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FL Case Blurb: Elec. Mach. Enters.; Spoliation as a Cause of Action in Fed/Fl. Courts

Posted by rjbiii on December 17, 2009

Spoliation encompasses two related but distinct concepts–an independent cause of action and evidentiary sanctions. The first form of remedy for spoliation is an independent cause of action at common law, arising under state tort or negligence law. There is no federal cause of action for spoliation. See, e.g., Sterbenz v. Attina, 205 F. Supp. 2d 65, 74 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (holding that the inherent power of a federal court to sanction litigants “does not effectively afford a federal cause of action for spoliation where a state law claim does not exist”). At one time, Florida law recognized both a first-party cause of action brought by a party to the underlying lawsuit and a third-party cause of action brought against a non-party for either negligent or intentional spoliation of evidence. See Gayer v. Fine Line Constr. & Electric, Inc., 970 So. 2d 424, 426 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). However, after the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Martino, there is no longer a first-party cause of action for spoliation against the same defendant as in the underlying litigation. Martino v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 908 So. 2d 342, 346 n.2 (Fla. 2005); Gayer,970 So. 2d at 426. In Martino, the Florida Supreme Court held that the availability of sanctions, including the imposition of evidentiary presumptions and inferences, provides sufficient protection to the plaintiff where the defendant in the litigation commits negligent or intentional spoliation of evidence. 908 So. 2d at 346-47. As noted, Martino specifically did not displace the independent cause of action for spoliation against a third party. Id.; Jimenez v. Cmty. Asphalt Corp., 968 So. 2d 668, 671 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007).

Elec. Mach. Enters. v. Hunt Constr. Group, Inc. (In re Elec. Mach. Enters.), 2009 Bankr. LEXIS 2374 at *183-84 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 2009)(emphasis added).

Case Summary may be viewed here.

Posted in 11th Circuit, Bankruptcy Court, Bankruptcy Judge Michael G. Williamson, Case Blurbs, Case Blurbs-FL, Spoliation, State Courts | Leave a Comment »

A Tug of War over Forensics Applications and Formats

Posted by rjbiii on December 16, 2009

From two different blogs, we read of a fascinating criminal case involving a tug of war over evidence. Ultimately, the main points made by both the prosecution and defense missed the mark. A little knowledge could have gone a long way.

We begin by browsing over to Law Professor Susan Brenner CYB3RCRIM3 blog, to a post entitled Encase v. Ghost. Here she describes the case of State v. Dingman, 149 Wash.App. 648, 202 P.3d 388 (Washington Court of Appeals 2009), where a construction contractor specializing in building sunrooms was given a large deposit and money for materials, but who allegedly never finished the job. At trial, Mr. Dingman was convicted of 16 counts of theft and 11 counts of money laundering. He appeals. Why?

Because of the tug of war over evidence residing on his computer. Prior to trial, Dingman requested access to the files on his computers, which were seized by the state and still locked up. The state evidently made Encase images available to the defendant, but that wasn’t good enough. Why?

According to testimony, neither the Dingman legal team nor their forensics expert possessed a copy of the EnCase application (they thought) necessary to read the image. And Encase costs over $3,000 and required another $1,500 for training, according to Defendant’s expert. The State should, as they had in the past, provide a copy of the hard drive in a non-Encase format. Even better, allow the Defense to use its own tools to image the drives themselves. Ghost was specifically mentioned as the Defense’s tool of choice. The State objected. Why?

Evidently, the State believed that the Hard Drives could be damaged should they be released from custody, and that Ghost might produce an inaccurate copy. The States expert noted that he had a copy of Ghost, but did not use the tool for forensics. The State also argued that it didn’t need to “conform” its investigation to the “whims” of the defense, and that the Encase images had been happily accepted by all other defendants prior to this case. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion, and ordered the Prosecution to provide Encase images to the Defense.

After receiving a continuance to allow Defense the time to examine the drives, the trial court refused to grant a second, despite the Defense’s assertion that it had only been partially successful in reviewing the evidence. The Defense and their expert had only been able to access two of the nine drives, and on those two encountered files that it could not open. The trial continued, leading to the conviction of Mr. Dingman on several charges. Of course, we are not done. Why?

