Second Circuit Uses “Klipsch” to Speak Loud and Clear on e-Discovery Misconduct

September 23, 2018

Klipsch makes some of the best speakers in the world, especially their high-end Klipschorn speaker series shown here. The Second Court of Appeals used a Klipsch in a dispute recently to sound an alarm about e-discovery abuse and how it will not be tolerated. Klipsch Group, Inc. v. ePRO E-Commerce Ltd., 880 F. 3d 620 (2d Cir, 2018). The unanimous opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch upheld the lower court’s sanctions against Klipch’s adversary in the suit, ePro. The adverse inference sanction entered means that Klipsch will now almost certainly win the case.

The Second Circuit also affirmed the full amount of monetary sanctions, $2,680,000. Klipsch was compensated for almost* all of the additional discovery efforts occasioned by ePRO’s misconduct. ePro was also required to immediately secure payment of the full $5 Million amount of any future judgment against them, which includes damage trebling and fees. I know that sounded great to Klipsch and their attorneys. Especially since they had a four day evidentiary hearing on their spoliation motion to get there.

* Somewhat sadly for Klipsch, however, as the third footnote explained, under the lower court’s opinion all of Klipsch’s fees and costs incurred were not awarded. There was another $300,000 or so that was not included, only because Klipsch could not produce proper credentials for one of the billing attorneys. Ouch. That is extremely rare and odd. Details are so very important.

The Second Circuit Court’s Rare Ruling on e-Discovery and Sanctions

The Klipsch opinion has language that will carry great weight, not only because it makes sense, but also because it is from a United States Court of Appeals panel. There are not that many appeals court opinions on sanctions or e-discovery so this is a rare and important opinion. It will certainly encourage more courts to do as the trial judge did here and sanction offending parties. It is also controlling law for all federal courts in its jurisdiction, which is Vermont, Connecticut and the all important New York.

In the rest of this blog I will let the language of the Klipsch opinion speak for itself with a few of my favorites selections. Klipsch Group, Inc. v. ePRO E-Commerce Ltd., 880 F. 3d 620 (2d Cir, 2018). The first quote from Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch’s opinion lays out the background.

In the course of defending against claims that it sold counterfeit products, defendant-appellant ePRO E-Commerce Limited (“ePRO”) engaged in persistent discovery misconduct: it failed to timely disclose the majority of the responsive documents in its possession, restricted a discovery vendor’s access to its electronic data, and failed to impose an adequate litigation hold even after the court directed it to do so, which omission allowed custodians of relevant electronic data to delete thousands of documents and significant quantities of data, sometimes permanently. As a result, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Vernon S. Broderick, J.) concluded that ePRO had willfully engaged in spoliation. It accordingly granted in substantial part plaintiff-appellee Klipsch Group, Inc.’s (“Klipsch”) motion for discovery sanctions, including a $2.7 million monetary sanction to compensate Klipsch for its corrective discovery efforts and a corresponding asset restraint in that amount, permissive and mandatory jury instructions, and an additional $2.3 million bond to preserve Klipsch’s ability to recover damages and fees at the end of the case. . . .

We find no error in the district court’s factual findings, and we conclude that the monetary sanctions it awarded properly compensated Klipsch for the corrective discovery efforts it undertook with court permission in response to ePRO’s misconduct. In particular, we emphasize that discovery sanctions should be commensurate with the costs unnecessarily created by the sanctionable behavior. A monetary sanction in the amount of the cost of discovery efforts that appeared to be reasonable to undertake ex ante does not become impermissibly punitive simply because those efforts did not ultimately uncover more significant spoliation and fraud, or increase the likely damages in the underlying case. The district court’s orders imposing sanctions *624 are accordingly AFFIRMED in all respects.

The next quote gives you a good glimpse into the degree of frustration that recalcitrant attorneys who excel in gamesmanship can engender, even in an appellate court panel located in New York City:

[T]he history of the case makes clear that the sanctions and fees awarded in this case were carefully limited to costs Klipsch incurred in direct response to ePRO’s misconduct. Klipsch obtained approval from the magistrate judge prior to each of its substantive efforts, and in each case, that approval was given only after ePRO had already squandered an opportunity to correct its own errors.

For example, ePRO’s failure to implement a litigation hold was first discovered in March 2013, during Klipsch’s first round of depositions with ePRO employees, but ePRO was not sanctioned at that time, nor was Klipsch given carte blanche to explore ePRO’s files. Instead, ePRO was permitted to hire its own discovery expert to correct the error, which resulted in the production of substantial additional discovery. Klipsch then spent approximately $550,000 on a second round of depositions occasioned by that late production.

Paul Klipsch

It is evident that the district court did not detect any abusive conduct on the part of Klipsch, such as the piling on of discovery demands and investigatory initiatives in order to burden its *633 adversary with wasteful expenses, motions practice, and sanctions. ePRO does not appear to contest the reasonableness of permitting Klipsch to take those remedial depositions, nor can it plausibly assert that Klipsch would have insisted on doing so even if ePRO’s initial production had been complete or timely. And only in March 2014, after ePRO had repeatedly shown itself to be an untrustworthy participant in the discovery process, did the magistrate judge determine that Klipsch was “fully justified” in seeking to undertake an independent forensic examination. Joint App. at 1187.

Because the costs for which Klipsch is being compensated were reasonably incurred in direct response to ePRO’s misconduct, we cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion by requiring ePRO to pay monetary sanctions in that amount.[7]

The defendant ePro then tried the “proportionality card” arguing that the multi-million dollar punitive damages exceeded the amount at issue in the case. That did not work. The Second Circuit explained that is not how proportionality works in sanctions. It has no bearing to the value of the case itself, just the amount of additional reasonable costs incurred because of the unreasonable conduct to be sanctioned. One party should not be damaged by the unreasonable conduct of the other. The offended party, here Klipsch, should, in effect, be indemnified from all of the burden and expense incurred because of what the offending party did or did not do. They are the innocent party. Here is how the court put it.

In sum, we see nothing in ePRO’s proportionality arguments compelling us to conclude that the district court abused its discretion by awarding full compensation for efforts that were ex ante a reasonable response to ePRO’s own evasive conduct.[9] The proportionality that matters here is that the amount of the sanctions was plainly proportionate — indeed, it was exactly equivalent — to the costs ePRO inflicted on Klipsch in its reasonable efforts to remedy ePRO’s misconduct.

The Second Court was cognizant of the issues and problems concerning electronic discovery. They had been briefed on the potential for misuses of spoliation sanctions motions. Although this was not at all present in the Klipsch, Judge Lynch address this concern near the end of the opinion.

Nothing that we say in this opinion should be taken as condoning excessive and disproportionate discovery demands, countenancing the tactical use of discovery sanction motions to inflict gratuitous costs on adversaries, or derogating from the responsibility *636 of district courts to ensure that litigation proceeds in a responsible and cost-efficient manner. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 (directing that the Rules of Civil Procedure “should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action”) (emphasis added); Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) (scope of discovery should be “proportional to the needs of the case, considering [inter alia] the amount in controversy”). If it turns out, as the district court has estimated, that the amount of actual damages in this case is modest in relation to the costs spent on the litigation, that would be a highly regrettable outcome.

But the question before the district court, and before us, is which party should be held responsible for those costs. ePRO does not ever contend that Klipsch’s initial discovery demands were unreasonable or disproportionate to the merits of the case. Nor does it seriously argue that the magistrate judge erred in allowing Klipsch to take the steps it took to remedy ePRO’s refusal to comply with those demands. The district court reasonably concluded, after a full and fair hearing, that it was ePRO’s noncompliance with its legal obligations that occasioned the excessive costs in this case, and we find no reason why ePRO should not therefore be required to pay them.

I leave you with a short video biography of Paul Klipch, a recognized audio engineer leader whom I have long admired.


Elusion Random Sample Test Ordered Under Rule 26(g) in a Keyword Search Based Discovery Plan

August 26, 2018

There is a new case out of Chicago that advances the jurisprudence of my sub-specialty, Legal Search. City of Rockford v. Mallinckrodt ARD Inc., 2018 WL 3766673, Case 3:17-cv-50107 (N.D. Ill., Aug. 7, 2018). This discovery order was written by U.S. Magistrate Judge Iain Johnston who entitled it: “Order Establishing Production Protocol for Electronically Stored Information.” The opinion is both advanced and humorous, destined to be an oft-cited favorite for many. Thank you Judge Johnston.

In City of Rockford an Elusion random sample quality assurance test was required as part of the parties discovery plan to meet the reasonable efforts requirements of Rule 26(g). The random sample procedure proposed was found to impose only a proportional, reasonable burden under Rule 26(b)(1). What makes this holding particularly interesting is that an Elusion test is commonly employed in predictive coding projects, but here the parties had agreed to a keyword search based discovery plan. Also see: Tara Emory, PMP, Court Holds that Math Matters for eDiscovery Keyword Search,  Urges Lawyers to Abandon their Fear of Technology (Driven, (August 16, 2018) (“party using keywords was required to test the search effectiveness by sampling the set of documents that did not contain the keywords.”)

The Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns

Judge Johnston begins his order in City of Rockford with a famous quote by Donald Rumseld, a two-time Secretary of Defense.

“[A]s we know there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. . .”
Donald Rumseld

For those not familiar with this famous Known Knowns quip, here is a video of the original:

Here the knowledge logic is spelled out in a chart, since I know we all love that sort of thing. Deconstructing Rumsfeld: Knowledge and Ignorance in the Age of Innovation (Inovo 5/114).

Anybody who does complex investigations is familiar with this problem. Indeed, you can argue this insight is fundamental to all of science and experimental method. Logan, David C. (March 1, 2009). “Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns and the propagation of scientific enquiry”, Journal of Experimental Botany 60 (3). pp. 712–4. [I have always wanted to quote a botany journal.]

How do you deal with the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, the information that we don’t even know that we don’t know about? The deep, hidden information that is both obtuse and rare. Information that is hard to retrieve and harder still to prove does not exist at all. Are you chasing something that might not exist? Something unknown because nonexistent? Such as an overlooked Highly Relevant document? (The stuff of nightmares!) Are you searching for nothing? Zero? If you find it, what does that mean? What can be known and what can never be known? Scientists, investigators and the Secretary of Defense alike all have to ponder these questions and all want to use the best tools and best people possible to do so. See: Deconstructing Rumsfeld: Knowledge and Ignorance in the Age of Innovation (Inovo 5/114).

Seeking Knowledge of the Unknown Elusion Error Rate

These big questions, though interesting, are not why Judge Johnston started his opinion with the Rumseld quote. Instead, he used the quote to emphasize that new e-discovery methods, namely random sampling and statistical analysis, can empower lawyers to know what they never did before. A technical way to know the known unknowns. For instance, a way to know the number of relevant documents that will be missed and not produced: the documents that elude retrieval.

As the opinion and this blog will explain, you can do that, know that, by using an Elusion random sample of the null-set. The statistical analysis of the sample transforms the unknown quantity to a known (subject to statistical probabilities and range). It allows lawyers to know, at least within a range, the number of relevant documents that have not been found. This is a very useful quality assurance method that relies on objective measurements to demonstrate success of your project, which here is information retrieval. This and other random sampling methods allow for the calculation of Recall, meaning the percent of total relevant documents found. This is another math-based, quality assurance tool in the field of information retrieval.

One of the main points Judge Johnston makes in his order is that lawyers should embrace this kind of technical knowledge, not shy away from it. As Tara Emory said in her article, Court Holds that Math Matters for eDiscovery Keyword Search:

A producing party must determine that its search process was reasonable. In many cases, the best way to do this is with objective metrics. Producing parties often put significant effort into brainstorming keywords, interviewing witnesses to determine additional terms, negotiating terms with the other party, and testing the documents containing their keywords to eliminate false positives. However, these efforts often still fail to identify documents if important keywords were missed, and sampling the null set is a simple, reasonable way to test whether additional keywords are needed. …

It is important to overcome the fear of technology and its related jargon, which can help counsel demonstrate the reasonableness of search and production process. As Judge Johnston explains, sampling the null set is a process to determine “the known unknown,” which “is the number of the documents that will be missed and not produced.” Judge Johnson disagreed with the defendants’ argument “that searching the null set would be costly and burdensome.” The Order requires Defendants to sample their null set at a 95% +/-2% margin of error (which, even for a very large set of documents, would be about 2,400 documents to review).[4] By taking these measures—either with TAR or with search terms, counsel can more appropriately represent that they have undertaken a “reasonable inquiry” for relevant information within the meaning of FRCP 26(g)(1).

Small Discovery Dispute in an Ocean of Cooperation

Judge Johnston was not asked to solve the deep mysteries of knowing and not knowing in City of Rockford. The parties came to him instead with an interesting, esoteric discovery dispute. They had agreed on a great number of things, for which the court profusely congratulated them.

The attorneys are commended for this cooperation, and their clients should appreciate their efforts in this regard. The Court certainly does. The litigation so far is a solid example that zealous advocacy is not necessarily incompatible with cooperation. The current issue before the Court is an example of that advocacy and cooperation. The parties have worked to develop a protocol for the production of ESI in this case, but have now reached an impasse as to one aspect of the protocol.

The parties disagreed on whether to include a document review quality assurance test in the protocol. The Plaintiffs wanted one and the Defendants did not. Too burdensome they said.

To be specific, the Plaintiffs wanted a test where the efficacy of any parties production would be tested by use of an Elusion type of Random Sample of the documents not produced. The Defendants opposed any specific test. Instead, they wanted the discovery protocol to say that if the receiving party had concerns about the adequacy of the producing party’s efforts, then they would have a conference to address the concerns.

Judge Johnston ruled for the plaintiff in this dispute and ordered a  random elusion sample to be taken after the defendant stopped work and completed production. In this case it was a good decision, but should not be routinely required in all matters.

The Stop Decision and Elusion Sample

One of the fundamental problems in any investigation is to know when you should stop the investigation because it is no longer worth the effort to carry on. When has a reasonable effort been completed? Ideally this happens after all of the important documents have already been found. At that point you should stop the effort and move on to a new project. Alternatively, perhaps you should keep on going and look for more? Should you stop or not?

In Legal Search we all this the “Stop Decision.” Should you conclude the investigation or continue further AI training rounds and other search. As explained in the e-Discovery Team TAR Course:

The all important stop decision is a legal, statistical decision requiring a holistic approach, including metrics, sampling and over-all project assessment.You decide to stop the review after weighing a multitude of considerations. Then you test your decision with a random sample in Step Seven.

See: TAR Course: 15th Class – Step Seven – ZEN Quality Assurance Tests.

If you want to go deeper into this, then listen in on this TAR Course lecture on the Stop decision.

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Once a decision is made to Stop, then a well managed document review project will use different tools and metrics to verify that the Stop decision was correct. Judge Johnston in City of Rockford used one of my favorite tools, the Elusion random sample that I teach in the e-Discovery Team TAR Course. This type of random sample is called an Elusion sample.

Judge Johnston ordered an Elusion type random sample of the null set in City of Rockford. The sample would determine the range of relevant documents that likely eluded you. These are called False Negatives. Documents presumed Irrelevant and withheld that were in fact Relevant and should have been produced. The Elusion sample is designed to give you information on the total number of Relevant documents that were likely missed, unretrieved, unreviewed and not produced or logged. The fewer the number of False Negatives the better the Recall of True Positives. The goal is to find, to retrieve, all of the Relevant ESI in the collection.

Another way to say the same thing is to say that the goal is Zero False Negatives. You do not miss a single relevant file. Every file designated Irrelevant is in fact not relevant. They are all True Negatives. That would be Total Recall: “the Truth, the Whole Truth …” But that is very rare and some error, some False Negatives, are expected in every large information retrieval project. Some relevant documents will almost always be missed, so the goal is to make the False Negatives inconsequential and keep the Elusion rate low.

Here is how Judge Iain Johnston explained the random sample:

Plaintiffs propose a random sample of the null set. (The “null set” is the set of documents that are not returned as responsive by a search process, or that are identified as not relevant by a review process. See Maura R. Grossman & Gordon v. Cormack, The Grossman-Cormack Glossary of Technology-Assisted Review, 7 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. 1, 25 (2013). The null set can be used to determine “elusion,” which is the fraction of documents identified as non-relevant by a search or review effort that are, in fact, relevant. Elusion is estimated by taking a random sample of the null set and determining how many or what portion of documents are actually relevant. Id. at 15.) FN 2

Judge Johnston’s Footnote Two is interesting for two reasons. One, it attempts to calm lawyers who freak out when hearing anything having to do with math or statistics, much less information science and technology. Two, it does so with a reference to Fizbo the clown.

The Court pauses here for a moment to calm down litigators less familiar with ESI. (You know who you are.) In life, there are many things to be scared of, including, but not limited to, spiders, sharks, and clowns – definitely clowns , even Fizbo. ESI is not something to be scared of. The same is true for all the terms and jargon related to ESI. … So don’t freak out.

Accept on Zero Error for Hot Documents

Although this is not addressed in the court order, in my personal view, no False Negatives, iw – overlooked  documents – are acceptable when it comes to Highly Relevant documents. If even one document like that is found in the sample, one Highly Relevant Document, then the Elusion test has failed in my view. You must conclude that the Stop decision was wrong and training and document review must recommence. That is called an Accept on Zero Error test for any hot documents found. Of course my personal views on best practice here assume the use of AI ranking, and the parties in City of Rockford only used keyword search. Apparently they were not doing machine training at all.

The odds of finding False Negatives, assuming that only a few exist (very low prevalence) and the database is large, are very unlikely in a modest sized random sample. With very low prevalence of relevant ESI the test can be of limited effectiveness. That is an inherent problem with low prevalence and random sampling. That is why statistics have only limited effectiveness and should be considered part of a total quality control program. See Zero Error Numerics: ZEN. Math matters, but so too does good project management and communications.

