The amendment to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) (which defines the scope of permissible discovery) did away with the timeworn “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” standard.  In its place is now the “proportionality standard,” which explicitly imposes a responsibility on litigants to tailor their discovery requests to account for the significance of the information requested, and the cost of gathering responsive information:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). (emphasis added)

Although many courts have applied the revised Rule 26 during 2016, the District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently reminded practitioners that proportionality is a critical factor.  In First Niagara Risk Mgmt. v. Folino, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106094 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2016), which involved the purported violation of a non-compete agreement, the plaintiff moved the Court to compel a discovery request. Specifically, the plaintiff requested that the Court allow its e-discovery vendor to search the defendant’s personal electronic devices and email accounts for a particular set of agreed upon search terms. The defendant objected stating that “the request is overly-broad, costly, and burdensome.”  Although the Court agreed with defendant that the “request was rather broad,” the Court found the request “proportional to the needs of this case.” After verifying that the information requested by the plaintiff was relevant to the case, the Court considered the individual factors in FRCP 26(b)(1).

Specifically, using the factors set forth above, the Court found the issues were “of grave importance” to the plaintiff, the defendant is the sole source of access to the important information, and the plaintiff “needs to conduct broad discovery to uncover the scope of [defendant’s] misdeeds.” The Court granted the motion to compel, and explained that, “[w]eighing these factors makes it clear that the potential harm [plaintiff’s] discovery requests may impose on [defendant] does not outweigh the presumption for disclosure of these requests.”

In Hyles v. New York City et. al., (Case No. 10-3119, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100390 [S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2016], the plaintiff, an African-American female employed by the City of New York, was demoted.  Specifically, she was replaced by a white male and demoted to a different position with a lesser salary.  Ultimately, plaintiff sued the City for discrimination and a hostile work environment under various federal statutes.

Discovery in the case was unnecessarily protracted for a number of reasons including a temporary stay and attendant delays due to mediation, motion practice, and what the Court called, a “lack of effort by counsel.” Eventually, a discovery conference was held before Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck after counsel for both parties jointly requested the Court resolve various discovery disputes.  As is relevant to this blog, the parties requested the Judge determine the scope of electronic discovery regarding: (a) custodians, (b) the date range to be searched, and (c) search methodology to be utilized.  Regarding the issue of search methodology, the City sought to use keyword searches designed to identify potentially responsive materials.  Plaintiff, on the other hand, requested the Court compel the City to use a form of technology assisted review (“TAR”) to perform the City’s search for potentially responsive materials.  In seeking to compel the City, plaintiff asserted that TAR is the more cost effective and efficient way to obtain discovery.   The City, in opposition, argued that the cost of TAR was too much and, because the parties failed to collaborate well in the past they “would not be able to collaborate to develop the seed set for a TAR process.”

In response to the plaintiff’s argument that the use of TAR would be the most efficient and cost effective, Judge Peck agreed stating “the Court believes that for most cases today, TAR is the best and most efficient search tool,” finding it “superior” to key word searching and noting, “[t]he Court would have liked the City to use TAR in this case”.  However, citing Sedona Conference Principle 6, Judge Peck held that “the responding party is best situated to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own [ESI].”

Judge Peck noted that someday, the law may be at the point where “it might be unreasonable for a party to decline to use TAR… [but,] [w]e are not there yet.” Hyles, supra, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100390 . at *9-*10.  Therefore, the Court denied plaintiff’s application to force defendant to use  predictive coding.

It is interesting to note the ever-growing trend among federal judges to embrace TAR as an effective way to contain costs and engage in an efficient discovery process.  While it is true that the state of the law currently allows the responding party to determine how best to identify potentially responsive data such that the party can comply with its discovery obligations, I predict (no pun intended) that more and more parties – when faced with the potentially tremendous financial costs attendant to e-discovery – may soon turn to various TAR methodologies if only as a means to control costs.

Chief Justice Roberts commented that the newly amended Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 26 “crystalizes the concept of reasonable limits in discovery through increased reliance on the common-sense concept of proportionality.”  This common sense approach was recently embraced by a Special Master, and then approved by the District Court Judge, in the products liability case In re Takata Airbag Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 2599 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 1, 2016).

In that case, the defendants proposed to withhold or redact non-relevant information from their production of documents.  The proposal included redacting non-relevant parent emails from responsive families (i.e., if the email was not relevant but it’s attachments were, defendants proposed to redact the email, but produce the entirety of attachments).  Specifically, defendants proposed to redact information pertaining to seven discrete categories of information in an effort to balance their desire to protect highly confidential trade secrets while complying with their discovery obligations.

The District Court concluded the defendants’ proposal was appropriate and, quoting Chief Justice Robert’s comments about the then proposed amendments, highlighted that “a party is not entitled to receive every piece of relevant information,” and therefore “it is only logical” that “a party is similarly not entitled to receive every piece of irrelevant information in responsive documents if the producing party has a persuasive reason for why such information should be withheld.”  This “common Sense” approach is a fair and balanced way to proceed with discovery, especially when responsive information is mixed with non-responsive information.

While not discussed in the In re Takata case, query whether a redaction log – comparable to a privilege log — is advisable when applying responsiveness redactions to one’s production.  Such a log may prevent against gamesmanship and over-designations.  I, myself, have had occasion to apply responsiveness redactions to productions and have made it my practice to create a redaction log, which articulates – in a summary fashion – the reason for the redaction (i.e., redaction of information relevant to a contract other than the one at issue in this litigation).

For a long time, New York state and federal courts were out of sync with one another with regard to a litigant’s discovery obligations. For example, the state courts in New York required a party to take steps to preserve discovery materials upon the commencement of a litigation, while the federal courts required preservation upon the reasonable anticipation of litigation.  This divergence in standards placed counsel in a quagmire when advising clients, because a party did not necessarily know if their anticipated litigation would eventually be commenced in New York state or federal court.

The Appellate Division, First Department, put an end to this debate in 2012, when it adopted in VOOM HD Holdings LLC v. EchoStar Satellite L.L.C., the federal standard.  Specifically, the Appellate Division adopted the  standard for preservation set forth in Zubulake v UBS Warburg LLC (220 FRD 212 [SD NY 2004]) that, “[o]nce a party reasonably anticipates litigation, it must suspend its routine document retention/destruction policy and put in place a ‘litigation hold’ to ensure the preservation of relevant documents.”  The Voom court also adopted a negligence and gross negligence standard in analyzing ESI spoliation, holding that “[s]ince EchoStar acted in bad faith or with gross negligence in destroying the evidence, the relevance of the evidence is presumed.”

The Court of Appeals in Pegasus Aviation further adopted the negligence standard applied in Zubulake to determine if a party should be held liable for failing to timely issue a litigation hold.

Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that:

A party seeks sanctions for spoliation of evidence must show that the party having control over the evidence possessed an obligation to preserve it at the time of its destruction, that the evidence was destroyed with a “culpable state of mind,” and “that the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim or defense such that the trier of fact could find that the evidence would support that claim or defense.” On the other hand, if the evidence is determined to have been negligently destroyed, the party seeking spoliation sanctions must establish that the destroyed documents were relevant to the party’s claim or defense.

Pegasus Aviation, however, did not acknowledge that the holdings in Zubulake were recently undermined by changes to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e) effective, December 1, 2015.  The change was adopted to establish a uniform standard in light of conflicting standards between the Federal Circuits: the Second, Sixth and Ninth Circuits on the one hand, which had authorized sanctions for negligent destruction of e-mails, and the First, Fifth and Tenth Circuits on the other hand which had held that mere negligence was not sufficient to obtain sanctions.  The new rules provides:

(e) Failure to Preserve Electronically Stored Information. If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court:

(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or

(2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation may:

(A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party;

(B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party; or

(C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.

This new standard allows an adverse inference instruction only upon a finding that a party “acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation” (emphasis added).  The new Rule 37(e) removes any negligence from the standard.

Indeed, Judge Shira Scheidlin recognized that the new rule was out of step with her prior holding in Zubulake and other Second Circuit precedence.  In Sekisui American Corp. v. Hart, she noted that “[u]nder the proposed rule, parties who destroy evidence cannot be sanctioned . . . even if they were negligent, grossly negligent, or reckless in doing so” and “would require the innocent party to prove that it has been substantially prejudiced by the loss of relevant information, even where the spoliating party destroyed information willfully or in bad faith.”  This would be a change from existing Second Circuit law in that it would “abrogate” the Second Circuit’s holding in Residential Funding insofar as the Second Circuit previously held “that sanctions may be appropriate in instances where evidence is negligently destroyed.”

While the New York Court of Appeals may have intended to bring New York in line with Federal practice, and adopt what was the-then Second Circuit negligent spoliation standard, it failed to do so in as much as the Federal Rules changed just two-weeks before it issued the Pegasus Aviation decision.  Only time will tell if the Court of Appeals will revisit this issue in light of the new Federal Rules.

After sitting on the sidelines for years, the New York Court of Appeals (the highest appellate court in New York) has finally ruled on the standard to be applied to claims alleging spoliation of ESI. The decision, however, which was late in coming, places New York at odds with the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  This post will address Pegasus Aviation I, Inc. v Varig Logistica, S.A. Next week’s post will address how Pegasus is at odds with the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Pegasus Aviation I, Inc. v Varig Logistica, S.A. involved litigation spanning multiple continents, and attendant discovery failures.  The underlying dispute arose from the leasing of cargo airplanes in Brazil, a Brazilian bankruptcy and a shareholder dispute.  The plaintiffs not only sued the company to whom they loaned money (the “VariLog Defendants”), but also a number of third parties who purchased the assets out of bankruptcy – the “MP Defendants.”

During discovery the VariLog Defendants advised that one or more computer “crashes” impaired their ability to produce ESI. The VariLog Defendants further explained that during the operative period the company did not have an email preservation system in place, emails were stored on local machines and employee computers were routinely returned “empty.”  These practices were later halted, but subsequent computer “crashes” resulted in the loss of much of the requested ESI.

The Trial Court found that the VariLog Defendants’ failure to issue a litigation hold amounted to gross negligence, and as such relevance of the missing ESI was presumed. The Trial Court further found that because the MP Defendants had been charged by a Brazilian Court with managing and administering VariLog, they were in control of VariLog for purposes of instituting the litigation hold.  The Trial Court sanctioned the defendants by striking Varilog’s answer and imposing an adverse inference sanction against the MP Defendants.

The Appellate Division reversed the sanction. While the Appellate Division agreed on the “control” issue, it differed with the Trial Court finding that there wasn’t a showing of gross negligence, because the issuance of a litigation hold cannot be considered gross negligence per se.  The Appellate Division further placed the burden on the movant to establish that the lost ESI would have supported its claims, and failing to have done so, an adverse inference sanction was not required.  Notably, the Appellate Division decision included a concurring and a dissenting opinion.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the Trial Court and Appellate Division’s findings that the MP Defendants were sufficiently in control of VariLog to trigger an ESI litigation hold. The Court of Appeals also agreed with the Appellate Division that the failure to issue a litigation hold does not amount to gross negligence per se, but was merely one factor to be considered when determining the spoliator’s culpable state of mind.  The Court of Appeals differed, however, with the Appellate Division’s determination that the movant did not show relevance.

Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that:

A party that seeks sanctions for spoliation of evidence must show that the party having control over the evidence possessed an obligation to preserve it at the time of its destruction, that the evidence was destroyed with a “culpable state of mind,” and “that the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim or defense such that the trier of fact could find that the evidence would support that claim or defense.” On the other hand, if the evidence is determined to have been negligently destroyed, the party seeking spoliation sanctions must establish that the destroyed documents were relevant to the party’s claim or defense.

The Court of Appeals remanded the litigation to the Trial Court for a determination as to whether the negligently destroyed evidence was relevant to the claims against the defendants, and if so, the appropriate sanction (if the Trial Court deems one warranted).

In reaching its decision the Court of Appeals relied on the Appellate Division, First Department’s decision in VOOM HD Holdings LLC v EchoStar Satellite L.L.C. (93 AD3d 33, 45 [1st Dept 2012]), and the Southern District’s Zubulake v UBS Warburg LLC (220 FRD 212, 220 [SD NY 2004]).  The Zubulake burden shifting rubric has been placed into doubt by recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  More on that next week

In a previous post we discussed generally the idea of a cooperative discovery process and highlighted how the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules embrace this principal (see, e.g., proposed amendments to Federal Rule Civil Procedure [“FRCP”] 1).  Here, we discuss how the concept of a cooperative discovery process– even apart from the specific mandates in the FRCP – is expected by the Courts.

