The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Sanctions For Destruction

December 2, 2018

James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix, whom Rolling Stone ranked the greatest guitarist of all time, died intestate in 1970 at twenty-seven. His heirs have been embroiled in litigation ever since. They have recently entered the fiery realm of e-discovery and sanctions. Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Pitsicalis, No. 17-cv-1927 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y., 11/27/18). The opinion by District Court Judge Paul A. Engelmayer is interesting in its own right, but when you add the Hendrix name and family feud, you have a truly memorable order. After all, we are talking about the artist who created “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Hey Joe” and my personal favorite, his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.

Case Background: The Hendrix Family Feud

The latest suit involves the usual serial litigants. On one side is Jimi’s step-sister, Janie Hendrix (shown right). She is, as Jimi would have said, a “Foxy Lady”. Janie assumed control of the Estate from Jimi’s natural father, Al Hendrix, when he died in 2002. On the other side is Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix and Leon’s business partner, Andrew Pitsicalis. Kerzner, Hendrix Sues Serial Infringer Andrew Pitsicalis (American Blues Scene, 3/20/17). There can be big money in the Hendrix name, the top guitarist of all time. I for one still get choked up when I hear his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix, won bitterly fought estate litigation in the seventies, but the trademark litigation has never stopped. Multiple injunctions are in place under the corporate name, Experience Hendrix, LLC, but the infringements just keep coming. Companies keep popping up to sell Jimi Hendrix branded goods. Andrew Pitsicalis and Leon Hendrix are frequently involved. Their latest attempts to profit from the Jimi brand include marijuana related products (apparently “Purple Haze” has long been a well know strain of cannabis. See: Legal Battle Ensues Over Jimi Hendrix Usage Rights (High Times, 3/29/17); Jimi Hendrix’s heirs wage court battle over branded cannabis, other products (Cannifornan, 3/22/17).

I am reminded of the closing line of the Hendrix classic, Are You Experienced:

Ah! But Are You Experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?

Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.

Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix (shown right), is an artist and musician himself with his own following. Some think he was treated unfairly by his Dad and Step-Sister. For a variety of reasons, especially I suspect the impact of Pitsicalis, the CEO of “Purple Haze Properties” and Leon’s business partner, there is still bad blood. Chris Fry, Jimi Hendrix’s Brother Fires Back Against Estate (Courthouse News, 3/28/17).

This kind of family feud mentality is not uncommon in litigation, especially in cases involving the intentional destruction of evidence. I am reminded of a Hendrix line from Voodoo Child:

Well, the night I was born. Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red. The night I was born I swear the moon turned a fire red. Well my poor mother cried out “lord, the gypsy was right!” And I seen her, fell down right dead. Have mercy.

Spoliation sanctions generally arise from a haze, just not a stoned purple haze, more like an angry moon turned a fire red haze. Even a seasoned District Court Judge in the SDNY, Paul Engelmayer, was “dismayed” by the conduct of Pitsicalis and Leon Hendrix. Well, what did you expect in matters involving the Estate of a Voodoo Child musical genius? The best guitarist that ever lived?

Judge Engelmayer’s Sanction Order

The scholarly and well-written opinion by District Court Judge Paul A. Engelmayer (shown right) begins by observing:

As the docket in this matter reflects, the Court has been called upon dismayingly often to act when presented with evidence of the PHP defendants’ persistent non-compliance with basic discovery obligations. Plaintiffs now move this Court to sanction these defendants for (1) spoliation of evidence and, more generally, (2) “consistent, pervasive[,] and relentless discovery abuses by [d]efendants and their counsel, Thomas Osinski.” Dkt. 245. Plaintiffs request, inter alia, a preliminary injunction, an order of attachment, an adverse inference instruction at trial, and terminating sanctions. See Dkts. 237, 244. For the reasons below, the Court grants the motion for an adverse inference instruction and directs the PHP defendants to pay the reasonable fees and costs incurred by plaintiffs in bringing this motion.

Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Pitsicalis, No. 17-cv-1927 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y., 11/27/18). Expressing “dismay” is about as emotional as Judge Engelmayer gets in writing an opinion, even one sanctioning a party for destroying evidence and disobeying court orders.

The PHP defendants mentioned are Leon Hendrix, Andrew Pitsicalis and their corporation, Purple Haze Properties (PHP). As you can see from the first quote, the attorney who represents them, Thomas Osinski, was also accused of discovery abuse. That often happens in joker and the thief type cases like this.

A good sanctions case will always have a “parade of horribles” consisting of a list of things the spoliating party supposedly did wrong. Hendrix is no exception. That is how the severe sanctions are justified. It would take too long to list all of the abuses justifying sanctions in Hendrix, but here are the four main ones:

  1. PHP Defendants’ Failure to Produce Forensic Images as Ordered. Apparent intentional disobedience of court orders to make forensic copies of and produce certain drives, even after daily fines are imposed for late production. One of the excuses PHP offered was especially humorous, especially considering the NYC venue, but they actually claimed “that they had had difficulty hiring an expert technician who could image the hard drives.” Yeah, it’s real hard. Need I say more about Osinski’s veracity? When they finally did produce some, but not all of the forensic images, they were not “forensic” images. They were just copies of all active files (a “ghost” copy) with no forensic copy of the slack space. That is what a forensic copy means. It allows for search and examination of deleted files, which was the whole point of the court order.
  2. PHP Defendants’ Use of Anti-Forensic Software. Software allowing for the complete wiping of files was found installed on several of the computer images that were produced. In some there was evidence the software was installed immediately after a court order was entered requiring production. In these the plaintiff’s forensic expert could also show that the software, CleanMyMac, was actually used to wipe files and when, although it was not possible to know what files were destroyed. The moving party (Janie Hendrix and her company Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.)  proved the use was knowing when their expert, John T. Myers, showed how the software was configured to have a pop-out and warn the user to confirm complete elimination of the file (it cannot be recovered after that). The defendants testified that they did not recall ever using it. Sure. Spoliate evidence and then cover-up, or try to.
  3. Andrew Pitsicalis Deleted “Jimi”-related Text Messages from his iPhone. Plaintiff’s forensic expert was able to prove that more than 500 text messages had been deleted from Pitsicalis cell phone after the duty to preserve had arisen (suit was filed). Moreover, they were able to recover nine text messages pertaining to Jimi. As Judge Engelmayer explained: “Fortuitously, Myers was able to recover the deleted text messages from the imaged phone because those communications had been stored not in the applications used to send and receive them (e.g., iMessage), but in databases where files exist until overwritten or otherwise purged.”
  4. Key Computer at First Hidden, then After Discovery in Photograph, Goes South to Florida and is Never Examined. This one sounds like a bad game of Where’s Waldo. A “Seventh Computer” was found, one never reported by PHP, by plaintiff’s study of photos on PHP’s Facebook page. Very clever. One picture on FB showed Andrew Pitsicalis, sitting in his office, in immediate proximity to a mystery desktop computer. When asked about it under oath PHP’s fine attorney, Osinski, swore that he thought it was just a dummy Apple monitor on the office desk, not a computer. He said he did not know that the monitor, and key board next to it, were a real, functional computer, an iMac. What? Did he think these were IKEA props in a display room? They were sitting on his client’s desk in a Facebook photo taken after suit was filed. But wait, there is more, Osinski went on to swear that the computer had moved to Florida. As Judge Engelmayer explained:

“Osinski testified that his present understanding is that the desktop computer belonged to an individual named Hector David, Jr. who has moved to Florida and who, Osinski assumes, took the computer with him. Osinski, however, did not have personal knowledge of this, or of the contents of the desktop in Andrew Pitsicalis’ office. … Andrew Pitsicalis, for his part, denied owning the computer and testified that David was not employed by PHP.”

Apparently no one has been able to locate this mysterious Hector David or know where he took the iMac computer sitting on Pitsicalis desk.

Legal Standards of Spoliation in Hendrix

Judge Engelmayer’s opinion in Hendrix examines two legal standards, Rule 37 and Spoliation. He begins the discussion with the duty to preserve, the threshold issue in spoliation:

The first issue is whether the PHP defendants had an obligation to preserve the categories of evidence at issue. A party has an obligation to preserve evidence when it “has notice that the evidence is relevant to litigation . . . [or] should have known that the evidence may be relevant to future litigation.” Kronisch v. United States, 150 F.3d 112 , 126 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted).

That standard is easily met here.

He then goes on to discuss whether that duty as breached, another no-brainer based on the impressive parade of horribles in this case:

The Court further finds—and the evidence to this effect is overwhelming—that the PHP defendants repeatedly breached this duty. The breaches fall in three categories: (1) the use of cleaning software on covered computing devices, (2) the failure to disclose the existence of a seventh computing device containing potentially relevant documents, and (3) the deletion of relevant text messages.

Judge Engelmayer’ then discusses the key issue of intent, the mens rea to spoliate.

Much of the PHP defendants’ spoliation of evidence, the Court finds, was intentional. …

The Court finds that, by installing anti-cleaning software on his own computer and causing it to be installed on Schmitt’s in the face of an unambiguous and known duty to preserve potentially relevant evidence, Pitsicalis intentionally caused the destruction of such evidence.

The defenses proffered by the PHP defendants are unavailing. That Schmitt personally may not have acted with the intent to deleted responsive files is beside the point. The relevant mens rea here is that of Andrew Pitsicalis, who owned PHP, for which Schmitt worked as an independent contractor, and who, despite being a repeat litigant amply on notice of his duty to preserve potentially relevant evidence, urged Schmitt to run this software to delete files. Tr. 125, 133. Also unhelpful is Pitsicalis’ [*13] explanation that, at some unspecified point, he went on “Google to search for ‘top anti-forensic software’ and went through the first 10 pages of search” without finding anything for CleanMyMac. Andrew Pitsicalis Decl. at 2-3. Regardless what Pitsicalis’ internet research may have shown, the evidence adduced at the hearing clearly established both that the CleanMyMac software had the capacity to cause the deletion (and shredding) of files, and that Pitsicalis knew this, not least because the software’s causation of such deletion was made explicit to the user each time. Pitsicalis does not offer any reason for installing and using this software on his computer, let alone for having done so without first creating an image of the full contents of the computer that would have assured preservation of the computer’s contents.

Andrew Pitsicalis’ deletion of relevant text messages was also clearly intentional. By his admission, he personally and deliberately deleted, among other text messages, a series of texts concerning the marketing of “Jimi”-related products, the very subject of this lawsuit. He did so one day after the Court issued an order requiring the Purple Haze Properties defendants to: “produce to plaintiffs the forensic images of” every device, including phones, containing files that are relevant to this action. Pitsicalis did not offer any coherent defense to this misconduct. The Court finds it to have been a willful and blatant violation of the duty to preserve relevant evidence.

Finally, the Court finds that the removal of a computer from Andrew Pitsicalis’ office and its transfer to a Floridian, Hector David, Jr., was an act of intentional spoliation. To be sure, the question is a closer one, if only because the contents of that computer are unknown, and so the Court cannot rule out the possibility that these contents were wholly extraneous to this litigation. The location of the computer in Pitsicalis’ office, however, suggests otherwise. Had the Court been notified of the existence of this computer, it assuredly would have ordered that the computer’s contents be searched for responsive materials. It is also noteworthy that Andrew Pitsicalis did not inform his attorney of the existence of this computer. While conceivably these circumstances, in isolation, might have been consistent with the merely reckless disposal of evidence, when this episode is viewed in the light of Pitsicalis’ other acts of willful spoliation, the Court has little difficulty finding it, too, to bespeak intentional misconduct.

Sanctions Imposed

Judge Engelmayer begins his analysis of the appropriate, proportional sanctions by stating the black letter law:

The trial judge must determine the appropriate sanction for spoliation [*14] of evidence on a case-by-case basis. F, 247 F.3d at 436 . Such sanctions should be designed to:

(1) deter parties from engaging in spoliation; (2) place the risk of an erroneous judgment on the party who wrongfully created the risk; and (3) restore the prejudiced party to the same position [they] would have been in absent the wrongful destruction of evidence by the opposing party.

West, 167 F.3d at 779 . Case-dispositive sanctions, however, “should be imposed only in extreme circumstances, usually after consideration of alternative, less drastic sanctions.” Id.

Based on these objectives Judge Engelmayer sanctioned defendants as follows:

Considering these objectives, the Court imposes the following two sanctions, regarding (1) Andrew Pitsicalis’ computer, iPhone, and desktop computer; and (2) Schmitt’s computer, as to each of which the Court has found intentional spoliation. First, the Court will instruct the finder of fact that it may draw an adverse inference from the PHP parties’ failure adequately to preserve and produce these materials, to wit, that the devices in question contained evidence of conduct by the PHP defendants in breach of their legal duties to plaintiffs in connection with the sale and marketing of Jimi Hendrix-related materials.8

Second, given the resources plaintiffs again have had to expend in establishing the above-chronicled acts of non-compliance by the PHP defendants with the Court’s discovery orders, plaintiffs are entitled to an award reflecting the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in connection with bringing and litigating the instant successful motion.

Judge Engelmayer went on to explain why a lesser sanction was inappropriate:

The Court has carefully considered whether lesser sanctions are adequate to cure the harm caused by the disposition of these materials. The Court’s firm conclusion is that no lesser sanction than the combination of an adverse inference instruction and an order directing the prompt recompense of plaintiffs for costs reasonably incurred litigating the meritorious motions for sanctions based on spoliation would adequately remedy plaintiffs’ injury. See, e.g., Moody v. CSX Transp., Inc., 271 F. Supp. 3d 410 , 432 (W.D.N.Y. 2017) (finding adverse inference appropriate where defendants intentionally lost material evidence); Ottoson v. SMBC Leasing and Finance, Inc., 268 F. Supp. 3d 570 , 584 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) (granting an adverse inference instruction where plaintiff “has acted willfully or in bad faith” in [*15] violation of her duty to preserve certain emails); First Fin. Sec., Inc. v. Freedom Equity Grp., LLC, No. 15-CV-1893-HRL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140087 , [2016 BL 337069], 2016 WL 5870218 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2016) (imposing adverse inference instruction for intentional deletion of text messages and awarding plaintiffs attorneys fees incurred in bringing sanctions motions). The Court has also carefully considered whether this is the rare case in which terminating sanctions are merited, as plaintiffs have urged. See Dkt. 237. At the present time, the Court’s judgment is that such extreme sanctions are not warranted, although further acts of spoliation and/or other discovery abuses could produce a different result.

The footnotes in these last paragraphs are interesting. Footnote 8 explains that “The Court defers decision on the precise formulation of the adverse inference instruction until closer to trial.” That means it could become a mandatory presumption, or merely permissive. Footnote 9 acknowledges that there may be more discovery misconduct in the works. The court noted it could still strike all defenses, if the conduct continues, and save everyone the cost of a trial.

Conclusion

Even with just a permissive presumption, the case at this point will almost certainly be won by Janie Hendrix’ company, Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.. Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Pitsicalis. Yet another loss for Jimi’s brother, Leon, in a long list of losses. Another injunction and businesses shut-down, but for how long? The Estate and L.L.C. have won so many times before. Yet they keep coming back. Is this yet another Pyrrhic Victory in a long line of pointless litigation? How long before the next suit? Some things are just beyond Law’s reach. Purple Haze.

Purple Haze

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky

Purple haze all around
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down
Am I happy or in misery?
Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me

Help me help me
Oh no no… No

Yeah
Purple haze all in my eyes
Don’t know if it’s day or night
You’ve got me blowin, blowin my mind
Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

No, help me aw yeah! Oh no no oh help me…

When you are the best in the world at something, like Jimi Hendrix was at guitar playing, and when you are still famous and admired by millions fifty years after your death, there will be profiteers around. When you add sibling rivalry and family resentments to the mix, then the trouble goes from bad to worse.

The Hendrix family saga, and this lawsuit, are tragedies. So too is the destruction of evidence and this Sanctions Order. It is part of his guitar star legend. Jimi Hendrix’ boy genius was born out of a troubled childhood and family. Diamond in the rough. Bigger than life. Exploded with art, fame and fortune in just three years. Dead at age 27 of an overdose. The day he was born the moon turned a fire red, “Lord, the gypsy was right!”

The greatest guitarist of all time was a Phoenix – tragic, fiery, short-lived, but beautiful and spell-binding too. Where will musical genius appear like that again?



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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