Posts tagged with "Litigation"

ESI OR “ELECTRONICALLY STORED INFORMATION”—THE HIDDEN LITIGATION TRIPWIRE

New York: (212) 682-5700 Connecticut: (203) 221-3100

When examining the impacts of ESI technology, we must understand that we live in a digital world.  So prevalent is “data” that we forget that we are surrounded by visual portrayals of streams of zeroes and ones.  We have computers at work as well as at home, and laptops, PDA’s, and “Blackberrys” to keep us connected to e-mail, voice mail, and text messages while we vacation or commute (and blur the distinction between the two).  It has been said that technology is a wonderful slave and a terrible master.

Technology may also present the least understood and a most dangerous trap for the unwary litigant—one that can lose a case before it is even begun.  The solution is a timely and thoughtful “litigation hold” letter, and this article will explain when one has to be sent, and what it should say.

Adoption and aftermath of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

            Over the years, the Federal and State Rules governing pretrial discovery have generally kept pace with societal changes so that discovery vehicles such as Requests for Production could be tailored to fit the myriad and unique circumstances that surround any case, and perform as designed.  Technological advances, however, have pulled far ahead of the rules, and Courts have been scrambling to catch up.  Thus began the evolution of discovery of “electronically stored information”, or “ESI.”

Court interpretation of the discovery rules has given lawyers and litigants guidance on how to uncover ESI, but they also impose draconian penalties for conduct that heretofore might have been countenanced by a well meaning and lenient jurist.  The purpose of this article is to warn business owners and their counsel of the unseen pitfalls of ESI, and ensure by means of a “litigation hold” letter that devastating sanctions are avoided.  Simply stated, a “litigation hold” letter commands a party (or client) to locate, segregate, and preserve documents and data that may be relevant to pending or threatened litigation.

Relevant court cases: Zubulake IV and Pension Committee

In 2003 and 2004, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, decided two in the series of the Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC cases and introduced a brave new world of ESI discovery.  In 2010, Judge Scheindlin decided Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan v. Bank of America Securities, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1839 and dispelled any doubt about the duty to preserve and produce ESI, and the penalties to be imposed for its breach.

One teaching of Pension Committee is that the rules articulated in Zubulake are now “well established” and lawyers and litigants ignore them at their peril.  Judge Scheindlin leaves no room for interpretation or debate:

“Possibly after October, 2003, when Zubulake IV was issued, and definitely after July, 2004, when the final relevant Zubulake opinion was issued, the failure to issue a written litigation hold constitutes gross negligence because that failure is likely to result in the destruction of relevant information.” 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS at * 10.

The corollary teaching of Pension Committee is that if a party is currently in litigation or reasonably anticipates litigation, then such party in conjunction with its counsel must issue a timely and written litigation hold and supervise and oversee that hold diligently and in good faith, or face sanctions to include termination of the underlying case to its extreme prejudice.

Consequences of misconduct with respect to ESI

A party to litigation or a party that reasonably anticipates litigation (more on that amorphous concept later) has a duty to preserve, collect, review and/or produce relevant evidence.  In failing to discharge that duty with respect to ESI, the party’s conduct may amount to negligence, gross negligence (a failure to exercise even that care which a careless person would use), or willful and bad faith misconduct (an intentional act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow).  In each instance, available sanctions ratchet up accordingly.

With regard to the duty to preserve, post-Zubulake, the failure to issue a timely, written litigation hold will likely rise to the level of gross negligence.  With respect to the duty to collect, the failure to collect paper or electronic records from “key players” (another “fuzzy” concept that may even include former employees) constitutes gross negligence or willfulness, in contradistinction to failing to collect records from all employees, which may be viewed as mere negligence and carry a lesser penalty.  As noted by Judge Scheindlin, “[e]ach case will turn on its own facts and the varieties of efforts and failures is [sic] infinite.”  Id. At * 12-13.

So what is a business owner/HR executive/general counsel to do?

The first step is to understand when the ESI duty to preserve, collect, etc. attaches.  Where a party sues or is sued, that particular point in time is clearly defined.  But when must a party “reasonably anticipate” litigation?  If one or two employees get a mere whiff of threatened litigation, that does not impose an “all hands on deck” company-wide duty to preserve.

If those same employees, however, document their concerns with an identifiable plaintiff and targeted defendant, then the duty to preserve would arise well in advance of the actual filing of the lawsuit.  Often, it is middle-management that first sees litigation storm clouds on the horizon, and they need to be conditioned to alert senior management and outside counsel to threatened litigation.

Once the alarm is sounded, the litigation hold letter must be carefully drafted and quickly disseminated.  Each situation is different, and this is not an area where a generic, “one size fits all” form letter can be sent.  Management and counsel should collaborate on ensuring company-wide compliance and the letter should emanate from the company’s upper echelons (e.g., CEO, COO, and CIO).  Implementation and supervision of the litigation hold cannot be delegated away and senior management must remain involved and responsible throughout the process.

In the words of Judge Scheindlin, “[i]n short, it is not sufficient to notify all employees of a litigation hold and expect that the party will then retain and produce all relevant information.  Counsel must take affirmative steps to monitor compliance so that all sources of discoverable information are identified and searched.”  Zubulake V, 229 F.R.D. at 432.

Conclusion

The litigation hold letter is both a sword and a shield.  It is a recognized and ubiquitous “terrain feature” on any litigation landscape and litigants and lawyers are now on notice that they are expected to be familiar with the evolving law and conform fully to its requirements.  Every case is different, however, and must be analyzed and evaluated on its own peculiar facts and circumstances.  If you have any questions relating to ESI in general, or litigation hold letters, in particular, please contact Maya Murphy by phone at (203) 221-3100.

Is Everything That Happens in Front of a Judge on the Record in Connecticut?

All court proceedings in front of a judge are recorded by a court reporter.  If you are in need of a copy of the record from the day you were in court, you have the option to contact the court reporter to get a copy of the transcript.  You can do so by contacting the court with your docket number, the date of your appearance, and the name of the judge.  If you are having custody issues, they may not be resolved simply by obtaining a copy of your court transcript.  It may be wise to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can educate you on all of your options and tell you the best way to proceed for the benefit of you and your child.

If you have any questions regarding family law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Growing Awareness Surrounding Bullying of Students with Disabilities in Fairfield County

If you have any questions regarding bullying of students with disabilities, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Bullying has gained the attention of the media over recent years, but despite the focused spotlight, bullying is rampant in our society.  Among the easiest targets are children with special needs.  They are, on average, at a greater risk to be bullied than their non-disabled counterparts.  This is in part because special education children make easy targets. It is often harder for children with disabilities to recognize which behaviors are socially appropriate and those that are not.

Many organizations are stepping up to the challenge of educating the community and parents on the complex issues surrounding bullying of students with disabilities. The Stratford Special Education Teacher and Parent Association recently held a presentation on “Bullying of Students with Disabilities.” The presentation focused on how to help schools avoid litigation stemming from the targeting of children with special education needs. The hope is to set up systems in schools that address bullying before it becomes a problem.  Interestingly, the presentation also focused on teaching parents how to work with the school system to effectively develop plans to prevent harassment of their children.  It is important that parents work with school administrators to develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that encourages students to learn, develop self-advocacy, and social and life skills necessary to reduce disability related harassment.

In addition to parents and school administrators working together to reduce and bring awareness to bullying and its drastic effects, it is also important to be familiar with the laws that protect children with disabilities.  At Maya Murphy, P.C., we have experience dealing with Education Law, harassment or bullying, Special Education Law, and discrimination.

By Leigh H. Ryan, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding bullying of students with disabilities, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Connecticut School Districts and Bullying: What Can Parents Do?

I was greeted this morning with a very unfortunate email.  The email concerned bullying in Westport Schools and included a heart wrenching video of an 8th grade girl claiming to be a victim of bullying in Westport schools. (http://patch.com/A-gcKG) It is just not enough to feel sorry for this victim of bullying, we need to question the effectiveness of the current law and policies in place to avoid the tragic consequences that other towns have dealt with because their students were victims of bullying.

I previously blogged about the revisions to Connecticut’s law against bullying in 2008.  Under Connecticut General Statute section 10-222d, the law requires “any overt acts by a student or group of students directed against another student with the intent to ridicule, harass, humiliate or intimidate the other student while on school grounds, at a school sponsored activity or on a school bus, which acts are committed more than once against any student during the school year.” In addition to definitional changes, the statute requires:

  1.  teachers and other staff members who witness acts of bullying to make written notification to school administrators;
  2. prohibits disciplinary actions based solely on the basis of an anonymous report of bullying;
  3. requires prevention strategies as well as interventions strategies;
  4. requires that parents of a student who commits verified acts of bullying or against whom such bullying occurred be notified by each school and be invited to attend at least one meeting;
  5. requires school to annually report the number of verified acts of bullying to the State Department of Education (DOE);
  6. no later than February 1, 2009, boards must submit the bullying policies to the DOE;
  7. no later than July 1, 2009, boards must include their bullying policy in their school district’s publications of rules, procedures and standards of conduct for school and in all of its student handbooks, and
  8.  effective July 1, 2009, boards must now provide in-service training for its teacher and administrators on prevention of bullying.

Westport responded to the requirements of this statute with a comprehensive bullying policy which can be found on the school district’s website under the tab for parents, and then selecting policies.  Here is the direct link to the policy: (http://www2.westport.k12.ct.us/media/policies/prohibition_against_bullying_5131.911_revised_8.25.2008.pdf)

Armed with Connecticut’s law and Westport’s policy, what should we do as parents, community members, and professionals?  I do not profess to have the answers but at a minimum, we should discuss this with our children, question the school administrators, guidance staff and teachers. Together we should challenge ourselves to make a difference using the channels available to us.  There are ways that we can help to effectuate change before it is too late.  If you know of a child affected by bullying, please act on their behalf.  Not every student will post a video to tell you this is happening. If the school is not addressing the bullying in a meaningful way to eradicate the conduct, legal redress is available and the courts will readily intervene.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by telephone in the Firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at SMaya@Mayalaw.com. Attorney Maya is a partner at Maya Murphy, P.C. Her practice is limited to Education Law and Trusts and Estates.

Do I Have to Comply with Document Requests for A Deposition When the Opposing Side Has Not Complied?

You have an obligation to produce documents requested for deposition regardless of whether the opposing side has produced the documents or not.  If the opposing side has filed a motion for an extension of time then they might have been granted additional time to comply by the court.  You have the option to file for an extension of time, if you would like.  It would be helpful for you to consult with an experienced trial attorney in this matter to educate you on the rules of practice in Connecticut and the best way to proceed in this scenario.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Do I Have to Comply with Document Requests for A Deposition When the Opposing Side Has Not Complied?

You have an obligation to produce documents requested for deposition regardless of whether the opposing side has produced the documents or not.  If the opposing side has filed a motion for an extension of time then they might have been granted additional time to comply by the court.  You have the option to file for an extension of time, if you would like.  It would be helpful for you to consult with an experienced trial attorney in this matter to educate you on the rules of practice in Connecticut and the best way to proceed in this scenario.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

How Can I Stop a Default Judgment for Failure to Plead in a Civil Suit?

You may stop a default judgment for failure to plead by seeking leave of court by motioning to file an answer to the complaint.  If your motion to file an answer is granted then you may submit your answer to the court, or any other motion you may wish to file.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Should a Judge Make His Ruling Based on a Letter Someone Wrote, Even When That Person Did Not Testify at Trial?

A judge is permitted to admit a letter into evidence under the right circumstances.  However, if you believe the judge made a mistake in his ruling by permitting the letter into evidence, it would be wise to discuss the facts of your case with an appellate lawyer.  An appellate lawyer would be able to educate you on the potential success of an appeal as well as your claims.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Should a Judge Make His Ruling Based on a Letter Someone Wrote, Even When That Person Did Not Testify at Trial?

A judge is permitted to admit a letter into evidence under the right circumstances.  However, if you believe the judge made a mistake in his ruling by permitting the letter into evidence, it would be wise to discuss the facts of your case with an appellate lawyer.  An appellate lawyer would be able to educate you on the potential success of an appeal as well as your claims.

If you have any questions regarding litigation in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

What Is the Purpose of Interrogatories?

Interrogatories are part of the discovery process.  This process is an investigation conducted by the parties and their attorneys into the facts of the case.  Interrogatories are an important method to conduct this discovery, as they are responses to questions made under oath that may be used at trial.  If a question asked in an interrogatory has already been asked in a deposition, you may not file a motion to quash.  The rules of litigation may be complicated as they are governed by the Connecticut Practice Book.  If you have not already done so, you should consult a practicing attorney in Connecticut, who is familiar with these rules and can assist you during litigation. If you have any questions related to the discovery process in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.