The inherent problem with random sampling is that the only way to reduce the error interval is to increase the size of the sample. For instance, to decrease the margin of error to only 2% either way, a total error of 4%, a random sample size of around 2,400 documents is needed. Even though that narrows the error rate to 4%, there is still another error factor of the Confidence Level, here at 95%. Still, it is not worth the effort to review even more sample documents to reduce that to a 99% Level.

Random sampling has limitations in low prevalence datasets, which is typical in e-discovery, but still sampling can be very useful. Due to this rarity issue, and the care that producing parties always take to attain high Recall, any documents found in an Elusion random sample should be carefully studied to see if they are of any significance. We look very carefully at any new documents found that are of a kind not seen before. That is unusual. Typically  any relevant documents found by random sample of the elusion set are of a type that have been seen before, often many, many times before. These “same old, same old” type of documents are of no importance to the investigation at this point.

Most email related datasets are filled with duplicative, low value data. It is not exactly irrelevant noise, but it is not a helpful signal either. We do not care if we  get all of that kind of merely relevant data. What we really want are the Hot Docs, the high value Highly Relevant ESI, or at least Relevant and of a kind not seen before. That is why the Accept On Zero Error test is so important for Highly Relevant documents.

The Elusion Test in City of Rockford 

In City of Rockford Judge Johnston considered a discovery stipulation where the parties had agreed to use a typical keyword search protocol, but disagreed on a quality assurance protocol. Judge Johnston held:

With key word searching (as with any retrieval process), without doubt, relevant documents will be produced, and without doubt, some relevant documents will be missed and not produced. That is a known known. The known unknown is the number of the documents that will be missed and not produced.

Back to the False Negatives again, the known unknown. Judge Johnston continues his analysis:

But there is a process by which to determine that answer, thereby making the known unknown a known known. That process is to randomly sample the nullset. Karl Schieneman & Thomas C. Gricks III, The Implications of Rule26(g) on the Use of Technology-Assisted Review, 2013 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. 239, 273 (2013)(“[S]ampling the null set will establish the number of relevant documents that are not being produced.”). Consequently, the question becomes whether sampling the null set is a reasonable inquiry under Rule 26(g) and proportional to the needs of this case under Rule 26(b)(1).

Rule 26(g) Certification
Judge Johnston takes an expansive view of the duties placed on counsel of record by Rule 26(g), but concedes that perfection is not required:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(g) requires all discovery requests be signed by at least one attorney (or party, if proceeding pro se). Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g)(1). By signing the response, the attorney is certifying that to the best of counsel’s knowledge, information, and belief formed after a reasonable inquiry, the disclosure is complete and correct at the time it was made. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g)(1)(A). But disclosure of documents need not be perfect. … If the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were previously only translucent on this point, it should now be clear with the renewed emphasis on proportionality.

Judge Johnston concludes that Rule 26(g) on certification applies to require the Elusion sample in this case.

Just as it is used in TAR, a random sample of the null set provides validation and quality assurance of the document production when performing key word searches.  Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck made this point nearly a decade ago. See William A. Gross Constr. Assocs., 256 F.R.D. at 135-6 (citing Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 250 F.R.D. 251, 262 (D. Md. 2008)); In re Seroquel Products Liability Litig., 244 F.R.D. 650, 662 (M.D. Fla. 2007) (requiring quality assurance).

Accordingly, because a random sample of the null set will help validate the document production in this case, the process is reasonable under Rule 26(g).

Rule 26(b)(1) Proportionality

Judge Johnston considered as a separate issue whether it was proportionate under Rule 26(b)(1) to require the elusion test requested. Again, the court found that it was in this large case on the pricing of prescription medication and held that it was proportional:

The Court’s experience and understanding is that a random sample of the null set will not be unreasonably expensive or burdensome. Moreover and critically, Defendants have failed to provide any evidence to support their contention. Mckinney/Pearl Rest. Partners, L.P. v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 322 F.R.D. 235, 242 (N.D.Tex. 2016) (party required to submit affidavits or offer evidence revealing the nature of the burden)
Once again we see a party seeking protection from having to do something because it is so burdensome then failing to present actual evidence of burden. We see this a lot lately. Responding Party’s Complaints of Financial Burden of Document Review Were Unsupported by the Evidence, Any Evidence (e-Discovery Team, 8/5/18);

Judge Johnston concludes his “Order Establishing Production Protocol for Electronically Stored Information” with the following:

The Court adopts the parties’ proposed order establishing the production protocol for ESI with the inclusion of Plaintiffs’ proposal that a random sample of the null set will occur after the production and that any responsive documents found as a result of that process will be produced. Moreover, following that production, the parties should discuss what additional actions, if any, should occur. If the parties cannot agree at that point, they can raise the issue with the Court.

