Category Archives: Case Law

Federal Judge: Custodian Self-Collection of ESI is Unethical and Violates Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

By John Patzakis

In E.E.O.C. v. M1 5100 Corp., (S.D. Fla. July 2, 2020), Federal District Judge Matthewman excoriated defense counsel for allowing the practice of unsupervised custodian ESI self-collection, declaring that the practice “greatly troubles and concerns the court.” In this EEOC age discrimination case, two employees of the defendant corporation were permitted to identify and collect their own ESI in an unsupervised manner. Despite no knowledge of the process the client undertook to gather information (which resulted in only 22 pages of documents produced), counsel signed the responses to the RFP’s in violation of FRCP Rule 26(g), which requires that the attorney have knowledge and supervision of the process utilized to collect data from their client in response to discovery requirements.Gavel and books

This notable quote from the opinion provides a very strong legal statement against the practice of ESI custodian self-collection:

“The relevant rules and case law establish that an attorney has a duty and obligation to have knowledge of, supervise, or counsel the client’s discovery search, collection, and production. It is clear to the Court that an attorney cannot abandon his professional and ethical duties imposed by the applicable rules and case law and permit an interested party or person to ‘self-collect’ discovery without any attorney advice, supervision, or knowledge of the process utilized. There is simply no responsible way that an attorney can effectively make the representations required under Rule 26(g)(1) and yet have no involvement in, or close knowledge of, the party’s search, collection and production of discovery…Abdicating completely the discovery search, collection and production to a layperson or interested client without the client’s attorney having sufficient knowledge of the process, or without the attorney providing necessary advice and assistance, does not meet an attorney’s obligation under our discovery rules and case law. Such conduct is improper and contrary to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”

In his ruling, Judge Matthewman stated that he “will not permit an inadequate discovery search, collection and production of discovery, especially ESI, by any party in this case.” He gave the defendant “one last chance to comply with its discovery search, collection and production obligations.”  He then also ordered “the parties to further confer on or before July 9, 2020, to try to agree on relevant ESI sources, custodians, and search terms, as well as on a proposed ESI protocol.” The Court reserved ruling on monetary and evidentiary sanctions pending the results of Defendants second chance efforts.

A Defensible Yet Streamlined Process Is Optimal

EEOC v. M1 5100, is yet another court decision disallowing custodian self-collection of ESI and underscoring the importance of a well-designed and defensible eDiscovery collection process. At the other end of the spectrum, full disk image collection is another preservation option that, while being defensible, is very costly, burdensome and disruptive to operations. Previously in this blog, I discussed at length the numerous challenges associated with full disk imaging.

The ideal solution is a systemized, uniform and defensible process for ESI collection, which also enables targeted and intelligent data collection in support of proportionality principles. Such a capability is only attainable with the right enterprise technology. With X1 Distributed Discovery (X1DD), parties can perform targeted search and collection of the ESI of hundreds of endpoints over the internal network without disrupting operations. The search results are returned in minutes, not weeks, and thus can be highly granular and iterative, based upon multiple keywords, date ranges, file types, or other parameters. This approach typically reduces the eDiscovery collection and processing costs by at least one order of magnitude (90%), thereby bringing much needed feasibility to enterprise-wide eDiscovery collection that can save organizations millions while improving compliance by maintaining metadata, generating audit logs and establishing chain of custody.

And in line with the Judge’s guidance outlined in EEOC v. M1 5100, X1DD provides a repeatable, verifiable and documented process for the requisite defensibility. For a demonstration or briefing on X1 Distributed Discovery, please contact us.

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Lawson v. Spirit Aerosystems: Federal Court Blasts “Bloated” ESI Collection, Rendered TAR Ineffective

By John Patzakis

Technology Assisted Review (TAR), when correctly employed, can significantly reduce legal review costs with generally more accurate results than other traditional legal review processes. However, the benefits associated with TAR are often undercut by the over-collection and over-inclusion of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) into the TAR process. These challenges played out in spades in the recent decision in Lawson v. Spirit Aerosystems, where a Kansas federal judge issued a detailed ruling outlining the parties’ eDiscovery battles, use of Technology Assisted Review (TAR), and whether further TAR costs should be shifted to the Plaintiff. The ex-CEO of Spirit Aerosystems brought his suit accusing Spirit of unlawfully withholding $50 million in retirement benefits over his alleged violation of a non- compete agreement.

Lessons Learned from New Technology-Assisted Review Case Law ...

The Lawson court outlined two ways in particular how ESI over-collection can detrimentally impact TAR. First, the more data introduced into the process, the higher the cost and burden. Some practitioners believe it is necessary to over-collect and subsequently over-include ESI to allow the TAR process to sort everything out. Many service providers charge by volume, so there can be economic incentives that conflict with what is best for the end-client. In some cases, the significant cost savings realized through TAR are erased by eDiscovery costs associated with overly aggressive ESI inclusion on the front end. Per the judge in Lawson, “the TAR set was unnecessarily voluminous because it consisted of the bloated ESI collection” due to overbroad collection parameters.

The court also outlined how the TAR process is much more effective when the initial set of data has a higher richness (also referred to as “prevalence”) ratio. In other words, the higher the rate of responsive data in the initial data set, the better. It has always been understood that document culling is very important to successful, economical document review, and that includes TAR. As noted by Lawson court, “the ‘richness’ of the dataset…can also be a key driver of TAR expenses. This is because TAR is not as simple as loading the dataset and pushing a magic button to identify the relevant and responsive documents. Rather, the parties must devote the resources (usually a combination of attorneys and contract reviewers) necessary to “educate” or “train” the predictive algorithm, typically through an ongoing process…” According to the courts’ decision, the inefficiencies in the process resulted in an estimated TAR bill of $600,000 involving the review of approximately 200 GBs of data. This is far too expensive for TAR to be feasible as a standard litigation process, and the problems all started with the “bloated” ESI collection.

To be sure, the volume of ESI is growing exponentially and will only continue to do so. The costs associated with collecting, processing, reviewing, and producing documents in litigation are the source of considerable pain for litigants, including the Plaintiff in Lawson, who will, per the courts’ ruling, incur at least a substantial amount of the TAR bill under the cost-shifting order. The only way to reduce that pain to its minimum is to use all tools available in all appropriate circumstances within the bounds of reasonableness and proportionality to control the volumes of data that enter the discovery pipeline, including TAR.

Ideally, an effective and targeted collection capability can enable parties to ultimately process, host, review and produce less ESI.  This capability should enable a pre-collection early case assessment capability (ECA) to foster cooperation and proportionality in discovery by informing the parties early in the process about where relevant ESI is located and what ESI is significant to the case. And with such benefits also comes a much more improved TAR process. X1 Distributed Discovery (X1DD) uniquely fulfills this requirement with its ability to perform pre-collection early case assessment, instead of ECA after the costly, time consuming and disruptive collection phase, thereby providing a game-changing new approach to the traditional eDiscovery model.  X1DD enables enterprises to quickly and easily search across hundreds of distributed endpoints from a central location.  This allows organizations to easily perform unified complex searches across content, metadata, or both and obtain full results in minutes, enabling true pre-collection ECA with live keyword analysis and distributed processing and collection in parallel at the custodian level. To be sure, this dramatically shortens the identification/collection process by weeks if not months, curtails processing and review costs from not over-collecting data, and provides confidence to the legal team with a highly transparent, consistent and systemized process. And now we know of another key benefit of an effective collection and ECA process: much more accurate and feasible technology assisted review.

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Remote ESI Collection and Data Audits in the Time of Social Distancing

By John Patzakis

The vital global effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic will likely disrupt our lives and workflows for some time. While our personal and business lives will hopefully return to normal soon, the trend of an increasingly remote and distributed workforce is here to stay. This “new normal” will necessitate relying on the latest technology and updated workflows to comply with legal, privacy, and information governance requirements.

From an eDiscovery perspective, the legacy manual collection workflow involving travel, physical access and one-time mass collection of custodian laptops, file servers and email accounts is a non-starter under current travel ban and social distancing policies, and does not scale for the new era of remote and distributed workforces going forward. In addition to the public health constraints, manual collection efforts are expensive, disruptive and time-consuming as many times an “overkill” method of forensic image collection process is employed, thus substantially driving up eDiscovery costs.

