Archive for October 2017

Citing Failure to Cooperate, Court Orders Use of Specific Keyword Search Terms

United States v. New Mexico State Univ., No. 1:16-cv-00911-JAP-LF, 2017 WL 4386358 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2017)

In this pay discrimination case, the Court addressed Defendants’ motion for a protective order precluding further searching for responsive documents. Citing defense counsel’s failure to “adequately confer” before performing the initial searches, “which resulted in searches that were inadequate to reveal all responsive documents,” the Court concluded that “which searches will be conducted is left to the Court” and went on to order Defendants to conduct additional searches with specific terms, many of which were proposed by the plaintiff.

Plaintiff alleged that Defendants payed a female employee less than they were paying her male counterparts, despite similar responsibilities in the track and field program, and sought, broadly speaking, production of documents reflecting communications regarding her compensation; production of documents regarding her complaints concerning pay; and production of documents regarding any other complaints of pay discrimination made by other coaches, trainers, etc. Without adequately cooperating with the plaintiff, Defendants performed “more than 20” keyword searches and produced “more than 14,000 pages of documents.”  When Plaintiff indicated concern regarding the adequacy of Defendants’ searching, the parties were unable to resolve their dispute and Defendants ultimately moved for a protective order. Defendants argued that the discovery sought was not proportional to the needs of the case, noting the efforts already undertaken.  Plaintiff disagreed.

Indicating that this case presented “the question of how parties should search and produce [ESI] in response to discovery requests,” the Court reminded the parties that “[t]he best solution in the entire area of electronic discovery is cooperation among counsel” and that “[c]ooperation prevents lawyers designing keyword searches ‘in the dark, by the seat of the pants,’ without adequate discussion with each other to determine which words would yield the most responsive results.” In the present case, the Court concluded that the failure to confer resulted in inadequate searches and, acknowledging Plaintiff’s argument that “[Defendant] alone is responsible for its illogical choices in constructing searches” indicated that, “which searches will be conducted is left to the Court.”

As promised, the Court went on to discuss the three disputed discovery requests and identified specific search terms and custodians to be searched, many of which were proposed by the plaintiff. The Court also instructed the parties to work together to the extent necessary, if the non-responsive documents returned were too voluminous, for example.

The Court ended the opinion by returning to the topic of cooperation:

Electronic discovery requires cooperation between opposing counsel and transparency in all aspects of preservation and production of ESI. Moreover, where counsel are using keyword searches for retrieval of ESI, they at a minimum must carefully craft the appropriate keywords, with input from the ESI’s custodians as to the words and abbreviations they use, and the proposed methodology must be quality control tested to assure accuracy in retrieval and elimination of “false positives.” It is time that the Bar—even those lawyers who did not come of age in the computer era—understand this.

[Citation omitted.]

A copy of the Court’s order is available here.

Court Compels Search of Additional Custodians, Notes Defendant’s Failure to Provide “Even a Rough Estimate” of the Alleged Burden

Mann v. City of Chicago, Nos. 15 CV 9197, 13 CV 4531, 2017 WL 3970592 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 8, 2017)

Plaintiffs sued the City of Chicago and the Chicago police alleging that they had been wrongfully arrested, detained and prosecuted and that they were abused at “off the books” detention centers without access to counsel. Although the parties agreed on search terms and the majority of custodians, they “reached an impasse” as to which custodians in the Mayor’s Office should be searched, including the Mayor himself.  Because the court found the information sought would be relevant and because Defendant did not establish the alleged burden of the request—failing to provide even an estimate—the court granted in part Plaintiffs’ motion to compel, including their request to add the Mayor.  In so deciding, the court also noted several proportionality factors, including the importance of the issues at stake and the plaintiffs’ lack of access to the requested information.

In these consolidated cases, Plaintiffs sought to establish the City’s liability for their alleged wrongful detention at an undisclosed facilities and thus sought to include custodians from the Mayor’s Office in the search for responsive materials in the course of Monell discovery (related to establishing municipal liability). The City proposed to search the emails of the two members of the Mayor’s staff “responsible for liasoning” with the police department and to “leave ‘the door open’” for additional custodians, but otherwise resisted Plaintiffs’ request claiming undue burden and Plaintiffs’ failure to “provide any grounds to believe that the proposed custodians” were involved with the police department’s policies and practices.

Summarizing broadly, the court concluded that in addition to agreed-upon staff liaisons, the Mayor and his “upper level staff” may also have responsive information justifying a search of their email. Addressing the alleged burden of the search, the court reasoned that the City did not “offer any specifics or even a rough estimate about the burden” and was unconvinced by the City’s argument that “it is impossible to determine how many emails there may be ‘unless the City actually runs the searches and collects the material.’”  Rather, the court reasoned that the City should have provided “an estimate of the burden” and that “other Rule 26 factors—the importance of the issues and of the discovery in resolving the issues, and the parties’ relative access to information and their resources—weigh[ed] in favor of allowing discovery of more than just the two custodians proposed by the City.”  However, the court declined to compel the search of four proposed custodians based on their “short tenure” or the “time during which the person held the position,” concluding the requested searches were “not proportional to the needs of the case.”

A full copy of the court’s opinion and order is available here.