't produce e-mails, the court said in Peskoff
Explain your search method and why, at production, you scoffed.
But if you contributed to information deletion or loss
And the court orders recovery, you won't get your costs!

Do not say you've e-searched when it's just a tall tale:
This was sanctioned under Rule 26 in R&R Sails.
There were costs sanctions also in Ajaxo, among a larger plethora.
And sanction of termination in Arteria and also Pandora.

In Keithley sanctions were imposed even on a party pro se
And in Schwarzenegger for "foot dragging" and a "litany of delays."
But take heed, warned O'Keefe -- don't request termination on whim.
Do not "strike at a king" unless you're sure you'll "kill him."

O'Keefe (plus Equity, Victor) gave lawyers heart attacks.
For saying that search term effectiveness is for experts to crack;
And that if lawyers pick and evaluate the key words instead
They are moving toward places "where angels fear to tread."

The courts warned that when using a method of searching
Learn first of its weaknesses through prior researching.
This was why D'Onofrio rejected what both experts said
And created a brand new search protocol method instead.

Rule 502 on preventing waiver through "reasonable steps"
Saw decisions pronouncing judgment on various missteps.
Alcon acknowledged that the Rule's very recent debut
Was designed to avoid "expensive, painstaking review."

Despite this pronouncement, some courts have cried "waived"
As to attempts made in hindsight to have privilege saved.
Rhoads found possible waiver for documents mistakenly produced
If they were not in the privilege log – there could be no excuse.

And failure to take measures that could prevent waiver
Like claw-back agreements, or Sedona-type saviors
Led to Victor’s conclusion, which uncommonly held
That the attorney-based privilege at issue was quelled.

Moving on, Mancia addressed the Rule 26 obligation
To meet early on regarding e-preservation,
Proclaiming "adversarial conduct" in e-discovery condemned
As a "burden to the American judicial system."

Some courts dove in early to prevent such discord,
Ordering forensic exams to preserve evidentiary records.
To conserve ephemeral info in Xpel, it was fair;
And when defendants were evading service, it was ordered in Allcare.

Other examples included when a party was unable
or unwilling (in Canon) to preserve/produce on the table.
Just remember: as emphasized in Sterle and Square D
Do not interfere with a court-ordered forensic decree.

Rodman, Reinhard and Younessi addressed nonparty subpoenas
And the protection of confidential, trade secret arenas.
Where nonparties are concerned and offer up much resistance
In-house searches are fine, or neutral expert assistance.

The debates continue on metadata versus non-native tracks
And Aquilar labeled metadata as being "the new black."
That court ordered re-production of non-natives with meta
Though the recipient was required to pay costs, as pro rata.

But not all courts required conversion to a metadata mode.
Extra burden led D'Onofrio to an "only if necessary" ode.
And Autotech said doc requests must actually require "native" --
You can't ask for it in hindsight by getting creative.

Yet if e-documents already exist in original native form
And the requests do not contain any language that informs,
White condemned the conversion to non-native in litigation
Since this is done just to increase the opponent's frustration.

Finally, social networks are making an appearance in law
And becoming a most popular e-discovery draw.
The field is wide open on the extent to which these
Are discoverable and admissible, or cannot be seized.

Flagg required defendants to give ISPs consent
And to produce ISP-retrieved records of texts that it sent.
And in Australia a court made clients even more nervous
By allowing Facebook to be used as a method of service!

We hope you've enjoyed this short "Year in Review"
And that all of this knowledge is useful to you.
We await more developments in two thousand and nine;
And wonder whether and where courts will draw any lines.

 

**For a complete list of the cases discussed above, please contact the author.
 

Use Caution When Doing Your Spring Cleaning!

 

Although we're in the middle of winter, and the Midwest had -40 degree wind chills last week, this is the time for you to think about spring cleaning. I don't mean scrubbing floors or washing windows. Now is the time to develop a record retention policy and a litigation hold policy and then begin appropriately "cleaning house."  Micron Technology, Inc. v. Rambus, Inc., 2009 WL 54887 (D. Del. Jan. 9, 2009) shows us why it is so very important to have a litigation hold policy in place before starting that spring cleaning.

Rambus was a microchip technology company that became concerned about possible patent infringements by microchip manufacturers. It sought counsel regarding possible litigation, and counsel developed a litigation strategy. During this time, Rambus also designed and implemented a record retention policy, then held a series of "Shred Days" where many expired records were destroyed.

Micron sought a declaratory judgment from the court that its designs did not infringe on Rambus' patent.  The court held a separate trial on whether Rambus' wholesale destruction of documents pursuant to its document retention policy constituted spoliation of evidence and the appropriate sanction to be imposed on Rambus if in fact spoliation had occurred.  

In analyzing the spoliation issue, the court found that Rambus had a duty to preserve its documents once litigation became reasonably foreseeable.  According to the court,

Rambus knew or should have known, that a general implementation of the policy was inappropriate because the documents destroyed would become material at some point in the future.  Therefore, a duty to preserve potentially relevant information arose in December 1998 and any documents purged from that time forward are deemed to have been intentionally destroyed, i.e. destroyed in bad faith. 

Because Rambus' bad faith was so clear and convincing and because Rambus destroyed innumerable documents relating to all aspects of Rambus' business, the court determined that the very integrity of the litigation process had been impugned.  The court found that neither adverse jury instructions nor the preclusion of evidence nor the imposition of fees and costs on Rambus could cure the damage done by the massive document destruction.  Instead, the court delivered the ultimate sanction of all, it declared Rambus' patents involved in the lawsuit unenforceable. 

