On February 17th, the Federal Court of Appeal re-clarified that protective orders ought to be granted based on the test set out in AB Hassle – i.e., when “the moving party believes that its proprietary, commercial and scientific interests would be seriously harmed by producing information upon which those interests are based.” It held that the application of the more restrictive test for confidentiality orders set out in Sierra Club was not warranted.
Master Callum McLeod – long time member of the Sedona Canada Working Group – was recently appointed a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. On June 6th, still sitting as master, he issued an order that addressed a number of e-discovery issues. Here are some snipets of Master McLeod’s views.
…on the utility of manually producing a Schedule A
This is not a new problem. But it is a problem that is greatly compounded when dealing with any significant amount of electronically stored information. In such cases, listing and describing all relevant documents is virtually impossible and threatens to become a hugely expensive make work project of little practical utility. What is required instead is to unearth the important and probative documents that will be necessary to prove or disprove facts that are in issue.
Under the Sedona Canada Principles incorporated into the rules, counsel are to actively co-operate in formulating a practical discovery plan. Counsel are required to seek agreement on the subset of potentially important relevant information and how it is to be located, preserved, exchanged, organized, described and retrieved. Some form of mutually acceptable electronic indexing that permits rapid identification and retrieval of each document should be adopted for purposes of production, discovery and trial. It is for this reason that the parties are now expected to engage in a collaborative discovery planning exercise in which they are to robustly apply the principle of proportionality.
Of course production through affidavit of documents process is not the end of the story. There are at least four other ways to extract documents from the other party. The first is a demand to inspect documents under Rule 30.04, the second is by listing documents in the Notice of Examination, the third is by cross examination on the affidavit of documents as part of the discovery process and the fourth is by obtaining disclosure and undertakings through the discovery process itself.
… on the use of shared document repositories
In the case at bar, the record is replete with technical production problems and unilateral attempts to satisfy production obligations. Malfunctioning USB keys, courier delivery of hard copies, delivery of copies on DVDs and refusal to make use of web based technology such as Google Docs are some examples. While there are many issues with cloud based storage of sensitive documents almost all of these can be overcome. The advantages and speed of a secure web based document vault utilizing standardized document formats and software should be readily apparent. Correctly utilized, such tools can eliminate production delays and arguments about who produced what and when.
… on providing access to cloud-based evidence as an alternative to production
As I understand it, the defendant is not taking the position that the logs are not relevant, they are simply inviting the plaintiffs to access the information themselves. They have not listed the Google logs in the affidavit of documents. As I indicated earlier, there is much to be said for web based production and the use of document vaults. This is not the same thing as inviting the other party to access the originals of the web site and to extract their own information without concern for forensic continuity or admissibility of the evidence. Counsel should not be put in the position of becoming a witness as to the provenance of documents.
For more, see:
On January 22nd, Vice-Chair Harris of the (Ontario) Grievance Settlement Board held that an employer can call testimony from witnesses who had viewed a video tape before it was inadvertently destroyed. He held that exclusion was an inappropriate remedy for inadvertent spoliation given the employer’s case rested on the proposed evidence. He also held that the proposed evidence was not hearsay and was not excluded because the best evidence was unavailable.
The overwhelming strength of the authorities is that such secondary evidence is admissible when the trier of fact is satisfied that the original existed, has been lost or destroyed and a proper explanation has been given of the absence of the better evidence. Here, that explanation has been given and accepted by the union.
The Supreme Court of Canada issued R v Fearon on December 11th. A 4-3 majority held that the police can search a cell phone incident to arrest without a warrant but subject to various limitations prescribed by the Court. One always must be careful in drawing too much from the Court’s handling of a specific issue in a specific context, but the dialogue between the majority and minority about the mitigating effect of a computer inspection protocol is notable for organizations.
The majority allows warrantless searches, in part, based on a finding that the privacy impact of a cell phone search incident to arrest can be meaningfully mitigated by the application of a “tailored” inspection. Justice Cromwell explains:
First, the scope of the search must be tailored to the purpose for which it may lawfully be conducted. In other words, it is not enough that a cell phone search in general terms is truly incidental to the arrest. Both the nature and the extent of the search performed on the cell phone must be truly incidental to the particular arrest for the particular offence. In practice, this will mean that, generally, even when a cell phone search is permitted because it is truly incidental to the arrest, only recently sent or drafted emails, texts, photos and the call log may be examined as in most cases only those sorts of items will have the necessary link to the purposes for which prompt examination of the device is permitted. But these are not rules, and other searches may in some circumstances be justified. The test is whether the nature and extent of the search are tailored to the purpose for which the search may lawfully be conducted. To paraphrase Caslake, the police must be able to explain, within the permitted purposes, what they searched and why: see para. 25.
This approach responds to the privacy concerns posed by the virtually infinite storage capacity of cell phones by, in general, excluding resort to that capacity in a search incident to arrest. It would also provide these protections while preserving the ability of the police to have resort to basic cell phone data where this serves the purposes for which searches incident to arrest are permitted.
Given the Crown bears the onus of establishing a reasonable search incident to arrest, the majority makes clear that police must take “detailed notes” of their inspection process.
For the minority, the privacy interest in a cell phone is too great to permit any warantless intrusion. Justice Karakatsanis also calls the majority’s reliance on the mitigating effect of a tailored inspection protocol “complicated,” “impractical” and inviting of “after-the-fact litigation.”
Organizations have been reckoning with an expectation of privacy on workplace computers since the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2012 finding in R v Cole. I’ve argued elsewhere that, notwithstanding Cole, the standard for employer searches will likely remain reasonably permissive. The reasoning in Fearon can be used by employers to argue for a permissive search standard. Employers should be careful, however, to (1) document the purpose of their inspections and (2) follow a logical, documented inspection process. Justice Karakatsanis is correct; litigation about the manner in which a computer inspection has been conducted is too easy to foresee.
On January 28th, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal affirmed an order that required a plaintiff to produce a hard drive for forensic review because it contained data relevant to his lost income claim (i.e., the amount of time he spent working at a home office each day).
The Court held that the data was relevant and therefore producible subject to rebuttal by the plaintiff. It set out the following list of factors for Nova Scotia judges to consider in deciding whether or not to grant production in similar cases:
1. Connection: What is the nature of the claim and how do the issues and circumstances relate to the information sought to be produced?
2. Proximity: How close is the connection between the sought-after information, and the matters that are in dispute? Demonstrating that there is a close connection would weigh in favour of its compelled disclosure; whereas a distant connection would weigh against its forced production;
3. Discoverability: What are the prospects that the sought-after information will be discoverable in the ordered search? A reasonable prospect or chance that it can be discovered will weigh in favour of its compelled disclosure.
4. Reliability: What are the prospects that if the sought-after information is discovered, the data will be reliable (for example, has not been adulterated by other unidentified non-party users)?
5. Proportionality: Will the anticipated time and expense required to discover the sought-after information be reasonable having regard to the importance of the sought-after information to the issues in dispute?
6. Alternative Measures: Are there other, less intrusive means available to the applicant, to obtain the sought-after information?
7. Privacy: What safeguards have been put in place to ensure that the legitimate privacy interests of anyone affected by the sought-after order will be protected?
8. Balancing: What is the result when one weighs the privacy interests of the individual; the public interest in the search for truth; fairness to the litigants who have engaged the court’s process; and the court’s responsibility to ensure effective management of time and resources?
9. Objectivity: Will the proposed analysis of the information be conducted by an independent and duly qualified third party expert?
10. Limits: What terms and conditions ought to be contained in the production order to achieve the object of the Rules which is to ensure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding?
The Court also suggested that, although “the semblance of relevance” test for production has been abolished under the Nova Scotia Rules, in gleaning what might ultimately be relevant at trial, “it is better to err on the side of requiring disclosure of material that, with the benefit of hindsight, is determined to be irrelevant rather than refusing disclosure of material that subsequently appears to have been relevant.”
Here’s a presentation I delivered today in an Ontario Hospital Association webcast. I’ve been following “e-FOI” developments for a while and was happy to finally build and deliver a presentation to lend some structure to the topic. Stay tuned for more!
On September 6th, Master Muir of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice declined to order production of approximately 1100 photos that a personal injury plaintiff posted to her Facebook friends. The plaintiff employed the “I’ve got nothing to hide” approach by filing the photos under seal with an accompanying affidavit, an approach also used effectively last year in Stewart v Kempster. Master Muir held that pictures of the plaintiff happy and socializing were not relevant and that there was no reason to believe that the plaintiff had failed to produce pictures of engagement in physical activity.
I did double-duty today, also presenting on issues relating to control of corporate information in light of business computing trends like BYOD and cloud computing at day one of Osgoode PDP’s e-discovery certificate program. My slides are below.
Justice David Brown and Master Calum McLeod have written a number of the judgements I’ve blogged about here. I was able to stay for their lunch presentations on addressing the e-discovery burden. Justice Brown warned of a coming apocalypse (death by seppuku, to be precise) unless something gives way to break the e-discovery burden, starting with adversarial behavior in the discovery process. Master McLeod delivered similar message, though more from his in the trenches perspective – noting the wisdom of including ADR mechanisms into discovery plans and bifurcated discovery. Take note.
On March 25th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued a decision in which it held that that communications sent and received in order to build a public relations strategy ancillary to ongoing litigation were not subject to litigation privilege. Master McLeod stated:
I am not however persuaded that strategy associated with public relations, media relations or lobbying ancillary to litigation would or should be protected. The notion of the adversarial advocate and the zone of privacy cannot be stretched so far as to protect the strategy of the party in the court of public opinion.
This is the most principled finding in a decision that also canvasses and provides helpful comment on a number of issues related to the production of e-mails. Master McLeod remarks, for example, that a search for documents containing keywords is a means of discovering relevant and privileged documents but does not “render the document automatically relevant” or “answer the question of privilege.”
Coincidentally, Craig Ball recently posted on the same issue in, “Are Documents Containing Agreed-Upon Keywords Responsive Per Se?” Ball urges counsel to address the responding party’s access to responsive documents expressly in the discovery planning process. He also raises the motivation a party may have to demand a full set of responsive documents:
We may be gravitating to a place where counsel’s countermanding a machine’s “objective” characterization of a document as responsive will be viewed with suspicion. Responding parties see electronic culling as just an extension of counsel’s judgment; but, requesting parties often see electronic culling as an objective arbiter of responsiveness. Face it: requesting parties believe that opponents hide documents.
If you follow e-discovery developments, both this case and the Ball post are worth a good read.
On March 7th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued an order to secure medical records held by a former employee of an addiction clinic.
The employee had copies of urinalysis reports stored on her personal e-mail account at the time of termination because she had used her personal e-mail account for work purposes. She allegedly used her continuing possession of the e-mails to extort the employer into offering reinstatement and later refused to return the e-mails, arguing they were evidence of the employer’s wrongdoing. (It is not clear from the decision what wrongdoing the employee alleges.)
The Court granted an ex parte order after applying the test for an Anton Piller. Notably, the order required the employee to turn control of her e-mail account to an independent supervising solicitor authorized to copy and retain the e-mails, delete the e-mails on the account and return control of the account to the employee. The Court authorized the employer to serve the order by e-mail.