Access to e-mails, text messages and other ESI

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.

Ontario decision deals with scope of litigation privilege, keyword searches and other e-discovery issues

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.

Kaymar Rehabilitation v Champlain CCAC, 2013 ONSC 1754 (CanLII).

Court orders safekeeping of medical records held by departed employee

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.

Garber v Robinson, 2013 ONSC 1427 (CanLII).

Master McLeod sets out parameters of hard drive review

Last September Master McLeod of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued an e-discovery order that was just brought to my attention and that makes some points about the discovery of a hard drive.

The order involves an external hard drive that a departed employee (and defendant) admitted contained his former employer’s (and plaintiff’s) information and turned over to plaintiff counsel for “forensic review.” Plaintiff counsel did not use a forensic IT specialist to review the drive. It reviewed the drive itself and segregated a number of potentially privileged files. It also discovered over 400 zip files that contained backups of information from the defendant’s personal laptop.

Master McLeod held that the defendant should review the files that plaintiff counsel had segregated as potentially privileged. In doing so, he commented that there was an honest misunderstanding about the meaning of “forensic review” and that plaintiff counsel took adequate steps to protect itself from exposure to privileged communications. Nonetheless, according to Master McLeod “conducting the document review in house without specific agreement or disclosure was less than prudent.”

Master McLeod also held that the plaintiff could continue to review the 400 plus zip files through its forensic expert. He said:

In my view this kind of analysis is best conducted by an arm’s length expert for two reasons. The first is that the data ostensibly belongs to the opposing party and will contain irrelevant confidential information (as anticipated) and apparently privileged information (which does not appear to have been anticipated by the defendant at least). The second reason is that the personnel conducting the analysis may have to be witnesses at trial and that militates against the use of in house I.T. or paralegal staff.

Notably, Master McLeod rejected a defendant argument that the zip files should not be reviewed at all based on a statement in the Sedona Canada Principles that indicates recourse to backup files should not ordinarily be within the scope of production. He held that, In the circumstances, the backup files were a potentially critical source of evidence that the plaintiff was prepared to review. The plaintiff would bear the cost of the review subject to cost recovery at the end of the day.

Descartes v Trademerit, 2012 ONSC 5283.

Nova Scotia court orders hard drive review to disclose usage patterns

On February 8th, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ordered the forensic review of an injured plaintiff’s hard drive because it would likely contain evidence relevant to a claim that he could only work at a computer for two to three hours a day. Although the computer was used by others (perhaps through separate user profiles, though this is unclear on the record), the Court held that use by others went to the weight of the evidence, a matter to be assessed at trial. Notably, the order contemplates a search to be conducted by a third party under a protocol proposed by the defendant.

Hat tip to Barry Sookman.

Laushway v Messervey, 2013 NSSC 47 (CanLII).

Social media and the law – three nuggets and one blawger’s tale #ALC2013

I’m posting this from beautiful Edmonton, where I presented at the Alberta Law Conference social media session together with Diane McLeod-McKay (Alberta OIPC, Director, Alberta PIPA) and Doug Jasinski (Skunkworks Creative Group). Thank you to our Chair and warm host, uber-librarian Shaunna Mireau (Field Law). It was a nice balanced session, with a little marketing and communication, a little core privacy and a little “other,” all of which came together nicely to give helpful picture to our lawyer audience.

I was the “other.” My slides are below and deal with (1) the “licensed communicator” concept for governing business use of social media, (2) the social media civil production cases and (3) preservation of social media evidence. I also (as asked) spoke a little about my own blogging experience, an enjoyable first.

Existence of unfound docs no reason to allow a hard drive inspection (Ontario)

On December 19th, Justice Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice made the following statement of principle in dismissing a request to inspect a party’s hard drive that followed the party’s service of a supplementary affidavit of documents:

Plaintiff’s counsel submits that computers do not err, and the fact that a document was overlooked the first time implies that the search was unredeemably deficient. However, computer storage and search systems, like traditional filing systems, are subject to human error. The Defendant’s obligation is to make every effort to produce what the Rules require it to produce, but there must be evidence stronger than a corrected error for a court to order that the Plaintiff actually take control of the search through the Defendant’s computer hard drive.

Justice Morgan also dismissed a request for an order requiring the provision of information about how the party’s electronic search was conducted. He commented that the Rules “do not require a party to explain how or where the relevant documents were found or the methodology of its search for those documents.”

Zenex Enterprises v Pioneer Balloon, 2012 ONSC 7243 (CanLII).