When it comes to technical approaches, endpoint forensic crawling methods are now a non-starter. Network bandwidth constraints coupled with the requirement to migrate all endpoint data back to the forensic crawling tool renders the approach ineffective, especially with remote workers needing to VPN into a corporate network.  Right now, corporate network bandwidth is at a premium, and the last thing a company needs is their network shut down by inefficient remote forensic tools.

For example, with a forensic crawling tool, to search a custodian’s laptop with 10 gigabytes of email and documents, all 10 gigabytes must be copied and transmitted over the network, where it is then searched, all of which takes at least several hours per computer. So, most organizations choose to force collect all 10 gigabytes. The case of U.S. ex rel. McBride v. Halliburton Co.  272 F.R.D. 235 (2011), Illustrates this specific pain point well. In McBride, Magistrate Judge John Facciola’s instructive opinion outlines Halliburton’s eDiscovery struggles to collect and process data from remote locations:

“Since the defendants employ persons overseas, this data collection may have to be shipped to the United States, or sent by network connections with finite capacity, which may require several days just to copy and transmit the data from a single custodian . . . (Halliburton) estimates that each custodian averages 15–20 gigabytes of data, and collection can take two to ten days per custodian. The data must then be processed to be rendered searchable by the review tool being used, a process that can overwhelm the computer’s capacity and require that the data be processed by batch, as opposed to all at once.”

Halliburton represented to the court that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on eDiscovery for only a few dozen remotely located custodians. The need to force-collect the remote custodians’ entire set of data and then sort it out through the expensive eDiscovery processing phase, instead of culling, filtering and searching the data at the point of collection drove up the costs.

Solving this collection challenge is X1 Distributed Discovery, which is specially designed to address the challenges presented by remote and distributed workforces.  X1 Distributed Discovery (X1DD) enables enterprises to quickly and easily search across up to thousands of distributed endpoints and data servers from a central location.  Legal and compliance teams can easily perform unified complex searches across both unstructured content and metadata, obtaining statistical insight into the data in minutes, and full results with completed collection in hours, instead of days or weeks. The key to X1’s scalability is its unique ability to index and search data in place, thereby enabling a highly detailed and iterative search and analysis, and then only collecting data responsive to those steps. blog-relativity-collect-v3

X1DD operates on-demand where your data currently resides — on desktops, laptops, servers, or even the cloud — without disruption to business operations and without requiring extensive or complex hardware configurations. After indexing of systems has completed (typically a few hours to a day depending on data volumes), clients and their outside counsel or service provider may then:

  • Conduct Boolean and keyword searches of relevant custodial data sources for ESI, returning search results within minutes by custodian, file type and location.
  • Preview any document in-place, before collection, including any or all documents with search hits.
  • Remotely collect and export responsive ESI from each system directly into a Relativity® or RelativityOne® workspace for processing, analysis and review or any other processing or review platform via standard load file. Export text and metadata only or full native files.
  • Export responsive ESI directly into other analytics engines, e.g. Brainspace®, H5® or any other platform that accepts a standard load file.
  • Conduct iterative “search/analyze/export-into-Relativity” processes as frequently and as many times as desired.

To learn more about this capability purpose-built for remote eDiscovery collection and data audits, please contact us.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, Case Study, ECA, eDiscovery, eDiscovery & Compliance, Enterprise eDiscovery, ESI, Information Governance, Preservation & Collection, Relativity

Court Compels Forensic Imaging of Custodian Computer, Imposes Sanctions Due to Non-Defensible eDiscovery Preservation Process

By John Patzakis

HealthPlan Servs., Inc. v. Dixit, et al., 2019 WL 6910139 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 19, 2019), is an important eDiscovery case addressing what is required and expected from organizations to comply with electronic evidence discovery collection requirements. In this copyright infringement and breach of contract case, a Federal Magistrate Judge granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel immediate inspection of a defendant employee Feron Kutsomarkos’s laptop after the defendants failed to properly preserve and collect evidence from her. The Court granted plaintiff’s motion to compel the forensic examination, which set forth specific improprieties in their opponent’s ESI preservation process. The Court also granted the plaintiff’s motion for fees, sanctions, and a punitive jury instruction.

 

There are several key takeaways from this case. Here are the top 5:

  1. Custodian Self-Collection Is Not Defensible

Ms. Kutsomarkos conducted her own search of the emails rather than having an expert or trained IT or legal staff overseen by her attorney perform the search. The court found this process to not be defensible as the production “should have come from a professional search of the laptop” instead. This is yet another case disapproving of this faulty practice. For instance, another company found themselves on the wrong end of a $3 million sanctions penalty for spoliation of evidence because they improperly relied on custodians to search and collect Federal Court their own data. See GN Netcom, Inc. v. Plantronics, Inc., No. 12-1318-LPS, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93299 (D. Del. July 12, 2016). Even with effective monitoring, severe defensibility concerns plague custodian self-collection, with several courts disapproving of the practice due to poor compliance and inconsistency of results. See Green v. Blitz, 2011 WL 806011, (E.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2011), Nat’l Day Laborer Org. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, 2012 WL 2878130 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2012).

  1. Producing Party Expected to Produce Their Own Data in a Defensible Manner

When responding to a litigation discovery request, the producing party is afforded the opportunity to produce their own data. However, the process must be defensible with a requisite degree of transparency and validation. When an organization does not have a systematic and repeatable process in place, the risks and costs associated with eDiscovery increase exponentially.  Good attorneys and the eDiscovery professionals who work with them will not only ensure their client complies with their own eDiscovery requirements, but will also scrutinize the opponent’s process and gain a critical advantage when the opponent fails to meet their obligations.

And that is what happened here. The corporate defendants had no real process other than telling key custodians to search and collect their own data. The eDiscovery-savvy plaintiff counsel filed motions poking large holes in the defendant’s process and won a likely case-deciding ruling. The stakes are high in such litigation matters and it is incumbent upon counsel to have a high degree of eDiscovery competence for both defensive and offensive purposes.

  1. Forensic Imaging is The Exception, Not the Rule

The court compelled the forensic imaging of a defendant’s laptop, but only as a punitive measure after determining bad faith non-compliance. Section 8c of The Sedona Principles, Third Edition: Best Practices, Recommendations & Principles for Addressing Electronic Document Production, provides that: “Forensic data collection requires intrusive access to desktop, server, laptop, or other hard drives or media storage devices.”  While noting the practice is acceptable in some limited circumstances, “making a forensic copy of computers is only the first step of an expensive, complex, and difficult process of data analysis . . . it should not be required unless circumstances specifically warrant the additional cost and burden and there is no less burdensome option available.”  The duty to preserve evidence, including ESI, extends only to relevant information. Parties that comply with discovery requirements will avoid burdensome and risk-laden forensic imaging.

  1. Metadata Must be Preserved

Metadata is required to be produced intact when designated by the requesting party, which is now commonplace. (See, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34(b)(1)(C)). Metadata is often relevant evidence itself and is also needed for accurate eDiscovery culling, processing and analysis. In her production, counsel for defendant Kutsomarkos provided pdf versions of documents from her laptop. However, the court found that “the pdf files scrubbed the metadata from the documents and that metadata should be available on the hard drives.” There are defensible and very cost effective ways to collect and preserve metadata. They were not used by the defendants, to their great detriment.

  1. A Defensible But Streamlined Process Is Optimal

HealthPlan Services, is yet another court decision underscoring the importance of a well-designed, cost-effective and defensible eDiscovery collection process. Such a capability is only attainable with the right enterprise technology. With X1 Distributed Discovery (X1DD), parties can perform targeted search and collection of the ESI of hundreds of endpoints over the internal network without disrupting operations. The search results are returned in minutes, not weeks, and thus can be highly granular and iterative, based upon multiple keywords, date ranges, file types, or other parameters. This approach typically reduces the eDiscovery collection and processing costs by at least one order of magnitude (90%), thereby bringing much needed feasibility to enterprise-wide eDiscovery collection that can save organizations millions while improving compliance by maintaining metadata, generating audit logs and establishing chain of custody.

And in line with concepts outlined in HealthPlan Services, X1DD provides a repeatable, verifiable and documented process for the requisite defensibility. For a demonstration or briefing on X1 Distributed Discovery, please contact us.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, eDiscovery, Enterprise eDiscovery, ESI, Uncategorized