With the New Year quickly approaching, it is worth reflecting on some of the key eDiscovery developments that have occurred during 2012. While legislative, regulatory and rulemaking bodies have undoubtedly impacted eDiscovery, the judiciary has once again played the most dramatic role. There are several lessons from the top 2012 court cases that, if followed, will likely help organizations reduce the costs and risks associated with eDiscovery. These cases also spotlight the expectations that courts will likely have for organizations in 2013 and beyond.
Implementing a Defensible Deletion Strategy
In Brigham Young, the plaintiff university had pressed for sanctions as a result of Pfizer’s destruction of key documents pursuant to its information retention policies. The court rejected that argument because such a position failed to appreciate the basic workings of a valid corporate retention schedule. As the court reasoned, “[e]vidence may simply be discarded as a result of good faith business procedures.” When those procedures operate to inadvertently destroy evidence before the duty to preserve is triggered, the court held that sanctions should not issue: “The Federal Rules protect from sanctions those who lack control over the requested materials or who have discarded them as a result of good faith business procedures.”
Summary: The Brigham Young case is significant since it emphasizes that organizations should implement a defensible deletion strategy to rid themselves of data stockpiles. Absent a preservation duty or other exceptional circumstances, organizations that pare back ESI pursuant to “good faith business procedures” (such as a neutral retention policy) will be protected from sanctions.
**Another Must-Read Case: Danny Lynn Elec. v. Veolia Es Solid Waste (M.D. Ala. Mar. 9, 2012)
Issuing a Timely and Comprehensive Litigation Hold
Summary: The court first issued an adverse inference instruction against Samsung to address spoliation charges brought by Apple. In particular, the court faulted Samsung for failing to circulate a comprehensive litigation hold instruction when it first anticipated litigation. This eventually culminated in the loss of emails from several key Samsung custodians, inviting the court’s adverse inference sanction.
Ironically, however, Apple was subsequently sanctioned for failing to issue a proper hold notice. Just like Samsung, Apple failed to distribute a hold until several months after litigation was reasonably foreseeable. The tardy hold instruction, coupled with evidence suggesting that Apple employees were “encouraged to keep the size of their email accounts below certain limits,” ultimately led the court to conclude that Apple destroyed documents after its preservation duty ripened.
The Lesson for 2013: The Apple case underscores the importance of issuing a timely and comprehensive litigation hold notice. For organizations, this likely means identifying the key players and data sources that may have relevant information and then distributing an intelligible hold instruction. It may also require suspending aspects of information retention policies to preserve relevant ESI. By following these best practices, organizations can better avoid the sanctions bogeyman that haunts so many litigants in eDiscovery.
**Another Must-Read Case: Chin v. Port Authority of New York, 685 F.3d 135 (2nd Cir. 2012)
Judicial Approval of Predictive Coding
Summary: The court entered an order that turned out to be the first of its kind: approving the use of predictive coding technology in the discovery phase of litigation. That order was entered pursuant to the parties’ stipulation, which provided that defendant MSL Group could use predictive coding in connection with its obligation to produce relevant documents. Pursuant to that order, the parties methodically (yet at times acrimoniously) worked over several months to fine tune the originally developed protocol to better ensure the production of relevant documents by defendant MSL.
The Lesson for 2013: The court declared in its order that predictive coding “is an acceptable way to search for relevant ESI in appropriate cases.” Nevertheless, the court also made clear that this technology is not the exclusive method now for conducting document review. Instead, predictive coding should be viewed as one of many different types of tools that often can and should be used together.
Another Must-Read Case: In Re: Actos (Pioglitazone) Prods. Liab. Litig. (W.D. La. July 10, 2012)
Proportionality and Cooperation are Inextricably Intertwined
Summary: The court ordered the defendant accounting firm (KPMG) to preserve thousands of employee hard drives. The firm had argued that the high cost of preserving the drives was disproportionate to the value of the ESI stored on the drives. Instead of preserving all of the drives, the firm hoped to maintain a reduced sample, asserting that the ESI on the sample drives would satisfy the evidentiary demands of the plaintiffs’ class action claims.
The court rejected the proportionality argument primarily because the firm refused to permit plaintiffs or the court to analyze the ESI found on the drives. Without any transparency into the contents of the drives, the court could not weigh the benefits of the discovery against the alleged burdens of preservation. The court was thus left to speculate about the nature of the ESI on the drives, reasoning that it went to the heart of plaintiffs’ class action claims. As the district court observed, the firm may very well have obtained the relief it requested had it engaged in “good faith negotiations” with the plaintiffs over the preservation of the drives.
The Lesson for 2013: The Pippins decision reinforces a common refrain that parties seeking the protection of proportionality principles must engage in reasonable, cooperative discovery conduct. Staking out uncooperative positions in the name of zealous advocacy stands in sharp contrast to proportionality standards and the cost cutting mandate of Rule 1. Moreover, such a tactic may very well foreclose proportionality considerations, just as it did in Pippins.
**Another Must-Read Case: Kleen Products LLC v. Packaging Corp. of America (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2012)
There were any number of other significant cases from 2012 that could have made this list. We invite you to share your favorites in the comments section or contact us directly with your feedback.