Conclusion

City of Rockford is important because it is the first case to hold that a quality control procedure should be used to meet the reasonable efforts certification requirements of Rule 26(g). The procedure here required was a random sample Elusion test with related, limited data sharing. If this interpretation of Rule 26(g) is followed by other courts, then it could have a big impact on legal search jurisprudence. Tara Emory in her article, Court Holds that Math Matters for eDiscovery Keyword Search goes so far as to conclude that City of Rockford stands for the proposition that “the testing and sampling process associated with search terms is essential for establishing the reasonableness of a search under FRCP 26(g).”

The City of Rockford holding could persuade other judges and encourage courts to be more active and impose specific document review procedures on all parties, including requiring the use of sampling and artificial intelligence. The producing party cannot always have a  free pass under Sedona Principle Six. Testing and sampling may well be routinely ordered in all “large” document review cases in the future.

It will be very interesting to watch how other attorneys argue City of Rockford. It will continue a line of cases examining methodology and procedures in document review. See eg., William A. Gross Construction Associates, Inc. v. American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Co., 256 F.R.D. 134 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (“wake-up call” for lawyers on keyword search); Winfield v. City of New York (SDNY, Nov. 27, 2017), where Judge Andrew Peck considers methodologies and quality controls of the active machine learning process. Also see Special Master Maura Grossman’s Order Regarding Search Methodology for ESI, a validation Protocol for the Broiler Chicken antitrust cases.

The validation procedure of an Elusion sample in City of Rockford is just one of many possible review protocols that a court could impose under Rule 26(g). There are dozens more, including whether predictive coding should be required. So far, courts have been reluctant to order that, as Judge Peck explained in Hyles:

There may come a time when TAR is so widely used that it might be unreasonable for a party to decline to use TAR. We are not there yet.

Hyles v. New York City, No. 10 Civ. 3119 (AT)(AJP), 2016 WL 4077114 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2016):

Like a kid in the backseat of the car, I cannot help but ask, are we there yet? Hyles was published over two years ago now. Maybe some court, somewhere in the world, has already ordered a party to do predictive coding against their will, but not to our knowledge. That is a known unknown. Still, we are closer to “There” with the City of Rockford’s requirement of an Elusion test.

When we get “there,” and TAR is finally ordered in a case, it will probably arise in a situation like City of Rockford where a joint protocol applicable to all parties is involved. That is easier to sell than a one-sided protocol. The court is likely to justify the order by Rule 26(g), and hold that it requires all parties in the case to use predictive coding. Otherwise, they will not meet the  reasonable effort burdens of Rule 26(g). Other rules will be cited too, of course, including Rule 1, but Rule 26(g) is likley to be key.

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Responding Party’s Complaints of Financial Burden of Document Review Were Unsupported by the Evidence, Any Evidence

August 5, 2018

One of the largest cases in the U.S. today is a consolidated group of price-fixing cases in District Court in Chicago. In Re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation, 290 F. Supp. 3d 772 (N.D. Ill. 2017) (order denying motions to dismiss and discussing the case). The consolidated antitrust cases involve allegations of a wide spread chicken price-fixing. Big Food Versus Big Chicken: Lawsuits Allege Processors Conspired To Fix Bird Prices (NPR 2/6/18).

The level of sales and potential damages are high. For instance, in 2014 the sales of broiler chickens in the U.S. was $32.7 Billion. That’s sales for one year. The classes have not been certified yet, but discovery is underway in the consolidated cases.

The Broiler Chicken case is not only big money, but big e-discovery. A Special Master (Maura Grossman) was appointed months ago and she developed a unique e-discovery validation protocol order for the case. See: TAR for Smart Chickens, by John Tredennick and Jeremy Pickens that analyzes the validation protocol.

Maura was not involved in the latest discovery dispute where, Agri Stats, one of many defendants, claimed a request for production was too burdensome as to it. The latest problem went straight to the presiding Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert who issued his order on July 26, 2018. In re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litig., 2018 WL 3586183 (N.D. Ill. 7/26/18).

Agri Stats had moved for a protective order to limit an email production request. Agri Stats claimed that the burden imposed was not proportional because it would be too expensive. Its lawyers told Judge Gilbert that it would cost between $1,200,000 and $1,700,00 to review the email using the keywords negotiated.

Fantasy Hearing

I assume that there were hearings and attorney conferences before the hearings. But I do not know that for sure. I have not seen a transcript of the hearings with Judge Gilbert. All we know is that defense counsel told the judge that under the keywords selected the document review would cost between $1,200,000 and $1,700,000, and that they had no explanation on how the cost estimate was prepared, nor any specifics as to what it covered. Although I was not there, after four decades of doing this sort of work, I have a pretty good idea of what was or might have been said at the hearing.

This representation of million dollar costs by defense counsel would have gotten the attention of the judge. He would naturally have wanted to know how the cost range was calculated. I can almost hear the judge say from the bench: “$1.7 Million Dollars to do a doc review. Yeah, ok. That is a lot of money. Why so much counsel? Anyone?” To which the defense attorneys said in response, much like the students in Ferris Beuller’s class:

“. . . . . .”

 

Yes. That’s right. They had Nothing. Just Voodoo Economics

Well, Judge Gilbert’s short opinion makes it seem that way. In re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litig., 2018 WL 3586183 (N.D. Ill. 7/26/18).

If a Q&A interchange like this happened, either in a phone hearing, or in person, then the lawyers must have said something. You do not just ignore a question by a federal judge. The defense attorneys probably did a little hemming and hawing, conferred among themselves, and then said something to the judge like: “We are not sure how those numbers were derived, $1.2M to $1.5M, and will have to get back to you on that question, Your Honor.” And then, they never did. I have seen this kind of thing a few times before. We all try to avoid it. But it is even worse to make up a false story, or even present an unverified story to the judge. Better to say nothing and get back to the judge with accurate information.

Discovery Order of July 26, 2018

Here is a quote from Judge Gilbert’s Order so you can read for yourself the many questions the moving party left unanswered (detailed citations to record removed; graphics added):

Agri Stats represents that the estimated cost to run the custodial searches EUCPs propose and to review and produce the ESI is approximately $1.2 to $1.7 million. This estimated cost, however, is not itemized nor broken down for the Court to understand how it was calculated. For example, is it $1.2 to $1.7 million to review all the custodial documents from 2007 through 2016? Or does this estimate isolate only the pre-October 2012 custodial searches that Agri Stats does not want to have to redo, in its words? More importantly, Agri Stats also admits that this estimate is based on EUCPs’ original proposed list of search terms. But EUCPs represent (and Agri Stats does not disagree) that during their apparently ongoing discussions, EUCPs have proposed to relieve Agri Stats of the obligation to produce various categories of documents and data, and to revise the search terms to be applied to data that is subject to search. Agri Stats does not appear to have provided a revised cost estimate since EUCPs agreed to exclude certain categories of documents and information and revised their search terms. Rather, Agri Stats takes the position that custodial searches before October 3, 2012 are not proportional to the needs of the case — full stop — so it apparently has not fully analyzed the cost impact of EUCPs’ revised search terms or narrowed document and data categories.

The Court wonders what the cost estimate is now after EUCPs have proposed to narrow the scope of what they are asking Agri Stats to do. (emphasis added) EUCPs say they already have agreed, or are working towards agreement, that 2.5 million documents might be excluded from Agri Stats’s review. That leaves approximately 520,000 documents that remain to be reviewed. In addition, EUCPs say they have provided to Agri Stats revised search terms, but Agri Stats has not responded. Agri Stats says nothing about this in its reply memorandum.

EUCPs contend that Agri Stats’s claims of burden and cost are vastly overstated. The Court tends to agree with EUCPs on this record. It is not clear what it would cost in either time or money to review and produce the custodial ESI now being sought by EUCPs for the entire discovery period set forth in the ESI Protocol or even for the pre-October 3, 2102 period. It seems that Agri Stats itself also does not know for sure what it would have to do and how much it would cost because the parties have not finished that discussion. Because EUCPs say they are continuing to work with Agri Stats to reduce what it must do to comply with their discovery requests, the incremental burden on what Agri Stats now is being asked to do is not clear.

For all these reasons, Agri Stats falls woefully short of satisfying its obligation to show that the information [*10] EUCPs are seeking is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.

Estimations for Fun and Profit

In order to obtain a protective order you need to estimate the costs that will likely be involved in the discovery from which you seek protection. Simple. Moreover, it obviously has to be a reasonable estimate, a good faith estimate, supported by the facts. The Brolier Chicken defendant, Agri Stats, came up with an estimate. They got that part right. But then they stopped. You never do that. You do not just throw up a number and hope for the best. You have to explain how it was derived. Blushing at any price higher than that is not a reasonable explanation, but is often honest.

