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Case Summary: Rhoads Indus.; Attorney Client Privilege, the Waiver of Privilege, and Reasonable Precautions

Posted by rjbiii on December 8, 2008

Case Summary: Rhoads Indus. v. Bldg. Materials Corp. of Am., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93333 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 14, 2008 )

In a question of the adequacy of a keyword screening protocol, the court entertains a motion to deem plaintiff had waived privilege as to approximately 800 inadvertently produced documents. Rhoads filed the action against Bldg. Materials Corp. of America (“GAF”) for, inter alia, breach of contract, and against R.W. Cooper & Co. (“Cooper”) for negligent misrepresentation.

Rhoads began preparing for the litigation in February, 2007. In June 2007, upon realizing that e-discovery would be extensive in the case, he hired Salvatore Gramaglia as an IT expert. Mr. Gramaglia, after conducting tests, Mr. Gramaglia purchased a license for “Discovery Attender” to be used in electronic searches. Mr. Gramaglia and Kimberly Buchinsky, an associate at Gowa Lincoln P.C., began identifying mailboxes containing relevant information to Rhoads’ project with GAF. The court stated that “Gramaglia and Buchinsky reasonably believed that the computer program would screen out all privileged materials.” Efforts to settle the dispute were unsuccessful, and on November 13, 2008, Rhoads filed the complaint. Discovery commenced shortly thereafter. Sam Washawer, a was bought in by Rhoads for the litigation. He discussed the scope of e-discovery with Mr. Gramaglia and Ms. Buchinsky, and observed the performance of Discovery Attender. He also conferred with Gramaglia and Buchinsky over the topic of search terms for searches.

During January and February of 2008, Gramaglia performed searches using terms supplied by counsel, initially identifying 210,635 documents as “being responsive.” His priv filter consisted of searching the “address line of all e-mails for these terms: *rhoadsinc* and either *gowa*, *ballard*, or *cpmi*. “Gowa” and “Ballard” represents Rhoads’ law firms, while “CPMI” refers to a non-testifying expert for plaintiff. This search resulted in the designation of 2,000 documents as “privileged,” although they were not placed on a privilege log at that time.

In response to the large volume of documents initially returned, counsel narrowed the responsive search criteria, reducing the total documents returned to 78,000 that plaintiff believed were responsive and non-privileged. Ms. Buchinsky then manually reviewed documents from specific mailboxes for privilege. She removed certain documents from the production, and entered them on a privilege log. Meanwhile, counsel also reviewed twenty-two boxes of hard copy documents for responsiveness and privilege.

On May 13, 2008, Rhoads produced to Δ’s, three hard drives containing responsive electronic documents, including the 78,0000 documents returned by the responsive “screen.”

On June 6, 2008, Rhoads produced two privilege logs to Δ’s, in response to a court order. One log was associated with Ms. Buchinsky’s manual review, while the other contained hard copy documents.

On June 5, 2008, Δ’s GAF notified Π’s counsel that some privileged e-mails may have been produced. Π immediately responded by asserting that no privilege had been waived, and that this was likely a case of inadvertent production. Over the next two and a half weeks, Π then conducted nine depositions and responded to Δ Cooper’s Motion to Dismiss before addressing the privilege issue.

On or about June 23, 2008, Ms. Buchinsky began reviewing the 78,000 e-mails produced as a result of the responsive searches executed in Discovery Attender. She generated a new privilege log identifying 812 emails as privileged, producing it to Δ’s on June 30, 2008 as an attachment to a letter invoking FRCP 26(b)(5)(B) to have Δ’s sequester the inadvertently produced documents.

On August 19, 2008, Δ Cooper filed a Motion to Deem that Plaintiff had waived the Privilege to the approximately 800 documents. Δ GAF filed a motion joining Cooper’s motion on August 25, 2008. Defendants did not dispute that the production was inadvertent and that the software purchased by Rhoads was designed to ferret out privileged documents. Defendants did argue that Rhoads’s technical consultant and counsel were not sufficiently careful to review the software screening and to take steps to prevent disclosure when it appeared obvious that privileged material had filtered through the screening procedure.

On November 5, 2008, the first hearing on the waiver of privilege was conducted. All three privileged logs were produced. Mr. Gramaglia and Ms. Buchinsky testified as to the method of creation of the logs, and their relationship to each other. Rhoads admitted that 2,000 e-mails previously designated as privilege had not yet been disclosed in a privilege log. Ms. Buchinsky testified to her belief that a manual review of all 78,000 emails would have resulted in the timely identification of those documents in a privilege log. The court then ordered that any documents not on a privilege log as of the date of that hearing should be produced, absent exceptional circumstances.

After the hearing, Rhoads inspected the 2,000 documents earlier set aside, but not identified in a log, as privilege. The results of this inspection were discussed on a hearing on November 13, 2008. Rhoads concluded that 941 documents were duplicative. Of the 1059 unique documents, 511 were responsive, consisting of 335 privileged documents and 176 non-privileged documents. Of the 335 privileged documents, 215 had been previously identified in other logs. Rhoads agreed to produce the 176 responsive non-privileged documents, and generated a fourth privilege log. The court expressed its opinion that Rhoads might still retain privileged and un-logged documents.

The court then weighed the facts using the five factor test laid out in Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md. v. McCulloch, 168 F.R.D. 516 (E.D. Pa. 1996). These factors are:

(1) The reasonableness of the precautions taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure in view of the extent of the document production.
(2) The number of inadvertent disclosures.
(3) The extent of the disclosure.
(4) Any delay and measures taken to rectify the disclosure.
(5) Whether the overriding interests of justice would or would not be served by relieving the party of its errors.

On the first factor (reasonableness taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure), the court found that the following factors favored the plaintiff (producing party):

1. Plaintiff purchased a special software program, Discovery Attender, for the purposes of complying with discovery in this litigation.
2. Plaintiff’s technical consultant (Mr. Gramaglia) conducted trial searches prior to purchasing the software and was satisfied with its reliability and accuracy.
3. Mr. Gramaglia was experienced with Rhoads’s computer system.
4. Plaintiff believed that its search terms would pick up all attorney-client communication.
5. Plaintiff did not use “Warshawer” or “Costello” (outside counsel) as search terms because counsel believed Gowa was included on all e-mails going to the client.
6. Plaintiff did not include “privileged” or “confidential” as keyword search terms because all Rhoads e-mails use these words in the signature line at the bottom of every e-mail, and thus use of these words would have identified every Rhoads document as privileged.
7. Ms. Buchinsky spent over 40 hours reviewing documents for privilege before production. Additional attorneys spent significant hours on the privilege review.

The court found the following factors favored defendants (requesting parties):

1. Plaintiff should have used additional search terms to weed out potentially privileged documents, especially the names of all of its attorneys. Here the court cited Bensel v. Air Line Pilot Ass’n, 248 F.R.D. 177, 180 (D.N.J. 2008).
2. Ms. Buchinsky had no prior experience doing a privilege review and her supervising attorneys did not provide any detailed oversight.
3. Plaintiff’s search for privileged documents was limited to e-mail address lines (as opposed to the e-mail body). Therefore any potentially privileged e-mails (as defined by Plaintiff’s search terms) that were subsequently forwarded outside of Rhoads and either Gowa, Ballard, or CPMI would not be captured by its search.
4. Plaintiff produced documents that its limited search should have caught. Therefore Plaintiff not only failed to craft the right searches, but the searches it ran failed. Plaintiff has no explanation for this.
5. As Stanley notes, relying exclusively on a keyword search for the purpose of conducting a privilege review is risky, and proper quality assurance testing is a factor in whether precautions were reasonable. Victor Stanley, 250 F.R.D. at 257, 260. Here there was no testing of the reliability or comprehensiveness of the keyword search.
6. Plaintiff’s only testing of its search was to run the same search again

On the second factor, the number of inadvertent documents produced, the court found this fact favored plaintiffs:

1. The number of documents inadvertently produced represent a small percentage (1-2%) of the total production.

The court found these facts weighed in favor of defendants:

1. 800 inadvertently produced documents plus at least 120 privileged documents that this Court now orders be produced is still a large number of documents regardless of the percentage produced.
2. The court in Stanley found that 165 documents was a sufficiently large number to favor waiver of the privilege.

The court stated that nothing in the record indicated whether the third factor (the extent of the disclosure) weighed in favor of one party over the other.

On the fourth factor (Any delay and measures taken to rectify the disclosure), the court found these facts favored plaintiffs:

1. Plaintiff immediately responded to Defendant’s e-mail that some potentially privileged documents had been produced by stating that production was inadvertent and inquiring which documents Defendant was referring to;
2. As relied on in Fidelity, Plaintiff was under a tight discovery schedule at the time it was notified of the inadvertent production. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 168 F.R.D. at 522. Ms. Buchinsky was helping prepare for nine depositions taken over the course of twelve days. Plaintiffs also had to respond to Defendant Cooper’s Motion to Dismiss during this time.
3. Plaintiff invoked the remedial measure of FRCP 26(b)(5)(B) to have the inadvertently produced documents sequestered at the same time it produced the June 30th privilege log (Ex. D-1), three weeks after learning of the disclosure.
4. Plaintiff was willing to produce a cleansed hard drive (i.e. without the privileged documents) to Defendants in September, but Defendants refused the hard drive.
5. Defendant did not file their Motion to Deem that the Privilege was Waived until two months after Plaintiff produced the June 30th privilege log.

Those facts favoring defendants:

1. Plaintiff had abundant time to review its own documents and segregate any privileged documents before it started the litigation and also before it began producing documents in May 2008;
2. The crunch and time pressure that Plaintiff claims it suffered in June 2008 were caused by Plaintiff not providing adequate resources (e.g. attorneys or paralegals) to the privileged communication issue;
3. Defendants had to bring Plaintiff’s error to its attention instead of Plaintiff catching its own mistake (cites Victor Stanley).
4. It took Plaintiff over three weeks to produce a privilege log of the inadvertently produced documents once it was aware of its mistake.
5. The June 30th privilege log required Defendants to cross-reference each document produced to them against the log to check whether documents were in fact privileged. Plaintiff did not offer Defendants a cleansed hard drive until September.
6. Plaintiffs did not offer suggestions to rectify the inadvertent production until October, after many depositions had been taken.

On the final factor (Whether the overriding interests of justice would or would not be served by relieving the party of its errors), the court found these facts weighed in favor of the plaintiffs:

1. Plaintiff has shown general compliance with the three conditions of Rule 502, although considering the factors in the prior case law, Plaintiff is responsible for the confusion and delay noted above;
2. The loss of privilege would be highly prejudicial to the Plaintiff;
3. Defendants have not demonstrated substantial unfairness that they have suffered because of their inability to review the privileged documents beyond having to cross-reference documents against the June 30th privilege log.

Favoring defendants:

1. Plaintiff should have conducted a more rigorous privilege review and allowing Plaintiff to retain the privilege in these documents may not deter similar conduct in the future.

The court then concluded its opinion by ruling the following:
Those documents that were never logged after designation (part of the 2000 e-mails initially designated as privileged, but not listed in a privilege log until after the Nov. 5 hearing) were not subject to protection, as a failure to identify privilege documents in a log in a timely manner violates FRCP 26(b)(5).

With respect to the documents that were inadvertently produced, the court stated that neither Victor Stanley or Amersham were controlling. The court stated that although the facts in Victor Stanley were similar to those in the instant matter, Judge Grimm’s analysis reflects, to a more significant degree than [the court] believe[s] appropriate, application of hindsight, which should not carry much weight, if any, because no matter what methods an attorney employed, an after-the-fact critique can always conclude that a better job could have been done. The court found that factors one through four favored defendants, while the fifth strongly supported plaintiffs. As defendants have the burden of proof as the moving party, the court concluded that this burden had not been met, and privilege was not waived for these documents.

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Posted in 3d Circuit, Attorney Client Privilege, Case Summary, E.D. Pa., Judge Michael M. Baylson, Privilege, Privilege Log, Search Protocols, Waiver of Privilege | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Rhoads Indus.; Keywords and Emails

Posted by rjbiii on December 8, 2008

The advent of electronically stored information (“ESI”) has been widely discussed and has already resulted in amendments to the discovery rules. Keyword and name searches are frequently employed as an initial method to screen and sort documents, but they are not foolproof. For instance, privileged communications frequently creep into e-mail “chains,” but may appear only to some participants in the chain depending on a user’s application of the “reply” and “forward” commands. These issues [invariably] led to at least some of Rhoads’ inadvertent disclosures.

Rhoads Indus. v. Bldg. Materials Corp. of Am., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93333 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 14, 2008 )

Posted in 3d Circuit, Case Blurbs, E.D. Pa., email, Judge Michael M. Baylson, Key Words, Search Protocols | Leave a Comment »

Case Summary: Harding, Earley; The “do’s” and “don’ts” of Website Captures

Posted by rjbiii on June 22, 2008

Healthcare Advocates, Inc. v. Harding, Earley, Follmer & Frailey, 497 F. Supp. 2d 627, 650 (E.D. Pa. 2007)

Healthcare Advocates (“HA”), a patient advocacy group that helps its members deal with health care providers, brought an action against a competitor alleging trademark infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. The competitor was represented by Harding, Earley, Follmer & Frailey (“Harding”), a “boutique” law firm specializing in intellectual property matters. Harding began investigating HA, and part of that investigation consisted of using the internet to do searches and view the the group’s website. Harding also used a tool known as the “wayback” machine to look at materials that had been posted to the web in the past.