Consider, for example, the several districts that have adopted local rules and standards for e-discovery that promote cooperation.  In the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, for example, “[c]ounsel are expected to cooperate with each other, consistent with the interests of their clients, in all phases of the discovery process” (Local Rule 26.4).  Additionally, the Seventh Circuit, the Southern District of Illinois, the Northern District of California, and other federal Courts have adopted similar rules and guidelines. And, as recent developments in case law have shown (see, e.g., Boston Scientific Corp. v. Lee, 2014 WL 3851157 [N.D. Cal. 2014]), counsel is wise to adopt a cooperative approach to the discovery process.  Indeed, clients are best served by an attorney who is a master of dialogue rather than simply a master of debate.

In Boston Scientific, the Company brought suit against a former employee who began employment with a competitor immediately after resigning from Boston Scientific.  The new employer, after learning about the lawsuit, segregated defendant’s laptop and sent it to a third party e-discovery vendor.  Plaintiff sought forensic images of two laptops; the first that was initially segregated and a replacement laptop, both of which the former employee had been using.  As confirmed by the vendor, the second laptop contained trade secrets and other confidential information from a previous user. When the employer offered to have the first laptop reviewed for pertinent information, Boston Scientific declined the offer.   Thereafter, the court held that neither laptop was discoverable.  Not surprisingly, in the face of this ruling Boston Scientific sought promptly to accept the previous offer which the court would not allow.  The court notably stated:

“This case illustrates a recurring problem in all civil discovery, … A party demands the sun, moon and stars in a document request or interrogatory, refusing to give even a little bit. The meet and confer required by a court in advance of a motion is perfunctory at best, with no compromise whatsoever. But when the parties appear before the court, the recalcitrant party possesses newfound flexibility and a willingness to compromise. Think Eddie Haskell singing the Beaver’s praises to June Cleaver, only moments after giving him the business in private.”

Here, had counsel for Boston Scientific engaged in a cooperative approach to the discovery process, undoubtedly Boston Scientific would have been better served and likely counsel would have maintained credibility in the eyes of the Court.*

*For other decisional law illustrating the Courts’ frustrations with obstreperous or unreasonable discovery anticssee also Brown v. Tellermate Holdings Ltd., 2014 WL 2987051 (S.D. Ohio 2014); Straight Path IP Group, Inc. v. Blackberry Ltd., 2014 WL 3401723 (N.D. Cal. 2014); In re Domestic Drywall Antitrust Litig., 2014 WL 1909260 (E.D. Pa. 2014).

As those of you reading this well know, many studies and decisions show continued dissatisfaction with the discovery process. Remedies to this dissatisfaction that have gained traction are the ideas of cooperation, proportionality and reasonableness in the discovery process – the very themes that lay at the heart of the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules.

On April 29, 2015, in a letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, Chief Justice John Roberts submitted the proposed amendments to the FRCP for final congressional approval.  Specifically, C.J. Roberts stated that the amendments “[H]ave been adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States.”  This means, absent any legislation to reject or modify the proposed rules, they will become effective December 1, 2015.

Indeed, unless modified by an act of Congress, several new civil procedure rules will be effective this year, certain of which will impact discovery generally, including e-discovery.

For example, as amended, FRCP 37(e) seeks to impose a uniform standard relating to the remedies available by a court when ESI is not properly preserved and prejudice to the impacted party is found.  These remedies are, adverse inference, jury instruction or dismissal.  Rule 37(e), however, is applicable only when three criteria are met: (1) ESI is lost that “should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation;” (2) because of a failure to take “reasonable steps;” and (3) the loss cannot be remedied by “additional discovery” designed to replace or restore the ESI.

Other FRCP amendments emphasize the recurring themes of the importance of cooperation, proportionality, and reasonableness in and the discovery process.  For example, FRCP 1 seeks to emphasize the need for cooperative advocacy in discovery.  Specifically, the proposed amendment specifies that clients share in the responsibility with the Court for achieving the Rule’s objective:

“[These rules] should be construed, and administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” The idea behind the amendment to Rule 1 is that the express reference to the litigants in the rule itself will prompt litigants and their lawyers to engage in more cooperative behavior.

While it may take more effort to engage in a cooperative, proportional and reasonable discovery process, doing so offers a multitude of benefits for attorneys and their clients, not the least of which may be a less expensive discovery process (i.e., fewer discovery disputes, limited motion practice, decreased potential for sanctions).