Some relevant comments on e-discovery in recent Ontario order

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:

Thompson v Arcadia Labs Inc, 2016 ONSC 3745 (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 says parties should share search parameters

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court issued a notable e-discovery decision on August 2nd.

The Court dismissed a motion to compel further documentary production as premature because the discrepancy in production volume between the parties was insufficient proof that the party producing fewer documents had failed to meet its obligations. More importantly, however, the Court accepted the moving party’s argument that (in the absence of a discovery agreement) it was entitled to information about the other party’s search protocol before oral discovery. The Court described the argument as follows:

The basic position of the defendants is that the Civil Procedure Rules contemplate that the parties will make a good faith effort to try and agree on the criteria to be used in conducting searches for electronic information to be disclosed. In other words, each party should apply the same relevance analysis in reviewing their electronic records. Even in the absence of an agreement, the parties should be required to disclose the criteria which they used so that the other parties know the basis on which the affidavit of disclosure was prepared.

In many cases, discovery examinations include questions directed at identifying additional undisclosed documents to be produced. Counsel for the defendants does not believe that disclosure of the electronic search criteria should be left to the discovery process. He suggests that this would result in bifurcation with an initial discovery on the scope of disclosure followed by an adjournment todeal with newly identified records. It would then be necessary to have a second discovery on the substantive issues.

The Court also made some findings about the requirements for an “affidavit disclosing relevant electronic information” under the Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules.

Velsoft Training Materials Inc v Global Courseware Inc, 2012 NSSC 295 (CanLII).

e-Discovery Canada

I’ve added a “related links” section to my sidebar. So far there’s just one link, but its a notable one. The LexUM Laboratory is the University of Montreal’s justice system technology project that runs the CanLII national database of freely-available case law. The e-Discovery Canada website is another LexUM project that is maintained in collaboration with some members of the Canadian legal community who have taken a lead on e-discovery issues. This includes Peg Duncan of the Department of Justice, who keeps a digest of Canadian case law and rules that she last updated on October 12th. It’s a great list and has cases and rule citations that I haven’t reported on. News and links to key guidelines like the Sedona Canada Principles (now in draft/public comment form) are all posted there. Please check it out, and thanks Peg!