Post Process

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Archive for November 13th, 2007

Hard drive inspection requests during discovery

Posted by rjbiii on November 13, 2007 brings us an article on the protocols adopted by courts with respect to inspecting a party’s hard drive during discovery. As frequent readers of this page know, document production is typically left up to each party in a dispute. Thus, allowing one party (or its forenisc expert) to inspect another’s computer represents a bit of a departure from traditional practice:

As a federal district court judge recently observed, a computer itself is not evidence in most cases, but merely the instrument for creating evidence (like a typewriter) or the means of storing it (like a file cabinet).

Accordingly, today’s litigants routinely seek access to opponent’s computer hard drive to search for discoverable evidence, especially when the opposing party may not be forthcoming about deleted or transferred files.

Hard drive inspections, therefore, are likely to occur when one party is seen to be less than forthcoming with its productions than their obligations require.

Generally speaking, courts allow imaging of an opponent’s computer hard drive in situations involving an adversary’s unsatisfactory document production or a finding that a hard drive search would yield deleted items. For example, in Playboy Enters. v. Welles, 60 F.Supp.2d at 1050, rev’d on other grounds, Playboy Enters. v. Welles, 279 F.3d 796 (9th Cir. 2002), a trademark infringement case, the plaintiff’s discovery request included permission to have access to the defendant’s hard drive for the purpose of recovering deleted e-mails that allegedly were systematically erased after litigation commenced and that may have been highly relevant. In granting the defendant’s request, the court found that the need for the requested information outweighed the burden to the defendant. Some courts will issue discovery orders for expedited discovery at the outset of litigation when the subject matter of the dispute involves trade secrets or other sensitive information that can be easily erased or destroyed.

The article notes that often third party vendors are used to accomplish the inspection to prevent the perception (real or imagined) of the presence of bias or abuse in the process. The article also mentions that even when allowing these inspections, protections courts often establish protections against undue burdens or disclosure of privileged or private data. Remember in our last post, the court in Lakeside School set up a screening process so that an employee’s privileged “web based” e-mails were not disclosed to the school, despite the fact that the school owned the hard drive at issue, and the employee had signed an agreement allowing the school to inspect the computer.

Posted in Articles, Computer Forensics, FRCP 34(a), Hard Drive Inspections, Privacy, Scope of Discovery | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Case Summary: Lakeside School; Court lays out procedure for examining employee’s hard drive

Posted by rjbiii on November 13, 2007

In this employee discrimination case, defendant Lakeside School sought a court order allowing inspection of a hard drive from a laptop belonging to the school, but which had been assigned for use to plaintiff for use in the discharge of his duties while employed at the school. The employee argued that some information on the laptop was covered by attorney-client and marital privilege.

The court ruled that in general, the employee had no expectation of privacy for communications made on the laptop belonging to his employer: he had signed a document indicating that he had read the school’s employee handbook containing a policy allowing the school to inspect any computer it furnishes its employees; any communications made using the e-mail accounts provided by the school similarly was bereft of any expectation of privacy. However, the court ruled that “web based” e-mails made on the computer, communicating with employee’s spouse or attorney, were covered by privilege.

I”m guessing here that the term “web based e-mails” means that the employee had an e-mail account, with an ISP that was not associated with the school (like Yahoo or Hotmail), and that he used his business laptop to access and use those accounts. These are what the court protected.

Another interesting facet of the decision is that, in the absence of an agreed protocol by the parties, the court dictated the procedure the parties would use for inspection of the hard drive. The court allowed the school’s suggested procedure:

Lakeside would be willing to have its own expert, at its own expense [ ], provide both parties’ counsel with a list of files (deleted and active) from Mr. Sims’ computer … Plaintiffs’ counsel can then identify any files they believe are privileged, as well as the nature of the privilege being asserted. Lakeside will then review any remaining files over which no claim of privilege is made, and will determine whether any of plaintiffs’ privilege designations should be challenged.

K&L Gates has their own summary here, and a copy of the opinion here (MS Word format).

Sims v. Lakeside School, 2007 WL 2745367 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 20, 2007)

Posted in 9th Circuit, Attorney Client Privilege, Case Summary, Computer Forensics, Privacy, W.D. Wash. | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Case Blurb: Hawaiian Airlines; Factors to Consider before Imposing a Default or Dismissal Sanction

Posted by rjbiii on November 13, 2007

A default or dismissal sanction can be imposed only based upon a finding of willfulness, fault, or bad faith. In addition, the court should consider: (1) the public’s interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court’s need to manage its dockets; (3) the risk of prejudice to the party seeking sanctions; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions.

A list of factors like this one “amounts to a way for a district judge to think about what to do, not a series of conditions precedent before the judge can do anything, and not a script for making what the district judge does appeal proof.”

In re Hawaiian Airlines, Inc., 2007 WL 3172642 (Bkrtcy. D.Hawaii October 30, 2007).

Posted in 9th Circuit, Case Blurbs, D. Hawaii, Default Judgment, Dismissal of Case | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Hawaiian Airlines; Purpose of spoliation doctrine

Posted by rjbiii on November 13, 2007

The spoliation doctrine serves various purposes. One set of purposes is evidentiary and remedial: as a matter of common sense, it is reasonable to assume that, when a person destroys evidence, the evidence was unfavorable to that person; and when evidence is destroyed that might have benefitted one party, it is appropriate to impose a sanction that restores the evidentiary status quo. The second category is prophylactic and punitive: spoliation sanctions deter others who might be tempted to destroy evidence and uphold the integrity of the judicial process.

In re Hawaiian Airlines, Inc., 2007 WL 3172642 (Bkrtcy. D.Hawaii October 30, 2007).

Posted in 9th Circuit, Case Blurbs, D. Hawaii, Sanctions, Spoliation | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »