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).