The wayback machine, maintained by the Internet Archive, stores screenshots from websites that can be looked up by any interested internet surfer. This allowed Harding to HA’s website pages as they would have appeared before the litigation began. Harding printed some of these pages, and some of these prints were during the course of the litigation. Harding did not save any of the images to hard drives.

HA had placed a file, named Robots.txt, on its website server to direct indexing engines and the wayback machine from pages that HA did not want accessed or displayed by the public. On this occasion, however, this protective measure failed, and the wayback machine displayed “forbidden” content to Harding. The failure was due to an issue with the wayback machine’s servers, and not with any action taken by Harding.

Nevertheless, HA brought this action against Harding, alleging, inter alia, that Harding had: violated provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (“DMCA”); infringed upon their copyrights by printing and unknowingly saving copies of the archived web pages in temporary memory, and distributing copies of the pages to co-counsel; committed spoliation by failing to preserve the copies in temporary memory, violated provisions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) “by intentionally exceeding their access and obtaining information from protected computers used in interstate commerce;” and violated Pennsylvania laws with respect to conversion and trespass.

Harding requested summary judgment in its favor on all counts.

Copyright Infringement: The court found that HA had established both elements for infringement. HA had a valid copyright on the materials found on its website, and had demonstrated that Harding had “reproduced” and “publicly displayed” these materials. The court then conducted an analysis to determine whether Harding’s actions were permissible under the Fair Use Doctrine.

The court began by listing the factors considered for Fair Use:

  1. “the nature and character of the use” by the alleged infringer;
  2. “the nature of the copyrighted work;”
  3. “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and”
  4. “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

The court then continued its examination. For the first factor, although it noted that the display and copying of the website content was in pursuit of a profitable activity, that it nevertheless cut in favor of the law firm. The court noted that “[Harding] copied these materials as supporting documentation for the defense they planned to raise for their clients against the allegations,” and stated that “[i]t would be an absurd result if an attorney defending a client against charges of trademark and copyright infringement was not allowed to view and copy publicly available material, especially material that his client was alleged to have infringed.”

The court held that the second factor also cut in favor of Harding, because the the data copied was of an informational nature.

The third factor cut in favor of HA, as Harding copied and displayed the entire website, however, because the information was relevant in a pending litigation, and the firm had a duty to preserve such material, “the substantiality of the portion used does not militate against a finding of fair use.”

The fourth factor “militate[d] in favor of a finding of fair use.” Harding’s actions in copying and displaying the material were for the use in a lawsuit, and not for the purpose of “gaining a competitive advantage.” The court’s analysis concluded with a determination that Harding’s “infringing use is excusable under the doctrine of fair use.” The court granted Harding’s motion for a summary judgment with respect to HA’s copyright infringement claim.

Spoliation of Evidence: With respect to the specific case of the data copied to temporary files, the court noted that HA had not presented any evidence of what had been copied. HA argued that it deserved a “spoliation inference” because the Harding’s duty to preserve existed with respect to this data. The court began by discussing the three factor test used in the third circuit for spoliation determinations. “The considerations are: (1) the degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence, (2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party, and (3) whether there is a lesser sanction that will avoid substantial unfairness to the opposing party and where the offending party is seriously at fault, will serve to deter such conduct by others in the future.”

In examining the facts in the context of the first factor, the court found that because the files were deleted automatically, and not by an affirmative action on the part of Harding, the factor weighed in favor of Harding. The court was not convinced by HA’s argument that Harding’s failure to immediately “remove the computers from further use” did not “shock the conscience.” Nor did the court find persuading HA’s argument that Harding should have taken measures once it received a subsequent letter demanding all evidence be preserved, as the firm felt that nothing relevant had been saved onto the hard drives of its computers.

The second factor, likewise, weighed in favor of a finding against spoliation, because the court concluded that HA suffered no real prejudice from the loss of this data.

The court determined that the final factor cut the same way as the other two, when it stated: “[t]he Harding firm did not purposefully destroy evidence. To impose a sanction on the Harding firm for not preserving temporary files that were not requested, and might have been lost the second another website was visited, does not seem to be a proper situation for an adverse spoilation inference.”

The Claim under the DMCA: The court then turned to examine HA’s claim that Harding had violated the provision in the DMCA under 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(A), prohibiting the circumvention of a technical mechanism designed to protect copyrighted material. Here, HA argued that Harding bypassed the protection of the “robots.txt” file, and thus was in violation of the measure. The court found that, “in this situation,” the placement of the file on the website constituted an anti-circumvention technological measure as defined under the DMCA. The court emphasized, however, that “this finding should not be interpreted as a finding that a robots.txt file universally qualifies as a technological measure that controls access to copyrighted works under the DMCA.”

The court continued by noting that the defect was with Internet Archive’s server, and that when used by Harding, it was as though the protective measure was not present. Harding accessed the data, but not by circumventing the protection, and was therefore not in violation of the DMCA. Harding’s motion for summary judgment on HA’s DMCA claim was granted.

HA’s claim under the CFFA: HA argued that Harding’s viewing of the content prohibited by the Robots.txt file constituted a violation of the CFAA. The court concluded that Internet Archive’s computers were used in interstate commerce, and were protected under the act, and that the costs accrued by HA in investigating the unauthorized access, estimated in excess of $9,600, met the statutory threshold. However, merely using a public website does not create liability under the act, and HA was unable to present evidence of prohibited activity, and Harding’s motion for summary judgment on the CFFA claim was granted.

HA’s claims for trespass to chattels and conversion: The final two claims arose under state law, and the court concluded that these claims were preempted by the federal copyright claims under 17 U.S.C. § 301(a), that the court had already examined. Harding’s motion summary judgement with respect to the state law claims was also granted.

Posted in 3d Circuit, Case Summary, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Conversion, Copyright Infringement, Data Sources, Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Duty to Preserve, Duty to Produce, E.D. Pa., Judge Robert F. Kelly Sr., Spoliation, Trespass to Chattels, Website Capture | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Judge: Attorney ‘crossed the line from zealous advocate to sanctionable conduct’

Posted by rjbiii on October 7, 2007

Judge James Gardner, a district court judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declared:

In his opinion, Gardner said the defendant insurance companies and their counsel interposed a number of legally deficient general objections to discovery requests for the purpose of delaying the case and increasing costs. The judge laid most of the blame on Summers, the former lead counsel for the defense. Attorneys at Hangley Aronchick and Stevens & Lee had withdrawn as counsel last year, Fox said.

“John S. Summers … engaged in a course of conduct which constituted bad faith in this matter. I found his testimony evasive,” Gardner said. “I conclude that but for his actions, that the discovery process would have proceeded in a much more orderly and expeditious manner.

“If not for the actions of attorney Summers, there would have been no need to appoint a Special Discovery Master in this case,” he said. “Thus … it is clear that attorney Summers crossed the line from zealous advocacy to sanctionable conduct.”

The court concluded that the sole reasons for the “legally deficient objections” made by Mr. Summers was to delay discovery. An expert interviewed in the article stated that while such practice was standard trial strategy, Mr. Summers had taken it too far. Mr. Summer’s attorney in the matter, Lawrence Fox of Drinker Biddle & Reath, argued that such sanctions would “have a chilling effect on attorneys trying to protect their clients,” and that “‘a whole cottage industry’ would pop up to file sanctions motions.”

As I am not familiar with the particulars in the case, I won’t comment on the Mr. Summers’ culpability, however I do find it amusing that Mr. Fox defends the “cottage industry” of using delaying tactics in discovery while condemning another, imaginary cottage industry. Everyone on the business end of these sanctions always derides the effect on the practice of law, while ignoring the effects their own practices have had for years. Ethics laws have addressed the issue of delaying tactics, and standard practice or not, they should be greatly curtailed. That isn’t to say that parties involved in discovery shouldn’t be given time sufficient to overcome whatever procedural and technical challenges exist, but once it becomes obvious that counsel is merely objecting for the sake of delay, and is doing so in bad faith, all bets are off.

The sanctions imposed are monetary in nature, designed to cover legal costs incurred in filing motions for sanctions and costs associated with the hiring of a special discovery master. There has been a suggestion that an ethics charge might be forwarded to the appropriate bar committee. The sanctioned parties have vowed appeal the penalties.

Posted in 3d Circuit, Articles, E.D. Pa., Judge James Gardner, Sanctions | 1 Comment »