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.

 

 

 


Another Judge is Asked to Settle a Keyword Squabble and He Hesitates To Go Where Angels Fear To Tread: Only Tells the Parties What Keywords NOT To Use

July 15, 2018

In this blog we discuss yet another case where the parties are bickering over keywords and the judge was asked to intervene. Webastro Thermo & Comfort v. BesTop, Inc., 2018 WL 3198544, No.16-13456 (E.D. Mich. June 29, 2018). The opinion was written in a patent case in Detroit by Executive Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen. He looked at the proposed keywords and found them wanting, but wisely refused to go further and tell them what keywords to use. Well done Judge Whalen!

This case is similar to the one discussed in my last blog, Judge Goes Where Angels Fear To Tread: Tells the Parties What Keyword Searches to Use, where Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing in Albuquerque was asked to resolve a keyword dispute in United States v. New Mexico State University, No. 1:16-cv-00911-JAP-LF, 2017 WL 4386358 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2017). Judge Fashing not only found the proposed keywords inadequate, but came up with her own replacement keywords and did so without any expert input.

In my prior blog on Judge Fashing’s decision I discussed Judge John Facciola’s landmark legal search opinion in United States v. O’Keefe, 537 F. Supp. 2d 14 (D.D.C. 2008) and other cases that follow it. In O’Keefe Judge Facciola held that because keyword search questions involve complex, technical, scientific questions, that a judge should not decide such issues without the help of expert testimony. That is the context for his famous line:

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.

In this weeks blog I consider the opinion by Judge Whalen in Webastro Thermo & Comfort v. BesTop, Inc., 2018 WL 3198544, No.16-13456 (E.D. Mich. June 29, 2018) where he told the parties what keywords not to use, again without expert input, but stopped there. Interesting counterpoint cases. It is also interesting to observe that in all three cases, O’Keefe, New Mexico State University and Webastro, the judges end on the same note where the parties are ordered to cooperate. Ah, if it were only so easy.

Stipulated Order Governing ESI Production

In Webastro Thermo & Comfort v. BesTop, Inc., the parties cooperated at the beginning of the case. They agreed to the entry of a stipulated ESI Order governing ESI production. The stipulation included a cooperation paragraph where the parties pledge to try to resolve all ESI issues without judicial intervention. Apparently, the parties cooperation did not go much beyond the stipulated order. Cooperation broke down and the plaintiff filed a barrage of motions to avoid having to do document review, including an Emergency Motion to Stay ESI Discovery. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the ESI stipulation by “propounding overly broad search terms in its request for ESI.” Oh, how terrible. Red Alert!

Plaintiffs further accused defense counsel of “propounding prima facie inappropriate search criteria, and refusal to work in good faith to target its search terms to specific issues in this case.” Again, the outrageous behavior reminds me of the Romulans. I can see why plaintiff’s counsel called an emergency and asked for costs and relief from having to produce any ESI at all. That kind of approach rarely goes over well with any judge, but here it worked. That’s because the keywords the defense wanted plaintiff to use in its search for relevant ESI were, in fact, very bad.

Paragraph 1.3(3) of the ESI Order establishes a protocol designed to constrain e-discovery, including a limitation to eight custodians with no more than ten keyword search terms for each. It goes on to provide the following very interesting provision:

The search terms shall be narrowly tailored to particular issues. Indiscriminate terms, such as the producing company’s name or its product name, are inappropriate unless combined with narrowing search criteria that significantly reduce the risk of overproduction. A conjunctive combination of multiple words or phrases (e.g. ‘computer’ and ‘system’) narrows the search and shall count as a single term. A disjunctive combination of multiple words or phrases (e.g. ‘computer’ or ‘system’) broadens the search, and thus each word or phrase shall count as a separate search term unless they are variants of the same word. Use of narrowing search criteria (e.g. ‘and,’ ‘but not,’ ‘w/x’) is encouraged to limit the production and shall be considered when determining whether to shift costs for disproportionate discovery.

Remember, this is negotiated wording that the parties agreed to, including the bit about product names and “conjunctive combination.”

Defendant’s Keyword Demands

The keywords proposed by defense counsel for plaintiff’s search then included: “Jeep,” “drawing” and its abbreviation “dwg,” “top,” “convertible,” “fabric,” “fold,” “sale or sales,” and the plaintiff’s product names,  “Swaptop” and “Throwback.”

Plaintiff’s counsel advised Judge Whalen that the ten terms created the following results with five custodians (no word on the other three):

  • Joseph Lupo: 30 gigabytes, 118,336 documents.
  • Ryan Evans: 13 gigabytes, 44,373 documents.
  • Tyler Ruby: 10 gigabytes, 44,460 documents.
  • Crystal Muglia: 245,019 documents.
  • Mark Denny: 162,067 documents.
In Footnote Three Judge Whalen adds, without citation to authority or the record, that:
One gigabyte would comprise approximately 678,000 pages of text. 30 gigabytes would represent approximately 21,696,000 pages of text.

Note that Catalyst did a study of average number of files in a gigabyte in 2014. They found that the average number was 2,500 files per gigabyte. They suggest using 3,000 files per gigabyte for cost estimates, just to be safe. So I have to wonder where Judge Whalen got this 678,000 pages of text per gigabyte.

Plaintiff’s counsel added that:

Just a subset of the email discovery requests propounded by BesTop have returned more than 614,00 documents, comprising potentially millions of individual pages for production.

Plaintiff’s counsel also filed an affidavit where he swore that he reviewed the first 100 consecutively numbered documents to evaluate the burden. Very impressive effort. Not! He looked at the first one-hundred documents that happened to be on top of a 614,000 pile. He also swore that none of these first one-hundred were relevant. (One wonders how many of them were empty pst container files. They are often the “documents” found first in consecutive numbering of an email collection. A better sample might have been to look at the 100 docs with the most hits.)

Judge Whalen Agrees with Plaintiff on Keywords

Judge Whalen agreed with plaintiff and held that:

The majority of defendant’s search terms are overly broad, and in some cases violate the ESI Order on its face. For example, the terms “throwback” and “swap top” refer to Webasto’s product names, which are specifically excluded under 1.3(3) of the ESI Order.

The overbreadth of other terms is obvious, especially in relation to a company that manufactures and sells convertible tops: “top,” “convertible,” “fabric,” “fold,” “sale or sales.” Using “dwg” as an alternate designation for “drawing” (which is itself a rather broad term) would call into play files with common file extension .dwg.

Apart from the obviously impermissible breadth of BesTop’s search terms, their overbreadth is borne out by Mr. Carnevale’s declarations, which detail a return of multiple gigabytes of ESI potentially comprising tens of millions of pages of documents, based on only a partial production. In addition, the search of just the first 100 records produced using BesTop’s search terms revealed that none were related to the issues in this lawsuit. Contrary to BesTop’s contention that Webasto’s claim of prejudice is conclusory, I find that Webasto has sufficiently “articulate[d] specific facts showing clearly defined and serous injury resulting from the discovery sought ….” Nix, 11 Fed.App’x. at 500.

Thus, BesTop’s reliance on City of Seattle v. Professional Basketball Club, LLC, 2008 WL 539809 (W.D. Wash. 2008), is inapposite. In City of Seattle, the defendant offered no facts to support its assertion that discovery would be overly burdensome, instead “merely state[ing] that producing such emails ‘would increase the email universe exponentially[.]’” Id. at *3. In our case, Webasto has proffered hard numbers as to the staggering amount of ESI returned based on BesTop’s search requests. Moreover, while disapproving of conclusory claims of burden, the Court in City of Seattle recognized that the overbreadth of some search terms would be apparent on their face:

“‘[U]nless it is obvious from the wording of the request itself that it is overbroad, vague, ambiguous or unduly burdensome, an objection simply stating so is not sufficiently specific.’” Id., quoting Boeing Co. v. Agric. Ins. Co., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90957, *8 (W.D.Wash. Dec. 11, 2007).

As discussed above, many of BesTop’s terms are indeed overly general on their face. And again, propounding Webasto’s product names (e.g., “throwback” and “swap top”) violates the express language of the ESI Order.

Defense Counsel Did Not Cooperate

Judge Whalen then went on to address the apparent lack of cooperation by defendant.

