Citing Failure to Cooperate, Court Orders Use of Specific Keyword Search Terms

United States v. New Mexico State Univ., No. 1:16-cv-00911-JAP-LF, 2017 WL 4386358 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2017)

In this pay discrimination case, the Court addressed Defendants’ motion for a protective order precluding further searching for responsive documents. Citing defense counsel’s failure to “adequately confer” before performing the initial searches, “which resulted in searches that were inadequate to reveal all responsive documents,” the Court concluded that “which searches will be conducted is left to the Court” and went on to order Defendants to conduct additional searches with specific terms, many of which were proposed by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff alleged that Defendants payed a female employee less than they were paying her male counterparts, despite similar responsibilities in the track and field program, and sought, broadly speaking, production of documents reflecting communications regarding her compensation; production of documents regarding her complaints concerning pay; and production of documents regarding any other complaints of pay discrimination made by other coaches, trainers, etc. Without adequately cooperating with the plaintiff, Defendants performed “more than 20” keyword searches and produced “more than 14,000 pages of documents.”  When Plaintiff indicated concern regarding the adequacy of Defendants’ searching, the parties were unable to resolve their dispute and Defendants ultimately moved for a protective order. Defendants argued that the discovery sought was not proportional to the needs of the case, noting the efforts already undertaken.  Plaintiff disagreed.

Indicating that this case presented “the question of how parties should search and produce [ESI] in response to discovery requests,” the Court reminded the parties that “[t]he best solution in the entire area of electronic discovery is cooperation among counsel” and that “[c]ooperation prevents lawyers designing keyword searches ‘in the dark, by the seat of the pants,’ without adequate discussion with each other to determine which words would yield the most responsive results.” In the present case, the Court concluded that the failure to confer resulted in inadequate searches and, acknowledging Plaintiff’s argument that “[Defendant] alone is responsible for its illogical choices in constructing searches” indicated that, “which searches will be conducted is left to the Court.”

As promised, the Court went on to discuss the three disputed discovery requests and identified specific search terms and custodians to be searched, many of which were proposed by the plaintiff. The Court also instructed the parties to work together to the extent necessary, if the non-responsive documents returned were too voluminous, for example.

The Court ended the opinion by returning to the topic of cooperation:

Electronic discovery requires cooperation between opposing counsel and transparency in all aspects of preservation and production of ESI. Moreover, where counsel are using keyword searches for retrieval of ESI, they at a minimum must carefully craft the appropriate keywords, with input from the ESI’s custodians as to the words and abbreviations they use, and the proposed methodology must be quality control tested to assure accuracy in retrieval and elimination of “false positives.” It is time that the Bar—even those lawyers who did not come of age in the computer era—understand this.

[Citation omitted.]

A copy of the Court’s order is available here.

This post was written by the Electronic Discovery at KL Gates of K & L Gates., Copyright 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Gone, But Not Forgotten – A Deactivated Facebook Account Can Be Discoverable

Courts have long grappled with social media in a legal context. The struggle to understand social media issues — and to craft coherent applicable legal policy — renders Crowe v. Marquette Transportation Co. Gulf-Inland, LLC amusing to show how the less-than-honest actions of an employee-plaintiff can make these difficult legal questions fairly simple for a court.

In May of 2014, Brannon Crowe sued Marquette Transportation, his employer, for an injury to his knee that he claimed to have suffered in an accident at work. Interestingly, however, Crowe allegedly sent a co-worker a message on Facebook which stated that he received the injury during a fishing trip, and not at work. When confronted with the message to the co-worker by opposing counsel during a deposition, Crowe stated the account the message was sent from was Brannon “CroWe,” and it couldn’t be his because he didn’t have a capital “W” in his last name.

Facebook e-discovery in employment litigationAt the deposition, Crowe also said that he no longer had an account after the previous October, and his response to a discovery request for the contents of his account was that, in addition to such a request being vague, overbroad and unduly burdensome, he didn’t presently have a Facebook account. The court ordered Crowe to provide the contents of his account for the court to review in camera to determine if the contents of the account should indeed be discoverable. Later, however, Crowe’s counsel submitted to the court 4,000 pages of Facebook account information from the Brannon CroWe account, with an interesting wrinkle – the records of the account indicate that the account was deactivated – not deleted – four days after the discovery request for the account’s contents.

The court was understandably unamused, and suggested that the in camera review of 4,000 pages of Facebook account information would be a waste of time since this account information should have been produced earlier in response to Marquette’s request. The contradiction with Crowe’s testimony alone was enough to render the account information discoverable. Rather than review the documents fully in camera, the court ordered Crowe to turn over every single page of the Facebook account history to Marquette, as well as any login information for any Facebook accounts Crowe had at that time or in the past, and Crowe was ordered to consent to any authorization for Marquette to subpoena his Facebook information.

In effect, Crowe made the contents of the account discoverable through his attempts to keep it from being discovered, and that made the court’s decision on the issue clear. Luckily for Crowe, he only deactivated the account rather than deleted it, since he had a duty to preserve evidence in litigation. Spoliation of evidence is the negligent or intentional destruction or alteration of evidence that may be required in a lawsuit. Even though the evidence doesn’t look good for Crowe in the present case, had he deleted the account entirely, he would have been subject to the spoliation inference, which is a negative evidentiary inference in favor of the opposing party. A showing that a party has destroyed relevant evidence can lead to punitive sanctions against him as well.

Social media provides an abundant resource of data about a litigant, and both employers and employees alike should be a wary of even private messages sent to others in that context. When employees raise issues against employers in a legal setting, their interactions with coworkers on social media may be discoverable. This case also raises questions about how far those involved in legal proceedings can or should go to protect themselves with regard to their social media accounts. As courts become increasingly comfortable with the legal implications of social media and technology, issues such as evidence spoliation through deactivation and deletion will become more and more prominent as a trap for the unwary.

© 2015 by McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC. All rights reserved.

Next Week! Join the ABA at their 9th Annual National Institute on E-Discovery – May 15th in New York City

ABA Nat Inst E Discov May 15

Remaining current is critical to successful litigation. This program is relevant for both in-house and outside counsel who are involved in litigation and the discovery process. E-Discovery is a rapidly evolving field with laws and regulations that are constantly changing.  Attendees of this program will gain practical knowledge that may be implemented immediately in day-to-day operations.

Additional Information Institute Brochure

  • Noted practitioners and jurists will address:
  • Practical tips for managing litigation holds
  • Preserving personal data devices in light of the varying interpretations of “possession, custody, and control”
  • Judges’ perspectives on the Proposed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure amendments
  • Recent court decisions, as reviewed by one of the industry’s leading authorities on E-Discovery case law
  • Meeting ethical obligations related to securing clients’ E-Discovery data
  • The unique aspects of cross-border E-Discovery between the U.S., and the European Union, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Canada

Register now!

Register for the 9th Annual National Institute on E-Discovery – May 15th in New York City

ABA Nat Inst E Discov May 15

Remaining current is critical to successful litigation. This program is relevant for both in-house and outside counsel who are involved in litigation and the discovery process. E-Discovery is a rapidly evolving field with laws and regulations that are constantly changing.  Attendees of this program will gain practical knowledge that may be implemented immediately in day-to-day operations.

Additional Information Institute Brochure

  • Noted practitioners and jurists will address:
  • Practical tips for managing litigation holds
  • Preserving personal data devices in light of the varying interpretations of “possession, custody, and control”
  • Judges’ perspectives on the Proposed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure amendments
  • Recent court decisions, as reviewed by one of the industry’s leading authorities on E-Discovery case law
  • Meeting ethical obligations related to securing clients’ E-Discovery data
  • The unique aspects of cross-border E-Discovery between the U.S., and the European Union, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Canada

Register now!

Information Governance in Legal – The Real Payoff is Litigation, E-Discovery, and Audit Readiness

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Information governance (IG) in the modern day legal landscape addresses multiple functions from cyber threats, to compliance, to interdepartmental communication to document retention to e-discovery. Affecting businesses across the legal, compliance and IT realms, the ideal IG framework will insert processes and procedures into place that will allow law firms and businesses to consistently manage and asses the flow of information. Browning Marean, co-chair of the Electronic Discovery Readiness and Response Group at DLA Piper and speaker at the ARMA International 2013 Conference and Expo, offers his expertise on law firm IG and why data can and should be controlled in the legal field.

Q: What is the impact an IG framework can have on a law firm and business?

A: The impact of IG on a business in momentous. Legislation like the SarbanesOxley Act of 2002 requires that businesses have controls in place.  Law firms must keep up with the ever-increasing number of compliance regulations for their clients. In addition, the average Fortune 500 companies have 125 lawsuits at any given point. If law firms and compliance departments have control of the information, they will know where to look and be able to preserve the information during discovery. IG can therefore also serve as an organizational tool during litigation.

Q: How would you describe the relationship among technology, the law & IG?

A: There is a complicated relationship among the three entities. I believe that the computer revolution yields two classes of people, both the foot soldiers and the victims. It is the same with the practice of law– technology can cause disruption but if attorneys take advantage of technology and use it to guide their IG, they will flourish.

Q: Can you cover the top risk associated with governance gaps in litigation and e-discovery?

A:In a lawsuit, parties must produce documents during discovery. When litigation is reasonably anticipated parties will have to put a legal hold on discovery documents in electronic form, also known as e-data. If parties are unable to do so or unable to preserve the documents, they will suffer the consequences, including losing the case outright and monetary sanctions and adverse interference instructions from the courts. In that way, IG can mitigate the problems associated with the identification, preservation, collection and production of e-data.

Q: What would be some of the solutions you would recommend for this risk?

A: The amount of data that is available will be multiplied by 50 by the year 2020. The only way to accommodate all of that information is to have proper practices and policies in place. I believe law firms and business should prepare an “IT readiness program.” Organizations must look at themselves from the top-down to see what resources are available to help at each level. There is a great checklist from the Department of Justice (DOJ) that covers may aspects of how law firms and businesses can ensure that there their discovery material will remain intact, from document management systems to disaster recovery backup. In addition, I recommend that law firms and businesses maintain a record retention policy.

Q: E-discovery is one of the hot topics in the legal world. Why do you think it has become so widely covered and debated?

A: About 95% of all data is viewed in electronic form.  This means that in order to prove your side in a lawsuit, we will have to see where the evidence is based, which is usually in some kind of electronic format. We are going from an analogue world to a digital world so we must create and preserve electronically stored information (ESI) to evaluate the evidence. The pervasiveness of e-discovery has resulted in several additions to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as well as state laws.

Q: Can you provide a background on the evolution of e-discovery?

A: In the modern era, a series of cases in the early 2000s from federal courts established the beginning of modern e-discovery litigation.  In particular, Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York paved the way. Judge Shira Scheindlin presided over the case and made several ruling effectively establishing the duty of businesses and their counsel to preserve documents and refrain from practices that may result in the destruction of documents.. Through an effective IG framework, law firms and compliance departments will be able to keep up with ESI in litigation and e-discovery.

The Value of Having an In-House E-Discovery Process

Marcus Evans

Having an end-to-end process in place for electronic discovery (e-discovery) and litigation management is critical, says Raquel Tamez, Principal/Deputy General Counsel, Litigation, Computer Sciences Corporation and speaker at the marcus evans Chief Litigation Officer Summit Fall 2013. Even if outside counsel and multiple service providers are involved, Chief Litigation Officers (CLOs) need to have a process, identify the various stakeholders, and determine and define their respective responsibilities. According to Tamez, that is the best approach to take.

How should CLOs approach e-discovery?

It is different for each company. There are opportunities for cost savings if companies can bring some of the data collection and processing in-house, but not every company has that capability or the appropriate litigation profile to justify the time and expense of doing so.

Nevertheless, CLOs should have a “process” in place whether entirely outsourced or entirely in-house or a hybrid. Having an end-to-end process for e-discovery is critical. CLOs may be inclined to simply hand-off the e-discovery function to its outside counsel who, in turn, utilize various service providers with different data processing capabilities and various document review platforms. There is a lack of efficiency and cost effectiveness with this hand-off approach. The better approach is for the CLO to have a robust, documented, end-to-end e-discovery process and “playbook” that outside counsel is required to follow. The process, ideally, should identify the CLO’s exclusive, full-service e-discovery service provider or at a minimum a list of service providers that have been vetted by the CLO’s legal staff and the company’s IT personnel. CLOs will, necessarily, have to invest time and some money to create and build out the process. These front-end costs will result in significant cost-savings in the long-run.

What is the next step? How does this lead to cost savings?

The key to cost-savings here is to have a repeatable process and not an ad hoc approach where the wheel must be reinvented every time a piece of litigation or an investigation is initiated. If the e-discovery process is well-executed, all relevant stakeholders, will know what to do, when do it, how to do it, and who to go to if any doubt. The transparency in the process leads to defensibility and ultimately, savings in both time and monies.

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Six Ways to do Business Overseas While Reducing the Perils of Future Litigation

Sheppard Mullin 2012

As an executive or in-house counsel, your work likely reaches across the globe.

90% of companies in the United States are involved in litigation—much of it international. American companies have increased overseas business from 49% in 2008 to 72% as late as 2010.

If you work for a medium to large corporation, you are liking working overseas or interacting with colleagues that are. This means that you are likely working around the clock putting out fires, making deals, and juggling regulatory hurdles. Are you worried of running so fast in such unknown territory that you may miss something? Do you wish you had more time to learn everything to minimize your company’s business and litigation risks?

I have good and bad news. The bad—it is nearly impossible to know all of the intricacies of international law, customs, or the unique business challenges facing your company. The good news—you don’t have to. The reality is that ignorance of international law is not what gets you in trouble . . . facts do. Case in point, see Wal-Mart’s bribery scandal in Mexico.

Here are six habits you already know and should put into practice to reduce the risks of bad facts leading to future international litigation:

1. Watch What You Put in Email

You are in charge of an international project and the pressure is mounting. Your foreign counterparts seek written assurances. So, you go on the record via email stating definitively and unequivocally the company’s position. Years later and, with hindsight, you learn you were wrong and it comes back to bite you in litigation. Or maybe you feel especially close to your Brazilian counter-part after a night of food and drinks, so you share information via email about your company’s “issues.” That email is later produced in litigation and becomes evidence against your company.

Remember, emails live on forever and travel . . . fast! Like water leaks, emails go unnoticed until the full impact of their damage emerges years later.

This is basic, but often key in litigation. If you are doing business overseas: watch your tone, grammar, use of local colloquialisms, or use of vague undefined terms (e.g. “material” breach). Avoid definitive words like: “always,” “never,” or “definitely.” Give yourself margin for error. If you are assuming, say so in your email. If you still need approval for your written position, note as much in the email. Ask yourself, “is what I am writing something I would be okay having blown up on an overhead projector in court?” If so, send away.

2. Write Facts Down and Do So Clearly

The fear of bad facts or cross-examination should not deter you from writing. Given the language barriers of international work, communication is vital to your success. So, you should write emails and correspondence. But how? The key is clarity of facts.

This means, writing facts, not conclusions or opinions. When you portray facts, be objective and detail-oriented. For example, retell the other side’s position and your company’s response. Don’t assume that the other side will stick to the same story they told you orally, so document it.

However, you are often called to make conclusions or state an opinion. When you do, make sure you identify why, the process leading to the conclusion/opinion, and what factors could change your initial viewpoint.

Litigation is drama and international litigation is drama on a global scale where each side gives their “story.” Take the lead and document the “real story” by writing it down. When you do, and litigation erupts, a litigator like me can clearly and persuasively tell your story.

3. Respect Cultural Sensitivities, But Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Up

You are in meetings with your counter-parts in Asia and essential business issues come up. Yet, you are concerned about being culturally sensitive and not losing “face.” So, you let the issue pass and put it on your to-do list. As the days pass, hundreds of other “to-do” issues join it on your list and you forget.

Respect cultural sensitivities, but always follow-up. Better yet, document it, follow-up over the phone or in person, and document what you did. I have seen clients’ major multi-million dollar litigation matters get sidetracked because an executive failed to follow-up on a legitimate concern and subsequently “waived” the issue.

4. Be a Gatekeeper and Assert Your Contractual Rights

Companies and their executives fly to the moon to strike an international deal that benefits the company. They hire great lawyers to put in all the bells and whistles to protect their business interests. Yet, when the deal meets the reality of daily business life, gravity takes over and the precious rights protected in the contract fall flat to earth.

If you are the executive sent overseas to manage the project or handle the international distribution business, become the gatekeeper. That means: read the previously negotiated contract, understand it, ask questions about it, know it intimately, and then follow the terms of the contract.

If the contract gives you the right to documents from the foreign company, politely, but firmly get your documents. If the contract calls for a delivery schedule, follow it and insist the other side do the same. If the contract requires your foreign counterpart to act a certain way, do a number of things, or behave within the confines of a certain standard, make sure they do.

Your failure to know your contract and follow it, could waive important rights, change the terms of the contract, and create multiple avenues of arguments for the other side. This could come to haunt you later when you are back in the United States and the project you were in charge of heads to litigation.

5. Ask Questions, Look Around, and Gather Information

Maybe the most important and underused tool in your arsenal to reduce the risk of overseas business leading to litigation is to ask questions.

As you undertake your overseas assignment, you will notice that some things don’t make sense. When this happens, ask questions. Who is the foreign executive you are dealing with? What is his role in the company? Why is he asking you to meet with him and a foreign government official at a swanky resort? Could this be a problem? Maybe, but you will never know where you and your company stand unless you ask questions.

While you are asking questions, look around. If you are managing a construction project in Qatar, get on the ground and look at the project site. Don’t rely on others to tell you what is happening, see it for yourself. Open your eyes . . . is anything off? What’s there that shouldn’t be there? What isn’t there that should be there? If you know your contract (as in Tip 4 above), you will know what doesn’t look right.

Gather readily available information. The reality is that international litigation becomes very difficult and expensive from the United States when all of the evidence remains overseas. So, if you hear your foreign counter-part discuss a “regulation,” “policy,” or “contract” that they are relying on, ask to have a copy . . . and actually get it. Doing so will give your company an advantage in discovery if litigation ensues.

In the end, use your senses. What do you see and hear? Does it smell or feel right? If not, take note, ask questions, and gather information as it occurs.

6. Seek Advice

Note, it is wise to seek advice on international law when doing business overseas. Whether you are working on an international investment deal,cross border real estate transaction, want to protect your intellectual property, or are worried about immigration exposure, it is good business to get counsel.

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