The moral of the story?  Companies must exercise extreme caution in implementing document retention policies and must strongly consider whether a "litigation hold" needs to be placed on some documents, even in cases where litigation has not been officially commenced yet.  Consequently, when you get that itch to do some spring cleaning, plan ahead so that you can protect your intellectual property and your business.

New Year's Resolution: Discovery Hold Policy

So you are in tip top physical condition, you give regularly to charity, you call your mom every other day, and you don't miss the sauce a bit.  Sounds like you're in the market for a New Year's resolution! 

How about this: does your company have a litigation hold policy that covers electronically stored information?  According to a recent Deloitte survey, 30 percent of U.S. companies do not have a formalized process in place regarding legal holds, which are policies that guard against the destruction of relevant evidence when legal action is threatened. 

As has been chronicled on this blawg and elsewhere, the potential pitfalls of poorly executed or nonexistent litigation hold policies are serious, and certainly outweigh the relatively small cost of implementing such a policy.

One thing is certain--electronic information will continue to play a larger and larger role in discovery.  Therefore, if your company has not yet implemented a policy to deal with it, shake the confetti out of your hair on New Year's Day, and pledge to tackle the problem early in the year.

Cheers!

Don't Forget the Website!

A corporation's website is often one of a corporation's most visible assets and as a result, websites are often given high priority by corporate marketing and public relations departments.  Websites should be paid the same attention when a corporation institutes a litigation hold.  Unfortunately, when a litigation hold has been instituted, forgetting about your website can be a dangerous oversight. 

In the recent case, Arteria Property Pty Ltd. v. Universal Funding V.T.O., Inc., (2008 WL 4513696, October 1, 2008), the District Court for the District of New Jersey held that websites should be treated the same as other electronic files and sanctioned the defendant corporation for failing to maintain the content on its website once litigation was reasonably anticipated. In Arteria, the plaintiff requested in discovery electronic snapshots or paper copies of the defendant corporation’s website. The defendant corporation failed to produce this information.  There was no dispute that the website was in existence at a time when it was at least reasonable that the corporation would be sued. As a result, the court found that the failure to produce the website constituted spoliation of evidence and imposed sanctions on the defendant corporation. 

The moral of this story?  Your litigation hold policy should have a mechanism in place to insure that your corporation's website, as an electronic document, is preserved in the same manner as other electronic data subject to a litigation hold.  

Shameless Plug: E-Discovery Seminar/Webinar

Our very own, Kelly Twigger, will be one of the presenters at  "Law and Practice of Electronic Discovery," an electronic discovery seminar sponsored by the Milwaukee Bar Association, the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and Marquette Law School on November 6, 2008.  Topics include litigation holds and the preservation of electronically stored information, responding to requests to produce electronic information, best practices for reviewing electronic information, and ethical issues involved with the inadvertent production of privileged documents.  The seminar also includes a mock discovery session offering you the chance to observe lawyers in action as they demonstrate a discovery conference, a motion in limine hearing and the examination of an expert witness on electronic discovery issues. 

Here is a link to the seminar information including information on how to view the seminar via the MBA's live webcast.

Discovery of electronically stored information is unavoidable. With more than 90% of records now being created in a digital format, plaintiffs, defendants, and third parties must be knowledgeable about the myriad of legal and technical issues affecting electronic discovery.

Court OKs Disk Mirroring Despite Confidential Client Matter

In a recent case (Ferron v. Search Cactus, L.L.C., 2008 WL 1902499), the the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled that information stored on a computer that contained content protected by the attorney-client privilege presented insufficient reason for a party to prevent the computer from being mirrored for electronic discovery purposes.

The plaintiff in the case case was an attorney who utilized his home and office computers for storing and working with information related to the representation of clients and the maintenance of lawsuits, but who also used his home computer to store his personal banking and credit card information. He objected to the defendants' discovery request so that the defendants could analyze the electronic evidence in question.

The court rejected plaintiff's arguments that by fulfilling defendants' request, irrelevant personal information would be revealed.  The court further rejected the plaintiff's argument that there would be a waiver of the attorney-client privilege if a third party, namely the forensic expert, were allowed the see information on the computer.  

Instead, the court found that the plaintiff attorney's failure to fulfill his “duty to preserve information because of pending or reasonably anticipated litigation", a duty that was "independent of whether defendants requested a litigation hold," justified the defendants' discovery request.

The court ordered the defendants' expert to review his findings in confidence with plaintiff prior to making any findings available to defendants.  At that time, the plaintiff could identify for deletion any information that was irrelevant and could also create a specific privilege log of any relevant information for which he claimed privilege.  After this review was completed, the expert was ordered to remove the information claimed as privileged and to provide all other information to the defendants.

Given the court's decision, it appears that confidential information residing on a computer will not preclude wholesale disk drive duplications for discovery purposes. However, there are best practices to safeguard data and to ensure that you are not commingling personal and client data:

  • Use two computers-- one for personal and the other for client matters. If one computer is more convenient, install additional hard drives (internal or external) to be used with the same computer. External hard drives have the added benefit of portability, but they also pose a higher risk of accidental loss or theft. So encrypt your data if possible.
  • Use separate email accounts for personal and client matters. That way no one else (not even the forensic expert) has to read about your beach party in conjunction with your client's information, unless, of course, the other party has met the burden of proving your sandy outing is relevant to the discovery in question.
  • Create a matter-centric workspace by using separate folders for individual client matters. Information pertaining to a client matter can then be managed more easily due to improved document retrieval.