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.

 

 

 


Disproportionate Keyword Search Demands Defeated by Metric Evidence of Burden

June 10, 2018

The defendant in a complex commercial dispute demanded that plaintiff search its ESI for all files that had the names of four construction projects. Am. Mun. Power, Inc. v. Voith Hydro, Inc. (S.D. Ohio, 6/4/18) (copy of full opinion below). These were the four projects underlying the law suit. Defense counsel, like many attorneys today, thought that they had magical powers when it comes to finding electronic evidence. They thought that all, or most all, of the ESI with these fairly common project names would be relevant or, at the very least, worth examining for relevance. As it turns out, defense counsel was very wrong, most of the docs with keyword hits were not relevant and the demand was unreasonable.

The Municipal Power opinion was written by Chief Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Preston Deavers of the Southern District Court of Ohio. She reached this conclusion based on evidence of burden, what we like to call the project metrics. We do not know the total evidence presented, but we do know that Judge Deavers was impressed by the estimate that the privilege review alone would cost the plaintiff between $100,000 – $125,000. I assume that estimate was based on a linear review of all relevant documents. That is very expensive to do right, especially in large, diverse data sets with high privilege and relevance prevalence. Triple and quadruple checks are common and are built into standard protocols.

Judge Deavers ruled against the defense on the four project names keywords request, and granted a protective order for the plaintiff because, in her words:

The burden and expense of applying the search terms of each Project’s name without additional qualifiers outweighs the benefits of this discovery for Voith and is disproportionate to the needs of even this extremely complicated case.

The plaintiff made its own excessive demand upon defendant to search its ESI using a long list of keywords, including Boolean logic. The plaintiff’s keyword list was much more sophisticated than the defendants four name search demand. The plaintiff’s proposal was rejected by the defendant and the judge for the same proportionality reason. It kind of looks like tit for tat with excessive demands on both sides. But, it is hard to say because the negotiations were apparently focused on mere guessed-keywords, instead of a process of testing and refining – evolved-tested keywords.

Defense counsel responded to the plaintiff’s keyword demands by presenting their own metrics of burden, including the projected costs of redaction of confidential customer information. These confidentiality concerns can be difficult, especially where you are required to redact. Better to agree upon an alternative procedure where you withhold the entire document and log them with a description. This can be a less expensive alternative to redaction.

When reading the opinion below note how the Plaintiff’s opposition to the demand to review all ESI with the four project names gave specific examples of types of documents (ESI) that would have the names on them and still have nothing whatsoever to do with the parties claims or defenses, the so called “false positives.” This is a very important exercise that should not be overlooked in any argument. I have seen some pretty terrible precision percentages, sometimes as low as two percent.

Get your hands in the digital mud. Go deep into TAR if you need to. It is where the time warps happen and we bend space and time to attain maximum efficiency. Our goal is to attain: (1) the highest possible review speeds (files per hr), both hybrid and human; (2)  the highest precision (% of relevant docs); and, (3) the countervailing goal of total recall (% of relevant docs found). The recall goal is typically given the greatest weight, with emphasis on highly relevant. The question is how much greater weight to give recall and that depends on the total facts and circumstances of the doc review project.

Keywords are the Model T of legal search, but we all start there. It is still a very important skill for everyone to learn and then move on to other techniques, especially to active machine learning.

In some simple projects it can still be effective, especially if the user is highly skilled and the data is simple. It also helps if the data is well known to the searcher from earlier projects. See TAR Course: 8th Class (Keyword and Linear Review).

________________________

Below is the unedited full opinion (very short). We look forward to more good opinions by Judge Deavers on e-discovery.

__________

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO, EASTERN DIVISION. No. 2:17-cv-708

June 4, 2018

AMERICAN MUNICIPAL POWER, INC., Plaintiff, vs. VOITH HYDRO, INC., Defendant.

ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE. Judge Algenon L. Marbley.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

This matter came before the Court for a discovery conference on May 24, 2018. Counsel for both parties appeared and participated in the conference.

The parties provided extensive letter briefing regarding certain discovery disputes relating to the production of Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) and other documents. Specifically, the parties’ dispute centers around two ESI-related issues: (1) the propriety of a single-word search by Project name proposed by Defendant Voith Hydro, Inc. (“Voith”) which it seeks to have applied to American Municipal Power, Inc.’s (“AMP”) ESI; 1 and (2) the propriety of AMP’s request that Voith run crafted search terms which AMP has proposed that are not limited to the Project’s name. 2 After careful consideration of the parties’ letter briefing and their arguments during the discovery conference, the Court concluded as follows:

  • Voith’s single-word Project name search terms are over-inclusive. AMP’s position as the owner of the power-plant Projects puts it in a different situation than Voith in terms of how many ESI “hits” searching by Project name would return. As owner, AMP has stored millions of documents for more than a decade that contain the name of the Projects which refer to all kinds of matters unrelated to this case. Searching by Project name, therefore, would yield a significant amount of discovery that has no bearing on the construction of the power plants or Voith’s involvement in it, including but not limited to documents related to real property acquisitions, licensing, employee benefits, facility tours, parking lot signage, etc. While searching by the individual Project’s name would yield extensive information related to the name of the Project, it would not necessarily bear on or be relevant to the construction of the four hydroelectric power plants, which are the subject of this litigation. AMP has demonstrated that using a single-word search by Project name would significantly increase the cost of discovery in this case, including a privilege review that would add $100,000 – $125,000 to its cost of production. The burden and expense of applying the search terms of each Project’s name without additional qualifiers outweighs the benefits of this discovery for Voith and is disproportionate to the needs of even this extremely complicated case.
  • AMP’s request that Voith search its ESI collection without reference to the Project names by using as search terms including various employee and contractor names together with a list of common construction terms and the names of hydroelectric parts is overly inclusive and would yield confidential communications about other projects Voith performed for other customers. Voith employees work on and communicate regarding many customers at any one time. AMPs proposal to search terms limited to certain date ranges does not remedy the issue because those employees still would have sent and received communications about other projects during the times in which they were engaged in work related to AMP’s Projects. Similarly, AMP’s proposal to exclude the names of other customers’ project names with “AND NOT” phrases is unworkable because Voith cannot reasonably identify all the projects from around the world with which its employees were involved during the decade they were engaged in work for AMP on the Projects. Voith has demonstrated that using the terms proposed by AMP without connecting them to the names of the Projects would return thousands of documents that are not related to this litigation. The burden on Voith of running AMP’s proposed search terms connected to the names of individual employees and general construction terms outweighs the possibility that the searches would generate hits that are relevant to this case. Moreover, running the searches AMP proposes would impose on Voith the substantial and expensive burden of manually reviewing the ESI page by page to ensure that it does not disclose confidential and sensitive information of other customers. The request is therefore overly burdensome and not proportional to the needs of the case.

1 Voith seeks to have AMP use the names of the four hydroelectric projects at issue in this case (Cannelton, Smithland, Willow and Meldahl) as standalone search terms without qualifiers across all of AMP’s ESI. AMP proposed and has begun collecting from searches with numerous multiple-word search terms using Boolean connectors. AMP did not include the name of each Project as a standalone term.

2 AMP contends that if Voith connects all its searches together with the Project name, it will not capture relevant internal-Voith ESI relating to the construction claims and defenses in the case. AMP asserts Voith may have some internal documents that relate to the construction projects that do not refer to the Project by name, and included three (3) emails with these criteria it had discovered as exemplars. AMP proposes that Voith search its ESI collection without reference to the Project names by using as search terms including various employee and contractor names together with a list of generic construction terms and the names of hydroelectric parts.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: June 4, 2018

/s/ Elizabeth A. Preston Deavers

ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS

UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

 

 


Proportionality Analysis Defeats Motion for Forensic Examination

May 28, 2018

It is rare of a judge to change their mind after making a decision. It is rarer still for a judge to celebrate doing so in a written opinion for the world to see. But that is exactly what Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole has done in his opinion dated May 17, 2018 in Motorola Sols., Inc v. Hytera Communications Corp., No. 17 C 1973 (N.D. Ill.).

This celebration is one reason that Judge Cole’s Order denying Motorola’s motion for forensic inspection is so remarkable. Another is that it begins with a quote, a rare occurrence in judicial orders, one that I always like. The quote celebrates the better late than never philosophy of changing your mind to follow a new understanding, a personal wisdom. The quote is by the late, great Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter. Felix served as a judge on the Supreme Court from 1939 to 1962.  Before that he was, among other things, a Harvard Law Professor and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. Here is the quote with which Cole begins his order:

“Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”

Henslee v. Union Planters Nat. Bank & Trust Co., 335 U.S. 595, 600, 69 S. Ct. 290, 93 L. Ed. 259, 1949-1 C.B. 223 (1949)

(Frankfurter, J., dissenting)

Another unusual thing about Judge Cole’s order, and the real reason I am writing about it, is that the wisdom that came to him was from the doctrine of proportionality and Rule 26(b)(1). This was the basis for Judge Cole to deny plaintiff’s motion for a forensic inspection of defendant’s computers, in China no less.

District Court Judge Ronald Norgle had previously allowed the parties until October 6, 2017, to conduct discovery on the statute of limitations defense only and stayed all other discovery. The parties had one month in which to take discovery on a very limited topic of fraudulent concealment, which is a type of tolling within the doctrine of equitable estoppel of the limitations defense. Nothing else. After all, Motorola has waited almost ten years before filing a trade-secret theft suit against a Chinese corporation for allegedly stealing its radio wave technology. As Judge Cole colorfully described the situation (citations to record removed in all quotes) with a reference to Hannibal:

While the inquiry should have been uncomplicated, it has become a long, drawn out, pitched battle — one, in a rhetorical sense, to rival the Punic Wars — albeit without the elephants and the Alps and the sheer drama.

After that, the parties exchanged motions to compel repeatedly. Deadlines were extended, from one month to several. Thousands of pages of memoranda and exhibits were filed. 1  And, again, this was all over the supposedly limited discovery on a limited topic that ought to have taken little time and effort. The very nature of what occurred tends to sustain the all too prevalent observation that discovery has become more important than the actual case. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 595, n.13, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007); A.H. Robins Co. v. Piccinin, 788 F.2d 994, 1013 (4th Cir. 1986).

1 The filings and orders in this case which, again, is only in the preliminary stage of determining whether Motorola’s filing is timely, already cover more than 7,500 pages. See also n. 5, infra.

Five months into this “limited” discovery process Motorola asked to conduct a forensic examination of the computers of “key Hytera witnesses who have been involved in the use of Motorola’s confidential information and any relevant Hytera servers … on which Hytera has stored Motorola documents,” all of which are located in China. Motorola said it wanted to “begin with forensic inspection of the computers” of seven Hytera employees. Judge Cole said this request reminded him of Winston Churchill’s famous quip: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end.”

Flip Flopping Towards Wisdom

After several hearings Judge Cole was persuaded by the siren songs of plaintiff’s counsel from the well-known firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. They must have been very good orators and put on a compelling argument to support their motion. They convinced Judge Cole to allow them to begin a forensic examination process in China under elaborate Hague Convention procedures. Only after the hearings and oral decision to compel the inspection did Judge Cole realize the error of that decision. Judge Cole to his credit does not blame Kirkland and Ellis litigators for leading him astray. Following standard judicial protocol Judge Cole assumed full responsibility for the initial error:

Over the course of two lengthy hearings on March 21 and April 4, 2018, I tentatively concluded that forensic examination of Hytera’s computers would be appropriate, but only if the parties could arrive at a suitable protocol that would not, among other things, run afoul of Chinese law. As we discuss, infra at 5, that was a mistake. But the law frowns on relying on a blunder to gain an opportunistic advantage. Cf. Architectural Metal Systems, Inc. v. Consolidated Systems, Inc., 58 F.3d 1227, 1231 (7th Cir.1995); Market Street Associates; Packer Trading Co. v. CFTC, 972 F.2d 144, 150 (7th Cir 1992); Centex Construction v. James, 374 F.2d 921, 923 (8th Cir.1967). 2

2 We should not be understood as ascribing fault to plaintiff’s counsel. After all, in our adversary system, lawyers properly play a partisan role. Masias v. Secretary of Health and Human Svcs, 2009 U.S. Claims LEXIS 281, at *27 (Fed. Cl. 2009); Philips Medical Systems Intern. B.V. v. Bruetman, 8 F.3d 600, 606 (7th Cir.1993) (Posner, J.). See also Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 293, 120 S. Ct. 746, 145 L. Ed. 2d 756 (2000) (Souter, J., dissenting) (“a partisan scrutiny of the record and assessment of potential issues, goes to the irreducible core of the lawyer’s obligation to a litigant in an adversary system … .”). Mistakes are ultimately (and in most cases) the responsibility of the court.

Judge Cole went on to celebrate a jurists right to change their mind in order to get things right.

The scope of discovery that I was initially inclined to allow was, in the context of the present inquiry that had been narrowed by the district court to the limitations issue, overbroad. What is being sought goes beyond the issue of equitable tolling. In the end, Motorola’s counsel and I were talking about relevance to allegations in Motorola’s complaint. And so, well beyond the statute of limitations, by the end of the April 4 hearing, discovery was encompassing documents related to Motorola’s entire case.

As we have said, “all judges make mistakes,” Fujisawa Pharm. Co., 115 F.3d at 1339, and, when possible, it is best that judges put them right.

Proportionality Applied to Restrain Discovery

In the May 17, 2018 order Judge Cole found the wisdom to say no and forbid the forensic examination of the computers in China. He did so because he found that this discovery was “out of proportion with the needs of this case, as presently limited by the district court” and cited Rule 26 (b)(1), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Although I am sure that he heard extensive argument and evidence concerning the estimated costs and burdens imposed by the forensic exams, his decision did not focus on costs. Instead it focused on one of the other very important factors in 26(b)(1), “the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.” Judge Cole realized that the computers in China could not possibly have information in them of any real relevance to equitable tolling of the statute of limitations defense.

At a minimum, even if relevant to the present limited issue, discovery of computers in China is not proportional to the importance of discovery in resolving the issues and the burden and expense of the proposed discovery manifestly outweighs its likely benefit to the very limited question of equitable tolling. Although the federal discovery rules are permissive, they are not, as Judge Moran wisely put it, “a ticket to an unlimited … exploration of every conceivable matter that captures an attorney’s interest.” Sapia v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chi., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73153, 2017 WL 2060344, at *2 (N.D. Ill. 2017); see also Leibovitch v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31713, 2018 WL 1072567, at *11 (N.D. Ill. 2018). “[J]udges should not hesitate to exercise appropriate control over the discovery process.” Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 177, 99 S. Ct. 1635, 60 L. Ed. 2d 115 (1979). Failure to exercise that control results in needless and enormous costs to the litigants and to the due administration of justice.

Judge Cole also understood that a forensic inspection is a drastic remedy that requires good cause not shown by plaintiff here:

The original idea here was for a month or so of discovery focused on the very limited issue of the statute of limitations. While it is rare for parties to complete discovery even by dates chosen by their counsel, there can be no dispute that things have already gone far beyond what was intended and what was necessary in the statute of limitations portion of this case, in terms of time and scope. Now, Motorola wants things to go very much further. Forensic examination is generally regarded as a drastic step even in general discovery. See, e.g.,John B. v. Goetz, 531 F.3d 448, 460 (6th Cir. 2008) (“mere skepticism that an opposing party has not produced all relevant information is not sufficient to warrant drastic electronic discovery measures.”). As the court said in In re Ford Motor Company, 345 F.3d 1315 (11th Cir. 2003):

““In the absence of a strong showing that the responding party has somehow defaulted in this obligation, the court should not resort to extreme, expensive, or extraordinary means to guarantee compliance. Forensic inspection of computer hard drives is an expensive process, and adds to the burden of litigation for both parties, as an examination of a hard drive by an expert automatically triggers the retention of an expert by the responding party for the same purpose. Furthermore, examination of a hard drive inevitably results in the production of massive amounts of irrelevant, and perhaps privileged, information … . This court is therefore loathe to sanction intrusive examination of an opponent’s computer as a matter of course, or on the mere suspicion that the opponent may be withholding discoverable information.”

The Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 34 recognize that courts must use caution in evaluating requests to inspect an opposing party’s electronic devices or systems for ESI, in order to avoid unduly impinging on a party’s privacy interests:

Inspection or testing of certain types of electronically stored information or of a responding party’s electronic information system may raise issues of confidentiality or privacy. The addition of testing and sampling to Rule 34(a) with regard to documents and electronically stored information is not meant to create a routine right of direct access to a party’s electronic information system, although such access might be justified in some circumstances. Courts should guard against undue intrusiveness resulting from inspecting or testing such systems.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 34, Advisory Committee Notes—2006 Amendment (emphasis added). Likewise, the Sedona Principles urge general caution in this area:

Civil litigation should not be approached as if information systems were crime scenes that justify forensic investigation at every opportunity to identify and preserve every detail … . [M]aking forensic image backups of computers is only the first step of an expensive, complex, and difficult process of data analysis that can divert litigation into side issues and satellite disputes involving the interpretation of potentially ambiguous forensic evidence.

The Sedona Principles, supra, at 34, 47. 4

Conclusion

Judge Cole’s wrap up is wise and witty and something you may want to quote in many discovery disputes, especially the footnote:

Parties are entitled to a reasonable opportunity to investigate the relevant facts — and no more. Upjohn Company v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 390, 101 S. Ct. 677, 66 L. Ed. 2d 584 (1981); Vakharia v. Swedish Covenant Hosp., 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2712, at *2 (N.D. Ill. 1994) (Moran, J.). Motorola has already had that reasonable opportunity and far more. What was intended to be a month-long process of discovery on a very limited issue has turned into a protracted affair in which Motorola has received 700,000 documents — nearly 3 million pages — over a period of eight months. 5

5 A ream of paper is 500 sheets, which is 2 inches tall. Three million pages is 6,000 reams, meaning that 3 million pages of discovery, which is about 1,000 feet high or 100 stories high. By any measure, that is extraordinary.

Yet, apparently for Motorola, it’s not enough. It now wants a forensic inspection of several computers in China — and it warns that that is only the “beginning.” What should have been limited discovery on a “straightforward [issue has] spiral[ed] out of control.” Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 552 (7th Cir. 2014). The time has come to say: “enough is enough.” Walker v. Sheahan, 526 F.3d 973, 981 (7th Cir. 2008). Eight months of “limited,” single-issue discovery are now at an end. Motorola’s motion for forensic inspection is denied.

Enough is enough. To go further would have been a disproportionate burden, especially considering the very narrow issue allowed in discovery. Judge Cole at first made a mistake, and then he changed his mind and made it right. He is a wise judge. I wish there were more like him. Except of course if you change your mind to rule against me! <‘_’>


%d bloggers like this: