The paramount role ediscovery plays in modern litigation is thoroughly emphasized by the 2011 Mid-Year Ediscovery Update released by Gibson Dunn. This comprehensive analysis of court decisions and trends over the first half of 2011 provides a guide to where ediscovery has been and where it may continue to go. We have read through Gibson Dunn’s excellent report and include below the highlights that caught our eye.
Preservation and Legal Holds
Preservation continues to be the number one issue plaguing corporations and practitioners alike. This challenging concept was further complicated following Judge Scheindlin’s Pension Committee decision of 2010. Throughout 2011, courts struggled with tension arising from Scheindlin’s bright-line rule in Pension Committee as demonstrated by the number of courts – including in Judge Scheindlin’s own district – that declined to adopt this rule. For example, Magistrate Judge James Francis in Orbit One Communications, Inc. v. Numerex Corp., respectfully disagreed with the holding in Pension Committee and held that sanctions would not be warranted unless a party could prove relevance of the lost information.
While it appears that in some cases an oral notification may be sufficient, the best practice for companies and attorneys who find themselves confronted with the need to preserve information is to issue legal holds in writing. In a similar vein, courts are re-emphasizing that merely distributing a legal hold alone may not be sufficient preservation. Instead, attorneys should ensure compliance with the hold and take steps to facilitate preservation along the way.
Information Disclosure and Software
An additional topic covered by the report was the use of software and its impact in case law. As attorneys continue to shift their reliance to comprehensive software and solutions to aid them in the ediscovery process, courts continue to contemplate whether litigants have met the “reasonable steps” requirement to prevent the disclosure of privileged information pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 502(b). In Sidney v. Focused Retail Property I, LLC, the Northern District of Illinois cited to a 2010 case from its district, Kmart Corp. v. Footstar, Inc., in which the court found he party failed to take reasonable steps to prevent disclosure by failing to mention whether software was used to prevent disclosure of privileged documents. Reputable ediscovery software can cut costs, save time, reduce headaches – especially associated with document review – and provide defensibility to your process and actions.
Keeping the (Good) Faith: FRCP 37, Cooperation and Karma
The 10th Circuit Appeals Court recently issued an opinion, Lee v. Max International, LLC, that imparts valuable insight regarding the cause and effect of poor discovery behavior. In this case, the plaintiffs committed three repeated discovery violations that compelled the court to write, “[b]ut there is such thing as discovery karma. Discovery misconduct often may be seen as tactically advantageous at first. But just as our good and bad deeds eventually tend to catch up with us, so do discovery machinations.” The court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case as an appropriate sanction. Considering the rise of sanctions cases identified in the Gibson Dunn report, parties must continue to educate themselves regarding ediscovery best practices and implement strategies to approach discovery efficiently and cost-effectively. Otherwise, you risk incurring sanctions that may impact you monetarily or even result in the dismissal of your case – before it even gets to the merits of the underlying litigation.
The Report also highlighted the growing trend within the judiciary to emphasize the importance of cooperation in the ediscovery process. Courts are increasingly endorsing the Sedona Conference® Cooperation Proclamation and are urging practitioners (and sanctioning them if they do not comply) to meet and confer in good faith to resolve disputes. For example, the District of Puerto Rico recently concluded an opinion that followed the filing of over 25 motions related to the discovery process with a call to litigants and the general Bar to adopt civility as a standard of professional conduct, noting that it the concept of civility is indeed not in direct contravention with zealous advocacy and that by adopting this standard, litigants can provide a better service to their clients. Baez-Eliza v. Instituto Psicoterapeutico de Puerto Rico, 2011 WL 2413051 (D. Puerto Rico June 16, 2011).
The Gibson Dunn report covered many other areas that are important in terms of case law and the ediscovery process. We here at Kroll Ontrack urge everyone involved in ediscovery to continue reading resources such as the report and resources found on our website in order to further cultivate their ediscovery knowledge. Once you better understand the case law, processes and best practices behind this exciting area of the law, you will be better equipped to navigate the murky waters effectively.