On appeal, the higher court cited a Federal district court decision stating that a defense expert should be able to “`utilize his or her hardware or software.'” The prosecution had not established for appropriate restrictions necessary to limit discovery in the manner occurring in the instant case. The Court of Appeals continued by holding that the lower court had “erred by requiring that the State provide only an EnCase mirror image of Dingman’s hard drives to the defense.” The State Supreme Court declined to review the opinion, and Mr. Dingman gets a new trial, should the state decide to a mulligan.

There is plenty wrong here. A lack of knowledge, and of collaboration, has cost the state a bit of money, time, and perhaps secured the liberty of someone who may not deserve it. Rather than lay it out here, however, I’ll direct you to Craig Ball’s commentary, where he does a fine job of discussing all of the issues. His post is called Stubborn v. Stupid.

Posted in Computer Forensics, EnCase, State Courts, Washington | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

CA Case Summary: Miyamoto; Trustworthiness and Database Records

Posted by rjbiii on October 2, 2009

Miyamoto v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 176 Cal. App. 4th 1210, 1212 (Cal. App. 6th Dist. 2009)

JXN: State Court, California

Procedural Standing: Appeal by DMV from a trial court ruling granting of writ of administrative mandamus and ordering DMV to set aside its order to suspend defendant’s driver’s license after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The trial court ruled that the forensic laboratory report (Lab Report) of Miyamoto’s blood test results was inadmissible hearsay and that the Lab Report failed to meet the requirements of the public employee records exception to the hearsay rule (CA_Evid_Code_§_1280) because the DMV did not establish that the Lab Report was prepared at or near the time of the analysis of Miyamoto’s blood sample.

Facts of the Case: Defendant driver was pulled over for speeding, and arrested after “performing poorly” in a field sobriety test. The police dept. obtained blood samples from defendant, and had them analyzed for alcohol content. The analyses found that Miyamoto’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit.

The Lab Report contained the following certification: “I, the undersigned certify under penalty of perjury that the above blood … analysis reported herein was performed during the regular course of my duties and is a true and correct representation of the results of my analysis. I further certify that I am a qualified … Forensic Alcohol Analyst (FAA) … employed by the Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory. The equipment used to perform the analysis was in proper working order at the time the analysis was performed and the recording of the analysis results was done at the time of the analysis. I further certify that the transfer of data for reporting purposes was performed electronically in accord with the laboratory’s policies and procedures.” The Lab Report was signed by “R. Desai, FAA.” The signature line, which included a line for the analyst to enter the “Date of review/report,” contained a handwritten date: “3/26/07.” The Lab Report contained the name of the “reviewer,” “Joyner.” A box in the middle of the report indicated that the “Date Printed” was “4/26/2007.”

Procedural History:At Miyamoto’s administrative hearing, the only contested issue was whether Miyamoto was driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. Miyamoto objected to the admission of the Lab Report as inadmissible for two reasons:
1. The report was hearsay because it was “untrustworthy” under Evid. Code § 1280(c) because it was certified 32 days before it was printed; and
2. The report wasn’t forwarded by the lab to the DMV within 15 days of the arrest, as required by the Vehicle Code.

The DMV hearing officer rejected Miyamoto’s objections, ruling that the report was admissible, and upholding the suspension of the defendant’s driving license.

Miyamoto petitioned the superior court for a writ of mandate to set aside the suspension order. Miyamoto argued that the Lab Report was not admissible under the public employee records exception to the hearsay rule for two reasons.
First, he asserted that the document was untrustworthy under Evid. Code § 1280(c) because although it was certified on March 26, 2007, it was not printed until April 26, 2007. Miyamoto argued that “[i]t is physically impossible for a person to sign a document which is not yet in existence.” Second, Miyamoto argued that even if the Lab Report was prepared on March 26, 2007, it was not admissible under the public employee records exception because it was not prepared “at or near the time” of the testing under Evid. Code § 1280(d), which occurred on March 23, 2007. He argued that since the Lab Report contained the only evidence of his blood-alcohol content and should have been excluded, there was insufficient evidence to support the hearing officer’s finding that he was driving with a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.08 percent.

The DMV opposed the petition, arguing that Miyamoto’s contentions were “without merit because the lab report expressly states that the recording of the analysis results was done at the time the analysis was performed.” The DMV argued that Miyamoto’s contentions were based on a mistaken interpretation of the report and that March 26, 2007, was not the date the lab results were reported but the date they were reviewed by the “reviewer.”

The court sided with defendant, finding that the Lab Report was “insufficient to meet the requirements of Evidence Code Section 1280, [subdivision] (b) because it does not establish that it was prepared at or near the time of the analysis and the entry of the data.” The court reasoned that both arguments were “equally probable,” and that the DMV had the burden of proving the report’s admissibility. Having failed to do that convincingly, the court ruled the document was not “trustworthy” under §1280(c) of the Evid. Code. Because it failed to establish that it was prepared at or near the time of the analysis and the entry of the data,” the court granted the writ. The court ordered the DMV to set aside its order suspending Miyamoto’s license, and awarded Miyamoto his costs of suit.

DMV appealed to the appellate court, contending that the trial court erred when it concluded that the Lab Report was inadmissible hearsay and asserts that, as a matter of law, the Lab Report was admissible under section 1280, because the test results were recorded at the time that the test was done. The DMV also contends that after the court found two equally probable interpretations of the March 26, 2007 date on the Lab Report, the court erred in finding in favor of Miyamoto because Miyamoto, not the DMV, had the burden of proof in the trial court.

Findings: The appellate court started by noting that in this case, the appropriate standard for review was the defferential abuse of discretion.

The trial court found that the lab report did not meet the timeliness requirement under § 1280(c) because it did not establish that it was prepared at or near the time of the analysis of the blood sample. The court reasoned that how soon a writing must be made after the act or event is a matter of degree and calls for the exercise of reasonable judgment on the part of the trial judge. This judgment is not to be made arbritrarily or by use of artificial time limits, but rather must take into account practical considerations, such as: the nature of the information recorded; and the immutable reliability of the sources from which the information was drawn. ‘Whether an entry made subsequent to the transaction has been made within a sufficient time to render it within the [hearsay] exception depends upon whether the time span between the transaction and the entry was so great as to suggest a danger of inaccuracy by lapse of memory.

§ 1280 applies to “writings” made as records of acts, conditions or events, and the evidence code defines the term broadly. The term includes: handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing, any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored. Here, the writing consists of records from a database, thus the critical date for the purpose of the public employee records exception to the hearsay rule is the date that the test results were first recorded in that database. In reviewing the timeliness requirement, the court should consider the length of time between the act, condition, or event and the date of its recording, not the date of its eventual retrieval by computer printout.

The court reviewed two cases in which the admissibility of lab reports was properly disallowed. In Glatman v. Valverde (2006) 146 Cal.App.4th 700, 703 [53 Cal. Rptr. 3d 319], the motorist’s blood sample was analyzed on July 25, 2005, and analyzed a second time, by another analyst, a day later. Both analysts signed the report, which was dated one week after the first test was done. The DMV argued that the analysts entered the test results into the lab’s computer database shortly after completing each test and that the preparation of the report one week later simply involved retrieving the data from the database. The appellate court disagreed and observed that the record was silent regarding the procedures that the analysts used to record their test results and that there was no evidence that the test results were recorded in a computer database or anywhere else before the report was prepared. The court in that case ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling the report inadmissible.

In Molenda v. Department of Motor Vehicles (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 974, 987 [91 Cal. Rptr. 3d 792], this same appellate court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it held that a forensic lab report was inadmissible because it was not prepared at or near the time of the recorded event. In Molenda, “there [was] no evidence the test result was entered into a computer database or recorded in any manner prior to the preparation of the written report, which was done one week after the analysis was completed. The report stated that information regarding the examination and conclusions are entered into and are maintained within the DOJ Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database. It did not state when the test results were entered into the database. Further, the record was silent regarding the lab’s policies and procedures for recording test results.

Because the trial court, in ruling the report inadmissible, focused on the date of certification rather than the date the results were recorded, it applied the wrong legal standard in drawing its conclusions, and abused its discretion in doing so. The trial court’s decision was reversed, and the case remanded with instructions to deny defendant’s petition for writ of mandamus and reinstate the suspension of his driver’s license.

Posted in Authentication, California, Case Summary-CA, Expert Witness, State Courts | Leave a Comment »

NJ Case Blurb: Stengart; Privilege waived when message to attorney created on company computer

Posted by rjbiii on April 9, 2009

The question posited is whether communication between an employee and her attorney through a personal, password protected, web-based E-mail account, but made on the employer’s computer, using and over the employer’s server, during business hours, is protected by the attorney client privilege, given employer’s provisions governing use of electronic communications with company issued equipment, resources and time. The Court finds that when an employee has knowledge of the employer’s electronic communication policy which adequately warns that any and all internet use and communication conducted on the employer’s computer is not private to the employee and warns that E-mail and voice mail messages, internet use and communication and computer files are considered part of the company’s business and client records, such communications are not protected by such attorney client privilege and are then not to be considered private or personal to any individual employee.

Stengart v. Loving Care Agency, Inc., No. BER-L-858-08 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div., March 6, 2009).

Posted in Case Blurbs-NJ, email, NJ, Privilege, State Courts, Waiver of Privilege | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

WA Case Blurb: Sitterson; Test for determining Waiver of Privilege by Inadvertent Disclosure

Posted by rjbiii on December 31, 2008

In adopting the Alldread approach, states the test has the following factors:

These factors are (1) the reasonableness of precautions taken to prevent disclosure, (2) the amount of time taken to remedy the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of the disclosure, and (5) the overriding issue of fairness.

Sitterson v. Evergreen Sch. Dist. No. 114, 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 2751 at *17 (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 25, 2008 )

Posted in Attorney Client Privilege, Case Blurbs-WA, State Courts, WA Judge David H. Armstrong, Waiver of Privilege, Washington | Leave a Comment »

FL Case Blurb: Martino, FL Supreme Court Finds no Separate Cause of Action for 1st Person Spoliation Claims

Posted by rjbiii on June 21, 2008

Post Process-This opinion is from the Supreme Court of Florida, and covers only law in Florida, which will differ is some aspects to Federal Law.

[W]e have held that when evidence was intentionally lost, misplaced, or destroyed by one party, trial courts were to rely on sanctions found in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.380(b)(2) and that “a jury could well infer from such a finding that the records would have contained indications of negligence.” Id.; see Mercer v. Raine, 443 So. 2d 944, 946 (Fla. 1983) (willful violation of trial court’s discovery order justified imposition of harsh sanction of default judgment against noncomplying party). If the loss of the evidence was determined to be negligent, the Third District’s [(an appellate court)] rebuttable presumption of negligence for the underlying tort applied. However, we clarified that the presumption only applied when “the absence of the records hinders [the plaintiff’s] ability to establish a prima facie case.” Id. This rebuttable presumption shifted the burden of proof under section 90.302(2), Florida Statutes (1985), so that the presumption “is not overcome until the trier of fact believes that the presumed [negligence] has been overcome by whatever degree of persuasion is required by the substantive law of the case.” Id. at 600-01 (quoting Caldwell v. Division of Retirement, 372 So. 2d 438, 440 (Fla. 1979)).

Martino v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 908 So. 2d 342, 346-347 (Fla. 2005)

Special Concurrence (Wells, J):

I concur with the majority’s opinion and reasoning in affirming the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision that there is no separate cause of action against a first-party defendant for spoliation of evidence. In instances in which it is demonstrated that a first-party defendant has a duty by reason of statute, regulation, court order, or discovery rule to maintain and preserve evidence, I believe this Court has already decided that the presumption from Public Health Trust of Dade County v. Valcin, 507 So. 2d 596, 601 (Fla. 1987), or sanctions should be used by the trial court. No separate cause of action, therefore, should be found to exist.

Martino v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 908 So. 2d 342, 348 (Fla. 2005)

Posted in Case Blurbs-FL, FL Sup. Ct. Justice Charles T. Wells, Florida, Spoliation, State Courts | Leave a Comment »

AL Case Blurb: Ex Parte Vulcan Materials; Supreme Court Looks to Federal Rules in Absence of Alabama Solution

Posted by rjbiii on June 21, 2008

Post Process-This is a Case Blurb from the State of Alabama, whose laws regarding discovery will differ from those of the Federal Courts.

[In an earlier case we] acknowledged that, although neither the courts of this state nor the legislature has developed standards for discovery of electronically stored information, the federal court system has addressed such standards. We directed the trial court to consider Cooper’s motion for a protective order in light of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(B) (“Specific Limitations in Electronically Stored Information”), and the factors set forth in Wiginton v. CB Richard Ellis, Inc., 229 F.R.D. 568 (N.D. Ill. 2004).

Ex parte Vulcan Materials Co., 2008 Ala. LEXIS 79 (Ala. Apr. 25, 2008 )

Posted in AL Sup. Ct. Justice Thomas A. Woodall, Alabama, Case Blurbs-AL, State Courts | Leave a Comment »

AL Case Blurb: Ex Parte Vulcan Materials; Limits on the Scope of Discovery

Posted by rjbiii on June 21, 2008

Post Process-This is a Case Blurb from the State of Alabama, whose laws regarding discovery will differ from those of the Federal Courts.