Adversarial discovery practice, particularly in the context of ESI, is anathema to the principles underlying the Federal Rules, particularly Fed.R.Civ.P. 1, which directs that the Rules “be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” In this regard, the Sedona Conference Cooperation Proclamation states:

“Indeed, all stakeholders in the system–judges, lawyers, clients, and the general pubic–have an interest in establishing a culture of cooperation in the discovery process. Over-contentious discovery is a cost that has outstripped any advantage in the face of ESI and the data deluge. It is not in anyone’s interest to waste resources on unnecessary disputes, and the legal system is strained by ‘gamesmanship’ or ‘hiding the ball,’ to no practical effect.”

The stipulated ESI Order, which controls electronic discovery in this case, is an important step in the right direction, but whether as the result of adversarial overreach or insufficient effort, BesTop’s proposed search terms fall short of what is required under that Order.

Judge Whalen’s Ruling

Judge Whalen concluded his short Order with the following ruling:

For these reasons, Webasto’s motion for protective order [Doc. #78] is GRANTED as follows:

Counsel for the parties will meet and confer in a good-faith effort to focus and narrow BesTop’s search terms to reasonably limit Webastro’s production of ESI to emails relevant (within the meaning of Rule 26) to the issues in this case, and to exclude ESI that would have no relationship to this case.

Following this conference, and within 14 days of the date of this Order, BesTop will submit an amended discovery request with the narrowed search terms.  …

Because BesTop will have the opportunity to reformulate its discovery request to conform to the ESI Order, Webasto’s request for cost-shifting is DENIED at this time. However, the Court may reconsider the issue of cost-shifting if BesTop does not reasonably narrow its requests.

Difficult to Cooperate on Legal Search Without the Help of Experts

The defense in Webastro violated their own stipulation by the use of a party’s product names without further Boolean limiters, such as “product name AND another term.” Then defense counsel added insult to injury by coming across as uncooperative. I don’t know if they alone were uncooperative, or if it was a two way street, but appearances are everything. The emails between counsel were attached to the motions, and the judge scowled at the defense here, not plaintiff’s counsel. No judge likes attorneys who ignore orders, stipulated or otherwise, and are uncooperative to boot. “Uncooperative” is  label that you should avoid being called by a judge, especially in the world of e-discovery. Better to be an angel for discovery and save the devilish details for motions and trial.

In Webastro Thermo & Comfort v. BesTop, Inc., Judge Whalen struck down the proposed keywords without expert input. Instead Judge Whalen based his order on some incomplete metrics, namely the number of hits produced by the keywords that defense dreamed up. At least Judge Whalen did not go further and order the use of specific keywords as Judge Fashing did in United States v. New Mexico State University. Still, I wish he had not only ordered the parties to cooperate, but also ordered them to bring in some experts to help with the search tasks. You cannot just talk your way into good searches. No matter what the level of cooperation, you still have to know what you are doing.

If I had been handling this for the plaintiff, I would have gotten my hands much dirtier in the digital mud, meaning I would have done far more than just look at the first one-hundred of 614,000 documents. That was a poor quality control test, but obviously, here at least, was better than nothing. I would have done a sample review of each keyword and evaluated the precision of each. Some might have been ok as is, although probably not. They usually require some refinement. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes of review to determine that. Bottom line, I would have checked out the requested keywords. There were only ten here. That would take maybe three hours or so with the right software. You do not need big judgmental sampling most of the time to see the effectiveness, or not, or keywords.

The next step is to come up with, and test, a number of keyword refinements based on what you see in the data. Learn from the data. Test and improve various keyword combinations. That can take a few more hours. Some may think this is too much work, but it is far less time than preparing motions, memos and attending hearings. And anyway, you need to find the relevant evidence for your case.

After the tests, you share what you learned with opposing counsel and the judge, assuming they want to know. In my experience, most could care less about your methods, so long as your production includes the information they were looking for. You do not have to disclose your every little step, but you should at least advise, again if asked, information about “hit results.” This disclosure alone can go a long way, as this opinion demonstrates. Plaintiff’s counsel obtained very little data about the ineffectiveness of the defendants proposed searched terms, but that was enough to persuade the judge to enter a protective order.

To summarize, after evaluating the proposed search terms I would have improved on them. Using the improved searches I would have begun the attorney review and production. I would have shared the search information, cooperated as required by stipulation, case-law and rules, and gone ahead with my multimodal searches. I would use keywords and the many other wonderful kinds of searches that the Legal Technology industry has come up with in the last 25 years or so since keyword search was new and shiny.

Conclusion

The stipulation the parties used in Webastro could have been used at the turn of the century. Now it seems a little quaint, but alas, suits most inexperienced lawyers today. Anyway, talking about and using keywords is a good way to start a legal search. I sometimes call that Relevancy Dialogues or ESI Communications. Try out some keywords, refine and use them to guide your review, but do not stop there. Try other types of search too. Multimodal. Harness the power of the latest technology, namely AI enhanced search (Predictive Coding). Use statistics too and random sampling to better understand the data prevalence and overall search effectiveness.

If you do not know how to do legal search, and I estimate that 98% of lawyers today do not, then hire an expert. (Or take the time to learn, see eg TARcourse.com.) Your vendor probably has a couple of search experts. There may also be a lawyer in town with this expertise. Now there are even a few specialty law firms that offer these services nationwide. It is a waste of time to reinvent the Wheel, plus it is an ethical dictate under Rule 1.1 – Competence, to associate with competent counsel on a legal task when you are not.

Regarding the vendor experts, remember that even though they may be lawyers, they can only go so far. They can only provide technical advice, not legal, such as proportionality analysis under Rule 26, etc. That requires a practicing lawyer who specializes in e-discovery, preferably as a full-time specialty and not just something they do every now and then. If you are in a big firm, like I am, find the expert in your firm who specializes in e-discovery, like me. They will help you. If your firm does not have such an expert, better get one, either that or get used to losing and having your clients complain.

 



Dumb and Dumber Strike Again: New case out of California provides a timely lesson in legal search stupidity

February 18, 2018

An interesting, albeit dumb, case out of California provides some good cautionary instruction for anybody doing discovery. Youngevity Int’l Corp. v. Smith, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 210386 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 21, 2017). Youngevity is essentially an unfair competition dispute that arose when some multi-level nutritional marketing sales types left one company to form their own. Yup, multi-level nutritional sales; the case has sleaze written all over it. The actions of the Plaintiff in this case are, in my opinion, and that of the judge, especially embarrassing. In fact both sides remind me of a classic movie Dumb and Dumber. It has a line in it favored by all students of statistics: So you’re telling me there’s a chance.

One in a million is about the chance that the Plaintiff’s discovery plan in Youngevity had of succeeding in federal court in front of the smart United States Magistrate Judge assigned to the case, Jill L. Burkhardt.

Dumb and Dumber

So what did the Plaintiff do that is so dumb? So timely? They confused documents that have a “hit” in them with documents that are relevant. As if having a keyword in a document could somehow magically make it relevant under the rules, or responsive to a request for relevant information under the rules. Not not only that, and here is the dumber part, the Plaintiff produced 4.2 Million pages of such “hit” documents to defendant without reviewing them. They produced the documents without review, but tried to protect their privilege by designating them all “Attorney Eyes Only.” Dumb and dumber. But, in fairness to Plaintiff’s counsel, not something I am especially known for doing, I know, but still, in fairness to the eight attorneys of record for the plaintiffs, this is something that clients sometimes make their attorneys do as a “cost saving” maneuver.

Fellow Blogger Comment

As my bow-tied friend, , put it in his blog on this case:

Just because ESI is a hit to a search term, does NOT mean that data is responsive to any discovery request. Moreover, designating all ESI as Attorney-Eyes Only should not be done as a tactic to avoid conducting document review. …

Responding to discovery requests should not ignore requests for production. Parties often get lost in search terms, focusing on document review as process independent of the claims of the lawsuit. Lawyers should resist that quagmire and focus document review to respond to the requests for production. Developing searches is the first step in responding, however, a search strategy should not simply be keywords. Searches should be built with the requests, including date ranges, messages sent between individuals, and other methods to focus on the merits of the case, not document review for the sake of document review.

The occurrence of a keyword term in a paper document, or a computer file, or any other ESI does not make the file relevant. A ESI file is relevant depending on the overall content of the file, not just one word.

Procedural Background

Here is Judge Jill L. Burkhardt concise explanation of the factual, procedural background of the keyword dispute (citations to the record omitted).

On May 9, 2017, Wakaya emailed Youngevity to discuss the use of search terms to identify and collect potentially responsive electronically-stored information (ESI) from the substantial amount of ESI both parties possessed. Wakaya proposed a three-step process by which: “(i) each side proposes a list of search terms for their own documents; (ii) each side offers any supplemental terms to be added to the other side’s proposed list; and (iii) each side may review the total number of results generated by each term in the supplemented lists (i.e., a ‘hit list’ from our third-party vendors) and request that the other side omit any terms appearing to generate a disproportionate number of results.” On May 10, 2017, while providing a date to exchange search terms, Youngevity stated that the “use of key words as search aids may not be used to justify non-disclosure of responsive information.” On May 15, 2017, Youngevity stated that “[w]e are amenable to the three step process described in your May 9 e-mail….” Later that day, the parties exchanged lists of proposed search terms to be run across their own ESI. On May 17, 2017, the parties exchanged lists of additional search terms that each side proposed be run across the opposing party’s ESI.

The plaintiffs never produced their hit list as promised and as demanded by Defendants several times after the agreement was reached. Instead, they produced all documents on the hit list, some 4.2 Million pages, and labeled them all AEO. The defendants primarily objected to calling the plaintiffs’ labeling all documents Attorneys Eyes Only, instead of Confidential. The complaint about the production defect by producing all documents with hits, instead of all documents that were responsive, seems like an after thought.

Keyword Search Was New in the 1980s

The focus in this case on keyword search alone, instead of using a Hybrid Multimodal approach, is how a majority of ill-informed lawyers today still handle legal search today. I think keywords are an acceptable way to start a conversation, and begin a review, but to use keyword search alone  hearkens back to the dark ages of document review, the mid-nineteen eighties. That is when lawyers first started using keyword search. Remember the Blair & Maron study of the San Francisco subway litigation document search? The study was completed in 1985. It found that when the lawyers and paralegals thought they had found over 75% of the relevant documents using keyword search, that they had in fact only found 20%. Blair, David C., & Maron, M. E., An evaluation of retrieval effectiveness for a full-text document-retrieval system; Communications of the ACM Volume 28, Issue 3 (March 1985).

The Blair Maron study is thirty-three years old and yet today we still have lawyers using keyword search alone, like it was the latest and greatest. The technology gap in the law is incredibly large. This is especially true when it comes to document review where the latest AI enhanced technologies are truly great. WHY I LOVE PREDICTIVE CODING: Making Document Review Fun Again with Mr. EDR and Predictive Coding 4.0. Wake up lawyers. We have come a long was since the 1980s and keyword search.

Judge Burkhardt’s Ruling

Back to the Dumb and Dumber story in Youngevity as told to us by the smartest person in that room, by far, Judge Burkhardt:

The Court suggested that a technology-assisted review (TAR) may be the most efficient way to resolve the myriad disputes surrounding Youngevity’s productions.

Note this suggestion seems to have been ignored by both sides. Are you surprised? At least the judge tried. Not back to the rest of the Dumb and Dumber story:

designated as AEO. Youngevity does not claim that the documents are all properly designated AEO, but asserts that this mass designation was the only way to timely meet its production obligations when it produced documents on July 21, 2017 and August 22, 2017. It offers no explanation as to why it has not used the intervening five months to conduct a review and properly designate the documents, except to say, “Youngevity believes that the parties reached an agreement on de-designation of Youngevity’s production which will occur upon the resolution of the matters underlying this briefing.” Why that de-designation is being held up while this motion is pending is not evident.

Oh yeah. Try to BS the judge. Another dumb move. Back to the story:

Wakaya argues that Youngevity failed to review any documents prior to production and instead provided Wakaya with a “document dump” containing masses of irrelevant documents, including privileged information, and missing “critical” documents. Youngevity’s productions contain documents such as Business Wire news emails, emails reminding employees to clean out the office
refrigerator, EBay transaction emails, UPS tracking emails, emails from StubHub, and employee file and benefits information. Youngevity argues that it simply provided the documents Wakaya requested in the manner that Wakaya instructed.  …

Wakaya demanded that Youngevity review its production and remove irrelevant and non-responsive documents.

The poor judge is now being bothered by motions and phone calls as the many lawyers for both sides bill like crazy and ask for her help. Judge Burkhardt again does the smart thing and pushed the attorneys to use TAR and, since it is obvious they are clueless, to hire vendors to help them to do it.

[T]he Court suggested that conducting a TAR of Youngevity’s productions might be an efficient way to resolve the issues. On October 5, 2017, the parties participated in another informal discovery conference with the Court because they were unable to resolve their disputes relating to the TAR process and the payment of costs associated with TAR. The Court suggested that counsel meet and confer again with both parties’ discovery vendors participating. Wakaya states that on October 6, 2017, the parties participated in a joint call with their discovery vendors to discuss the TAR process.  The parties could not agree on who would bear the costs of the TAR process. Youngevity states that it offered to pay half the costs associated with the TAR process, but Wakaya would not agree that TAR alone would result in a document production that satisfied Youngevity’s discovery obligations. Wakaya argued that it should not have bear the costs of fixing Youngevity’s improper productions. On October 9, 2017, the parties left a joint voicemail with the Court stating that they had reached a partial agreement to conduct a TAR of Youngevity’s production, but could not resolve the issue of which party would bear the TAR costs. In response to the parties’ joint voicemail, the Court issued a briefing schedule for the instant motion.

Makes you want to tear your hair out just to read it, doesn’t it? Yet the judge has to deal with junk like this every day. Patience of a saint.

More from Judge Burkhardt, who does a very good survey of the relevant law, starting at page four of the opinion (I suggest you read it). Skipping to the Analysis segment of the opinion at pages five through nine, here are the highlights, starting with a zinger against all counsel concerning the Rule 26(g) arguments:

Wakaya fails to establish that Youngevity violated Rule 26(g). Wakaya does not specifically claim that certificates signed by Youngevity or its counsel violate Rule 26(g). Neither party, despite filing over 1,600 pages of briefing and exhibits for this motion, provided the Court with Youngevity’s written discovery responses and certification. The Court declines to find that Youngevity improperly certified its discovery responses when the record before it does not indicate the content of Youngevity’s written responses, its certification, or a declaration stating that Youngevity in fact certified its responses. See Cherrington Asia Ltd. v. A & L Underground, Inc., 263 F.R.D. 653, 658 (D. Kan. 2010) (declining to impose sanctions under Rule 26(g) when plaintiffs do not specifically claim that certificates signed by defendant’s counsel violated the provisions of Rule 26(g)(1)). Accordingly, Wakaya is not entitled to relief under Rule 26(g).

Wow! Over 1,600 pages of memos and nobody provided the Rule 26(g) certification to the court that plaintiffs’ counsel allegedly violated. Back to the Dumb and Dumber story as told to us by Judge Burkhardt:

Besides establishing that Youngevity’s production exceeded Wakaya’s requests, the record indicates that Youngevity did not produce documents following the protocol to which the parties agreed.  … Youngevity failed to produce its hit list to Wakaya, and instead produced every document that hit upon any proposed search term. Had Youngevity provided its hit list to Wakaya as agreed and repeatedly requested, Wakaya might have proposed a modification to the search terms that generated disproportionate results, thus potentially substantially reducing the number of documents requiring further review and ultimate production. …

Second, Youngevity conflates a hit on the parties’ proposed search terms with responsiveness.[11] The two are not synonymous. Youngevity admits that it has an obligation to produce responsive documents. Youngevity argues that because each document hit on a search term, “the documents Youngevity produced are necessarily responsive to Wakaya’s Requests.” Search terms are an important tool parties may use to identify potentially responsive documents in cases involving substantial amounts of ESI. Search terms do not, however, replace a party’s requests for production. See In re Lithium Ion Batteries Antitrust Litig., No. 13MD02420 YGR (DMR), 2015 WL 833681, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2015) (noting that “a problem with keywords ‘is that they often are over inclusive, that is, they find responsive documents but also large numbers of irrelevant documents’”) (quoting Moore v. Publicis Groupe , 287 F.R.D. 182, 191 7 of 11 (S.D.N.Y. 2012)). UPS tracking emails and notices that employees must clean out the refrigerator are not responsive to Wakaya’s requests for production solely because they hit on a search term the parties’ agreed upon.

It was nice to see my Da Silva Moore case quoted on keyword defects, not just approval of predictive coding. The quote refers to what know known as the lack of PRECISION in using untested keyword search. One of the main advantages of active machine learning it to improve precision and keep lawyers from wasting their time reading messages about refrigerator cleaning.

Now Judge Burkhardt is ready to rule:

The Court is persuaded that running proposed search terms across Youngevity’s ESI, refusing to honor a negotiated agreement to provide a hit list which Wakaya was to use to narrow its requested search terms, and then producing all documents hit upon without reviewing a single document prior to production or engaging in any other quality control measures, does not satisfy Youngevity’s discovery obligations. Further, as is discussed below, mass designation of every document in both productions as AEO clearly violates the Stipulated Protective Order in this case. Youngevity may not frustrate the spirit of the discovery rules by producing a flood of documents it never reviewed, designate all the documents as AEO without regard to whether they meet the standard for such a designation, and thus bury responsive documents among millions of produced pages. See Queensridge Towers, LLC v. Allianz Glob. Risks US Ins. Co. , No. 2:13-CV-00197-JCM, 2014 WL 496952, at *6-7 (D. Nev. Feb. 4, 2014) (ordering plaintiff to supplement its discovery responses by specifying which documents are responsive to each of defendant’s discovery requests when plaintiff responded to requests for production and interrogatories by stating that the answers are somewhere among the millions of pages produced). Youngevity’s productions were such a mystery, even to itself, that it not only designated the entirety of both productions as AEO, but notified Wakaya that the productions might contain privileged documents. Accordingly, Wakaya’s request to compel proper productions is granted, as outlined below. See infra Section IV.

Judge Jill Burkhardt went on the award fees and costs to be taxed against the plaintiffs.

Conclusion

A document is never responsive, never relevant, just because it has a keyword in it. As Judge Burkhardt put it, that conflates a hit on the parties’ proposed search terms with responsiveness. In some cases, but not this one, a request for production may explicitly demand production of all documents that contain certain keywords. If such a request is made, then you should object. We are seeing more and more improper requests like this. The rules do not allow for a request to produce documents with certain keywords regardless of the relevance of the documents. (The reasonably calculated phrase was killed in 2015 and is no longer good law.) The rules and case law do not define relevance in terms of keywords. They define relevance in terms of proportional probative value to claims and defense raised. Again, as Judge Burkhardt out it, search terms do not …replace a party’s requests for production.

I agree with Josh Gilliland who said parties often get lost in search terms, focusing on document review as process independent of the claims of the lawsuit. The first step in my TAR process is ESI communications or Talk. This includes speaking with the requesting party to clarify the documents sought. This should mean discussion of the claims of the lawsuit and what the requesting party hopes to find. Keywords are just a secondary byproduct of this kind of discussion. Keywords are not an end in themselves. Avoid that quagmire as Josh says and focus on clarifying the requests for production. Focus on Rule 26(b)(1) relevance and proportionality.

Another lesson, do not get stuck with just using keywords. We have come up with many other search tools since the 1980s. Use them. Use all of them. Go Multimodal. In a big complex case like Youngevity Int’l Corp. v. Smith, be sure to go Hybrid too. Be sure to use the most powerful search tool of all,  predictive coding. See TAR Course for detailed instruction on Hybrid Multimodal. The robots will eat your keywords for lunch.

The AI power of active machine learning was the right solution available to the plaintiffs all along. Judge Burkhardt tried to tell them. Plaintiffs did not have to resort to dangerous production without review just to avoid paying their lawyers to read about their refrigerator cleanings. Let the AI read about all of that. It reads at near the speed of light and never forgets. If you have a good AI trainer, which is my specialty, the AI will understand what is relevant and find what you are looking for.


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