Be ready to explain how you came up with the cost estimate. To break down the total into its component parts and allow the “Court to understand how it was calculated.” Agri Stats did not do that. Instead, they just used a cost estimate of between $1.2 to $1.7 million. So of course Agri Stats’ motion for protective order was denied. The judge had no choice because no evidence to support the motion was presented, neither factual or expert evidence. There was no need for Judge Gilbert to go into the secondary questions of whether expert testimony was also needed and whether it should be under Rule 702. He got nothing remember. No explanation for the $1.7 Million.

The lesson of the latest discovery order in Broiler Chicken is pretty simple. In re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litig., 2018 WL 3586183 (N.D. Ill. 7/26/18). Get a real cost estimate from an expert. The expert needs to know and understand document review, search and costs of review. They need to know how to make reasonable search and retrieval efforts. They also need to know how to make reliable estimates. You may need two experts for this, as not all have expertise in both fields, but they are readily available. Many can even talk pretty well too, but not all! Seriously, everybody knows we are the most fun and interesting lawyer subgroup.

The last thing to do is skimp on an expert and just pull out a number from your hat (or your vendor’s hat) and hope for the best.

This is federal court, not a political rally. You do not make bald assertions and leave the court wondering. Facts matter. Back of the envelope type guesses are not sufficient, especially in a big case like Broiler Chicken. Neither are guesstimates by people who do not know what they are doing. Make disclosure and cooperate with the requesting party to reach agreement. Do not just rush to the courthouse hoping to  dazzle with smoke and mirrors. Bring in the experts. They may not dazzle, but they can get you beyond the magic mirrors.

Case Law Background

Judge Paul S. Grewal, who is now Deputy G.C. of Facebook, said quoting The Sedona Conference in Vasudevan: There is no magic to the science of search and retrieval: only mathematics, linguistics, and hard work.Vasudevan Software, Inc. v. Microstrategy Inc., No. 11-cv-06637-RS-PSG, 2012 US Dist LEXIS 163654 (ND Cal Nov 15, 2012) (quoting The Sedona Conference, Best Practices Commentary on the Use of Search and Information and Retrieval Methods in E-Discovery, 8 Sedona Conf. J. 189, 208 (2007). There is also no magic to the art of estimation, no magic to calculating the likely range of cost to search and retrieve the documents requested. Judge Grewal refused to make any decision in Vasudevan without expert assistance, recognizing that this area is “fraught with traps for the unwary” and should not be decided on mere arguments of counsel.

Judge Grewal did not address the procedural issue of whether Rule 702 should govern. But he did cite to Judge Facciola’s case on the subject, United States v. O’Keefe, 537 F. Supp. 2d 14 (D.D.C. 2008). Here Judge Facciola first raised the discovery expert evidence issue. He not only opined that experts should be used, but that the parties should follow the formalities of Evidence Rule 702. That governs things such as whether you should qualify and swear in an expert and follow otherwise follow Rule 702 on their testimony. I discussed this somewhat in my earlier article this year, Judge Goes Where Angels Fear To Tread: Tells the Parties What Keyword Searches to Use.

Judge Facciola in O’Keffe held that document review issues require expert input and that this input should be provided with all of the protections provided by Evidence Rule 702.

Given this complexity, for lawyers and judges to dare opine that a certain search term or terms would be more likely to produce information than the terms that were used is truly to go where angels fear to tread. This topic is clearly beyond the ken of a layman and requires that any such conclusion be based on evidence that, for example, meets the criteria of Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Accordingly, if defendants are going to contend that the search terms used by the government were insufficient, they will have to specifically so contend in a motion to compel and their contention must be based on evidence that meets the requirements of Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Conclusion

In the Boiler Chicken Antitrust Order of July 27, 2018, a motion for protective order was denied because of inadequate evidence of burden. All the responding party did was quote a price-range, a number presumably provided by an expert, but there was no explanation. More evidence was needed, both expert and fact. I agree that generally document review cost estimation requires opinions of experts. The experts need to be proficient in two fields. They need to know and understand the science of document search and retrieval and the likely costs for these services for a particular set of data.

Although all of the formalities and expense of compliance with Evidence Rule 702 may be needed in some cases, it is probably not necessary in most. Just bring your expert to the attorney conference or hearing. Yes, two experts may well disagree on some things, probably will, but the areas of agreement are usually far more important. That in turn makes compromise and negotiation far easier. Better leave the technical details to the experts to sort out. That follows the Rule 1 prime directive of “just, speedy and inexpensive.” Keep the trial lawyers out of it. They should instead focus and argue on what the documents mean.

 

 

 


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