The Need for Archiving and FRCP 37(e)


The December 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), specifically Rule 37, established when litigation can be reasonably anticipated, the duty of both sides is to immediately stop all alterations and deletions of all potentially relevant content and secure it – also known as a litigation hold and the duty to preserve.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court approved new amendments to the FRCP which will become effective on December 1, 2015. The new Rule 37(e) reiterates the need to preserve electronically stored information (once litigation can be reasonably anticipated) but also creates a uniform standard for spoliation (destruction of evidence) and so, they hope, will provide greater predictability around the question of loss of ESI during litigation.

The new amended Rule 37(e) allows a court to respond when one party loses electronically stored information (ESI), which then prejudices the other party. Rule 37(e) empowers a court to take reasonable action to cure the prejudice, even if the loss of ESI was inadvertent. The new twist is now the burden to prove prejudice resulting from the missing/lost evidence as a result of willful or intentional misconduct falls on the innocent party before the most severe sanctions can be imposed, and then only if the prejudice shown cannot be mitigated through other remedies, e.g. additional discovery. To complicate matters further, even in cases when there is no demonstrated prejudice to the opposing party, the court can assume the ESI was unfavorable and enter a default judgment in the case. This means that the Judge has wide latitude to respond to parties who don’t take their eDiscovery responsibilities seriously.

The need for information governance and archiving

Many believe the amended Rule 37(e) highlights the need for corporations to get more control of all of their electronic data, not just that data considered a record. Information governance programs including on-going content archiving of those types of information most sought after in eDiscovery, namely email and other forms of communication, enables an organization to quickly find all potentially relevant content, secure it under a litigation hold, and begin the review process immediately – knowing the archive is the “copy of record” repository.

Many Judges look closely at the steps taken by the responding party when eDiscovery mistakes happen. Judges want to see that reasonable actions were taken and a good faith intent was present to reduce or stop eDiscovery mishaps including, regularly updated policies, on-going employee training, and the type of technology purchased. Judges understand that there is no such thing as Perfect; that mistakes happen, and many times it inadvertent.

Keeping everything forever is a mistake

Another related eDiscovery problem many companies find themselves facing is the issue of having too much data to search and review during eDiscovery. Many companies only manage what they consider to be “business records”, which averages 5% of all corporate data,  and leave the other 95% to be managed (or not) by individual employees. This huge unmanaged store of employee data, which is a popular target in discovery, dramatically drives up the cost of eDiscovery, while also driving up the potential of problems occurring during eDiscovery. Defensibly disposing of expired or valueless data will reduce the amount of data that must be pulled into an eDiscovery action reducing the cost and risk of problems later.

A centrally managed archive that proactively captures, for example, all communications (email, IM, social communications) and applies retention/disposition policies to all captured content can insure that expired or valueless data is defensibly disposed of, reducing the size of the overall discovery data set by as much 60%. Because it’s defensibly disposed of via automation and policy, questions of spoliation cannot be raised.

In fact, archiving your most important (and requested) content provides a great deal more granular data management capability then simply relying on individual employees – so you don’t run afoul of the new FRCP Rule 37(e).

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Discoverable versus Admissible; aren’t they the same?


This question comes up a lot, especially from non-attorneys. The thought is that if something is discoverable, then it must be admissible; the assumption being that a Judge will not allow something to be discovered if it can’t be used in court. The other thought is that everything is discoverable if it pertains to the case and therefor everything is admissible.

Let’s first address what’s discoverable. For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter (content) that’s not privileged relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. In layman’s terms, if it is potentially relevant to the case, you may have to produce it in discovery or in other words, anything and everything is potentially discoverable.  All discovery is subject to the limitations imposed by FRCP Rule 26(b)(2)(C).

With that in mind, let’s look at the subject of admissibility.

In Lorraine v. Markel Am. Ins. Co., 241 F.R.D. 534, 538 (D. Md. 2007), the court started with the premise that the admissibility of ESI is determined by a collection of evidence rules “that present themselves like a series of hurdles to be cleared by the proponent of the evidence”.  “Failure to clear any of these evidentiary hurdles means that the evidence will not be admissible”. Whenever ESI is offered as evidence, five evidentiary rules need to be considered. They are:

  • is relevant to the case
  • is authentic
  • is not hearsay pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 801
  • is an original or duplicate under the original writing rule
  • has probative value that is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or one of the other factors identified by Federal Rule of Evidence 403, such that it should be excluded despite its relevance.

Hearsay is defined as a statement made out of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay comes in many forms including written or oral statements or even gestures.

It is the Judge’s job to determine if evidence is hearsay or credible. There are three evidentiary rules that help the Judge make this determination:

  1. Before being allowed to testify, a witness generally must swear or affirm that his or her testimony will be truthful.
  2. The witness must be personally present at the trial or proceeding in order to allow the judge or jury to observe the testimony firsthand.
  3. The witness is subject to cross-examination at the option of any party who did not call the witness to testify.

The Federal Rules of Evidence Hearsay Rule prohibits most statements made outside of court from being used as evidence in court. Looking at the three evidentiary rules mentioned above – usually a statement made outside of the courtroom is not made under oath, the person making the statement outside of court is not present to be observed by the Judge, and the opposing party is not able to cross examine the statement maker. This is not to say all statements made outside of court are inadmissible. The Federal Rule of Evidence 801 does provide for several exclusions to the Hearsay rule.

All content is discoverable if it potentially is relevant to the case and not deemed privileged, but discovered content may be ruled inadmissible if it is deemed privileged (doctor/patient communications), unreliable or hearsay. You may be wondering how an electronic document can be considered hearsay? The hearsay rule refers to “statements” which can either be written or oral. So, as with paper documents, in order to determine whether the content of electronic documents are hearsay or fact, the author of the document must testify under oath and submit to cross-examination in order to determine whether the content is fact and can stand as evidence.

This legal argument between fact and hearsay does not relieve the discoveree from finding, collecting and producing all content in that could be relevant to the case.

Ineffective eDiscovery Processes Raise the Cost of Healthcare


Healthcare disputes arise for many reasons.  Healthcare providers challenge payors’ claims policies, practices and actual payments.  Health insurance beneficiaries and healthcare providers dispute coverage decisions by payors.  Patients file malpractice claims when the end result of a medical procedure doesn’t meet their expectations. Healthcare disputes can lead to litigation which also leads to eDiscovery. Healthcare eDiscovery can be complex and burdensome due to the myriad formats used as well as the data security requirements imposed via federal and state regulatory requirements.

New healthcare information management requirements are changing the way healthcare organizations evolve their enterprise infrastructures as new regulatory requirements direct how information is created, stored, shared, referenced and managed. As new information governance technology is adopted and changes how patient and business records are utilized, healthcare providers as well as healthcare payors and suppliers will have to change and adapt how they respond to eDiscovery.

Healthcare eDiscovery Key Requirements and Recent Developments

The 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) established that all forms of ESI are potentially discoverable if not deemed privileged or heresy by the Judge, and apply to all legal actions filed in federal courts on or after December 1, 2006. Under the FRCP, any information potentially relevant to the case, whether in paper or electronic format, is subject to an eDiscovery request. Many states have adopted the federal rules of civil procedure in whole or in part with respect to defining what’s discoverable when it comes to electronic data.

The eDiscovery process for the healthcare industry is the same as for any other industry except that special care has to be taken with patient data. When attorneys do handle protected health information (PHI), they must be aware of state and federal legal ramifications of being exposed to this type of information. Failure to do so could lead to significant fines and damaged reputations stemming from the improper handling of PHI.

Effective Healthcare eDiscovery steps

eDiscovery is a complex process that requires a multidisciplinary approach to successfully implement and manage. Healthcare organizations should consider the following activities to successfully prepare for eDiscovery.

  1. Establish a litigation response team with a designee from the legal, HIM, and IT departments
  2. Review, revise, or develop an organizational information management plan
  3. Identify the data owners or stewards within the organization
  4. Review, revise, or develop an enterprise records retention policy and schedule
  5. Audit compliance with the records retention policy and schedule
  6. Penalize non-compliance with the records retention policy and schedule
  7. Conduct thorough assessment of the storage locations for all data including back-up media
  8. Review, revise, or develop organizational policies related to the eDiscovery process
  9. Establish an organizational program to educate and train/retrain all management and staff on eDiscovery and records retention compliance

The eDiscovery process is equivalent to searching warehouses, waste baskets, file cabinets, home offices, and personal notes to find that “needle in the haystack” that will help prove the other side’s claims. Healthcare organizations are finding it especially difficult to respond to and review the huge amounts of data due to additional healthcare specific data formats and regulatory requirements around patient privacy.

The huge expense of information review during litigation coupled with the high risk of enforcement action by regulatory authorities drives many legal professionals to seek a more proactive, defensible and cost efficient approach.


 

 

 

The case of the disappearing text messages


I ran across an interesting mobile phone application the other day called Tiger Text (also called the cheating spouse app). Tiger Text is an app that bills itself as a tool to help people “cover their tracks”, in this case tracks that are left when sending traditional text messages from phone to phone.  What Tiger Text does is enable a user to send text messages back and forth to others also using Tiger Text and not worry about the text message being found by someone else, because messages sent via Tiger Text will essentially self destruct within a specified timeframe.

When you send a text message using Tiger Text, the content of your message is never sent to the recipient’s phone as it does when you send a standard text message.  Since the message doesn’t reside on the recipient’s phone, but rather stored on Tiger Text’s servers, you are given full control when the messages are deleted from Tiger Text’s servers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see from the screen shots above, once the messages are gone, they are gone.  You can set messages to ‘Delete on Read’ or set your own time limit such as 2 hours, 4 hours, etc. Keep in mind that both sender and recipient must have the Tiger Text application installed for the capability to work (there is a free reader if the other person doesn’t want to buy Tiger Text), and if a message is set to expire at a specified time period and it’s not read, then it’s gone forever. This “Delete” capability can be set from the menu shown below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The actual content of TigerText messages are erased from the sender’s phone, the recipient’s phone and all servers when the message expires. TigerText does not allow the user to copy or save a message, however if someone really wanted to they could video capture your TigerText, take a screen shot, or take a photo of their phone. TigerText cannot promise that your messages will not be copied by some alternative means. Be smart! Anyone can take a picture of a phone.

Tiger Text is available for iPhones, Blackberrys, Microsoft powered mobile phones and Android phones.

What’s this got to do with eDiscovery?

With above description in mind, it occurred to me that this application could cause some problems for the eDiscovery process.

  1. If a custodian is using this application while they are potentially a party to litigation and are using this app to send or receive information relevant to the case, are they guilty of destruction of evidence? In my opinion, absolutely!
  2. How could you place and enforce a litigation hold on this data? The answer is you can’t.
  3.  How would an organization collecting responsive data for eDiscovery even know to look for this capability? It all comes down to knowing the technology landscape and asking the right questions of custodians such as “do you utilize any applications or other processes on any computing devices including cell phones which automatically delete ESI?”
  4. So what’s an organization to do? The only thing you can do is forbid installing these kinds of applications on any organization assets and audit to see that custodians are following the policy. You obviously can’t do anything about what employees do with their own non-company owned devices except to reiterate that company related business should never be conducted over non-company owned devices (and its always a good idea to remind employees that if they do use their own devices for company business this will open their personal computers, phones etc to eDiscovery).

The main point is to be aware of these capabilities and to look for them when in eDiscovery.

Accidental Data Deletion Still Considered Spoliation


From an article posted to the Infosecurity-us.com website yesterday:

When litigation-based data management isn’t taken seriously dire consequences will occur.

When it comes to electronic discovery, if you fail to protect potentially relevant data and it’s destroyed, no matter the excuse, you have deprived the other side of their right to all relevant evidence to support their case and subsequently put them at a disadvantage.

What are your responsibilities when it comes to securing data that could be used against you in a current or future civil lawsuit? Judges today have little sympathy for accidental or shoddy data handling practices when it comes to protecting and turning over data in litigation.

Controlling your company’s information at all times is crucial if, or when, you get dragged into civil litigation. What is eDiscovery? Well, it’s not an afterhours team-building exercise. Electronic discovery (also called eDiscovery or Discovery) refers to any process (in any country) in which electronic data is sought, located, secured, and searched with the intent of using it as evidence in a civil or criminal legal case. The eDiscovery process can be carried out offline on a particular computer or it can be accomplished on a corporate network.

Since the new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) were adopted in December 2006, judges expect that organizations in eDiscovery have complete control of their organization’s data and can fully respond to an eDiscovery request in days or weeks, not months or years.

The entire article can be read here