“‘The first step in determining whether the court has [exceeded] its discretion is to determine the particularized need for discovery, in light of the nature of the claim.'” Ex parte Henry, 770 So. 2d 76, 80 (Ala. 2000) (quoting Ex parte Rowland, 669 So. 2d 125, 127 (Ala. 1995) (emphasis added)). To be relevant to a constitutionally sanctioned punitive-damages review, any extraterritorial conduct of the defendant “must have a nexus to the specific harm suffered by the plaintiff.” Campbell, 538 U.S. at 422 (emphasis added). An action in one state may not be “used as a platform to expose, and punish, the perceived deficiencies of [a defendant’s] operations throughout the country.” Campbell, 538 U.S. at 420. “A defendant’s dissimilar acts, independent from the acts upon which liability was premised, may not serve as the basis for punitive damages. A defendant should be punished for the conduct that harmed the plaintiff ….” 538 U.S. at 422-23. This is so, because, “as a general rule,” a State does not “have a legitimate concern in imposing punitive damages to punish defendants for unlawful acts committed outside of the State’s jurisdiction.” 538 U.S. at 421. Thus, a litigant may not seek to support a punitive-damages award through discovery aimed at generic, undelineated out-of-state conduct.


Furthermore, discovery requests must generally be subject to reasonable temporal limitations. In Ex parte Orkin, we said:

“No bright line exists concerning the maximum period over which a litigant should be required to search for records. The length of that period depends on whether the records being searched are ‘relevant to the subject matter involved in the dispute.’ Rule 26(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P.; 8 Wright, Miller & Marcus, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2008 (1994). Even then, a litigant in a fraud action must show a substantial need for discovery of records that concern transactions with nonparties, that are older than five years, and that do not directly relate to the litigant’s own claim or defense.”

Ex parte Vulcan Materials Co., 2008 Ala. LEXIS 79, 19-20 (Ala. Apr. 25, 2008 )

Posted in AL Sup. Ct. Justice Thomas A. Woodall, Alabama, Case Blurbs-AL, Discovery Requests, Objections to Discovery Requests, Overly Broad Request, Scope of Discovery, State Courts | Leave a Comment »

AL Case Blurb: Cooper Tire and Rubber; Supreme Court Discusses Standards for Appealing Trial Court Decisions on Discovery

Posted by rjbiii on June 21, 2008

Post Process-This is a Case Blurb from the State of Alabama, whose laws regarding discovery will differ from those of the Federal Courts.

A writ of mandamus can be issued to affect the trial court’s control of the discovery process, but this Court’s review of a petition seeking a writ in a discovery dispute is particularly stringent: “The law relating to the issuance of a writ of mandamus in a case involving a discovery dispute was recently set out in Ex parte Henry, 770 So. 2d 76 (Ala. 2000). In Ex parte Henry, this Court stated: “‘Rule 26 Ala. R. Civ. P., governs the discovery of information in civil actions. When a dispute arises over discovery matters, the resolution of the dispute is left to the sound discretion of the trial court. “Discovery matters are within the trial court’s sound discretion, and its ruling on those matters will not be reversed absent a showing of abuse of discretion and substantial harm to the appellant.” Wolff v. Colonial Bank, 612 So. 2d 1146, 1146 (Ala. 1992) (citations omitted); see also Ex parte Hicks, 727 So. 2d 23, 33 (Ala. 1998 ) (Maddox, J., dissenting).

“‘… The writ of mandamus is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, to be issued only when there is (1) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court. Ex parte Horton, 711 So. 2d 979, 983 (Ala. 1998 ) (citing Ex parte United Serv. Stations, Inc., 628 So. 2d 501 (Ala. 1993)); Ex parte Alfab, Inc., 586 So. 2d 889, 891 (Ala. 1991) (citing Martin v. Loeb & Co., 349 So. 2d 9 (Ala. 1977)). Moreover, this Court will not issue a writ of mandamus compelling a trial judge to alter a discovery order unless this Court “determines, based on all the facts that were before the trial court, that the trial court clearly abused its discretion.” Ex parte Horton, 711 So. 2d at 983. Moreover, “‘[t]he right sought to be enforced by mandamus must be clear and certain with no reasonable basis for controversy about the right to relief,’ and ‘[t]he writ will not issue where the right in question is doubtful.'” Ex parte Bozeman, 420 So. 2d 89, 91 (Ala. 1982) (quoting Ex parte Dorsey Trailers, Inc., 397 So. 2d 98, 102 (Ala. 1981)).'”

Ex parte Pitts, 822 So. 2d 418, 421-22 (Ala. 2001). See also Ex parte Ocwen Federal Bank, FSB, 872 So. 2d 810, 813 (Ala. 2003)(holding that “mandamus will issue to reverse a trial court’s ruling on a discovery issue only (1) where there is a showing that the trial court clearly exceeded its discretion, and (2) where the aggrieved party does not have an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal. The petitioner has an affirmative burden to prove the existence of each of these conditions.”). The Court in Ocwen noted that “[i]n certain exceptional cases … review by appeal of a discovery order may be inadequate” and that among those exceptional cases were those in which “a discovery order compels the production of patently irrelevant or duplicative documents, such as to clearly constitute harassment or impose a burden on the producing party far out of proportion to any benefit that may obtain to the requesting party ….” 872 So. 2d at 813. See also Ex parte Crawford Broad. Co., 904 So. 2d 221 (Ala. 2004). Moreover, we are also aware of HN8the fundamental disinclination of the appellate courts to intrude into the trial court’s province of conducting the litigation process. Appellate courts are fundamentally directed toward the review of an appeal after a case is concluded in the trial court, and they are not well equipped to manage the trial court’s business, particularly where the appellate caseload is more than sufficient to fully occupy the court’s time. This Court has long recognized the principle that “‘[c]ases should not be tried by piecemeal, and separate and distinct rulings upon the evidence brought to this court pending the progress of the trial ….'” Ex parte Alabama Power Co., 280 Ala. 586, 599, 196 So. 2d 702, 715 (1967)(quoting Ex parte Little, 205 Ala. 517, 517, 88 So. 645, 646 (1921)).

Ex parte Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 2007 Ala. LEXIS 229 at *25-28 (Ala. Oct. 26, 2007)

Posted in AL Sup. Ct. Justice Sue Bell Cobb, Alabama, Case Blurbs-AL, Discovery, State Courts | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court addresses objection to ‘overly broad’ discovery requests, court order

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (1) the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition”;…

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Overbroad Discovery

The [Producing Party] first contend that the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition.” In this regard, they argue that Respondent improperly “gave blanket approval for [the Requesting Party] to gain total access to [their] computers and all information stored on them, whether or not it has anything to do with this lawsuit.”

Although it is true that Respondent’s order gives A & W’s forensic expert [FN8]complete access to all data stored on the Honzas’ computers, the order provides that the expert is to index all forensic images acquired from the imaging process “for the limited purpose of searching (the ‘Examination Process’) for two documents, previously Bates-labeled as HONZA 00019 and HONZA 00017, which are drafts of “Assignment of Contract” and any iterations (the ‘Relevant Documents’).” The expert must then compile any documents or information which the expert believes responsive and deliver them to the Honzas to determine for themselves which are responsive to A & W’s discovery request and which they choose to withhold, providing a privilege log instead.

In addition to limiting the expert’s search to two specific documents, the order provides that no waiver of privilege or confidentiality occurs if any otherwise privileged or confidential information is observed by A & W’s counsel or representatives during the imaging process, and they are prohibited from using such information other than in compliance with the terms of the order. The forensic expert is likewise prohibited from disclosing any information observed during the imaging process. And finally, the order requires the expert and all party representatives or counsel participating in the imaging process to sign an acknowledgment agreeing that they are subject to contempt of court for any violation of the order.

Any order requiring the imaging of a computer hard drive necessarily grants the expert who is conducting the imaging process access to all data on that hard drive. Here, Respondent specifically limited the expert’s search to two documents; gave the [Producing Party] a “right of first refusal” with regard to determining which documents or information are relevant to those two documents and responsive to [Requesting Party’s] discovery request; imposed stringent limitations on inadvertent disclosures to prevent any unintended waiver of confidentiality or privilege; and placed all participants in the imaging process under a carefully drawn protective order.

Therefore, we do not agree with the Honzas’ contention that the discovery order is overbroad.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Custodians, Data Sources, Discovery Requests, Duty to Produce, Form of Production, Objections to Discovery Requests, Overly Broad Request, Privacy, Scope of Discovery, State Courts, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »