Welcome to Module 1-K.
Third Edition of The Sedona Principles and Criticisms of Principle Six
The Sedona Conference in 2017 published the third edition of The Sedona Principles, Third Edition: Best Practices, Recommendations & Principles for Addressing Electronic Document Production, THE SEDONA CONFERENCE (2017 Public Comment Version). As a former Sedona Conference member, I may be somewhat biased, but it is safe to say that everyone in the e-discovery world considers The Sedona Principles a key document for understanding electronic discovery and best practices. This is especially true of the judiciary, who play an active role in Sedona. Many district court judges across the country cite to The Sedona Principles and consider it to be authoritative. This module introduces these fourteen Principles with a focus on an issue many are now having with Principle Six. Here are the Fourteen Principles.
1. Electronically stored information is generally subject to the same preservation and discovery requirements as other relevant information.
2. When balancing the cost, burden, and need for electronically stored information, courts and parties should apply the proportionality standard embodied in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C) and its state equivalents, which require consideration of importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.
3. As soon as practicable, parties should confer and seek to reach agreement regarding the preservation and production of electronically stored information.
4. Discovery requests for electronically stored information should be as specific as possible; responses and objections to discovery should disclose the scope and limits of the production.
5. The obligation to preserve electronically stored information requires reasonable and good faith efforts to retain information that is expected to be relevant to claims or defenses in reasonably anticipated or pending litigation. However, it is unreasonable to expect parties to take every conceivable step or disproportionate steps to preserve each instance of relevant electronically stored information.
6. Responding parties are best situated to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information.
7. The requesting party has the burden on a motion to compel to show that the responding party’s steps to preserve and produce relevant electronically stored information were inadequate.
8. The primary source of electronically stored information to be preserved and produced should be those readily accessible in the ordinary course. Only when electronically stored information is not available through such primary sources should parties move down a continuum of less accessible sources until the information requested to be preserved or produced is no longer proportional.
9. Absent a showing of special need and relevance, a responding party should not be required to preserve, review, or produce deleted, shadowed, fragmented, or residual electronically stored information.
10. Parties should take reasonable steps to safeguard electronically stored information, the disclosure or dissemination of which is subject to privileges, work product protections, privacy obligations, or other legally enforceable restrictions.
11. A responding party may satisfy its good faith obligation to preserve and produce relevant electronically stored information by using technology and processes, such as data sampling, searching, or the use of selection criteria.
12. The production of electronically stored information should be made in the form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a that is reasonably usable given the nature of the electronically stored information and the proportional needs of the case.
13. The costs of preserving and producing relevant and proportionate electronically stored information ordinarily should be borne by the responding party.
14. The breach of a duty to preserve electronically stored information may be addressed by remedial measures, sanctions, or both: remedial measures are appropriate to cure prejudice; sanctions are appropriate only if a party acted with intent to deprive another party of the use of relevant electronically stored information.
Third Edition, Copyright © 2017 The Sedona Conference®. All Rights Reserved.
The new Principles paper can be downloaded for free at the Sedona website, so long as the copy is for your personal use only.
I strongly recommend you now go ahead and review this new and improved third edition. The Sedona Principles are one of The Sedona Conference and Richard Braman’s finest achievements. To those who have been around for a while and already studied the original Sedona Principles, relax, the 14 Principles remain basically the same, although they have been substantially updated and rewritten. But, you will still want to download and begin using this new version ASAP. It is a significant improvement over the first edition in several respects.
The Third Edition kept Principle One, which some had thought was now archaic, but updated the language. Principle Two on proportionality was also updated to conform with revised Rule 26(b)(1). So too was Principle Five on preservation, Principle Eight on accessibility, Principle Twelve on forms of production and Thirteen on costs. The Fourteenth Principle on sanctions was completely rewritten to conform with revised Rule 37(e). That was the right thing to do under the circumstances and we like how they included both remedial measures and sanctions.
The only thing unexpected to me is that the committee did not make any changes at all to what many believe is the most controversial of its Principles, Principle Six. That is the “responding parties best situated” principle. They only added to the Comments. Many think, myself included, that it needs to be tweaked further to exclude search and review methods. How can we use costs and proportionality to limit relevance and at the same time allow a producing party to use whatever expensive, ineffective method they want? More on that controversy later.
For those students already very familiar with the Second Edition we have prepared the following “edits displayed” version of the new Principles. This shows with
x-out font the old language that was stricken and with underline the new language that was added. The final language is in bold. (Any inadvertent errors in this restatement are purely our own, not Sedona’s.) This is not contained anywhere in the Sedona publication. For experts already very familiar with the Sedona Principles it will be easy to follow the below edits displayed version and see what was done and guess why. Still, there is no need to speculate. The excellent introductory remarks explain the thought processes behind each revision. As you will see, a great many of the revisions were stylistic. The result is a much more readable work.
(edits displayed version)
We have only one criticism of the Third Edition, which we otherwise think is excellent, and that is no changes at all were made to what many believe is currently the most controversial of its Principles, Principle Six. That is the “responding parties best situated” principle. The only revisions made were to the Comments. Many think that the Principle itself should have been revised to exclude search and review methods from its scope. How can we use costs and proportionality to limit relevance and at the same time allow a producing party to use whatever expensive, ineffective method they want?
We think The Sedona Conference should reconsider its decision not to tweak Principle Six. They should come up with some revision to address the changing technological landscape and case law, especially the decisions on predictive coding. In our view it is not enough to rely on the new comments added, even though we do appreciate and applaud Comment 6.e. Use and role of discovery counsel, consultants, and vendors.
All of the new comments to Six are good revisions, but they do not go far enough to address issues and misunderstandings seen with the wording of this Principle and a producing party’s refusal to use effective, inexpensive search and review technology. Principle Six was never intended to provide cover for inept lawyers. Yet that is exactly how it is sometimes being misused.
The experience-based comments of Craig Ball, Special Master, Consultant and Forensic Examiner, should have been more fully addressed. See: Sedona Principle Six: Overdue for an Overhaul (Ball in Your Court, October 2014) (“Sedona Principle 6 is overdue for an overhaul: It’s out of synch with reality, and always has been.“) Also see: Rohlf, Second Thoughts on Sedona Principle Six.
Here is Craig Ball’s core objection (but we suggest you read his whole article), and note that the language he criticizes has not changed:
The current Principle Six states, “Responding parties are best situated to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information.”
Sometimes responding parties are best situated. But, sometimes they are foxes guarding henhouses, and sometimes possess so little competence that their folly serves as fodder for sanctions.
The presumption of superior competence is belied by the reality of widespread confusion and incompetence. Yes, an organization may better know its own data for it’s in a superior position to know; but, it’s foolish to assume they possess a superior ken of their data with respect to its identification, preservation and transit into and through e-discovery. That’s a specialty.
Sometimes the requesting party better understands the relevant elements of the responding party’s information technology vis à vis e-discovery than the responding party. Truth be told, the procedures, methodologies and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing ESI are more similar than they are different. Is one company’s Exchange Server fundamentally different from another’s? Is your implementation of Salesforce.com radically different in terms of features and capabilities than mine? …
We are inclined to agree with some of Craig’s comments here, even though, unlike Craig, we strongly agree with the overall intent of the principle, especially as it concerns preservation and collection. We do not want opposing counsel trying to tell us what to do anymore than the next guy. But, this should not give an attorney carte blanche to do anything under a sometimes false presumption of competence, much less superior competence. We are undercutting Rules 1 and 26(g) in doing so.
We do not think that Principle Six should apply to choice of document review method, especially when the cost of that review is an important factor in determining scope of relevance. What really matters is not ownership of ESI and IT systems, but competence in ESI search and review. It is a matter of knowing how to use the best tools to search for and find the electronic evidence needed to try a case. What does that have to do with who owns the data or where it once lived?
Just suggesting a party hire experts, which Comment 6.e. does, is not adequate to address this problem. It does not go far enough. We do not call for the elimination of Principle Six, as Craig Ball seems to do, but we think Principle Six needs to be revised and clarified. Principle Six needs to be taken out of the equation in determining reasonable, proportionate efforts of search. Right now it is the six hundred pound gorilla in the room that stifles fair debate on the merits of reasonable efforts.
Although we are not there yet, we predict that, in spite of Principle Six as now worded, a day will come when a court will order a party to use predictive coding, or appoint a third-party to do so for them, even though the producing party does not want to. They will do that to prevent manifest injustice. As Judge Peck held in Hyles v. New York City, No. 10 Civ. 3119 (AT)(AJP), 2016 WL 4077114 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2016):
There may come a time when TAR is so widely used that it might be unreasonable for a party to decline to use TAR. We are not there yet. Thus, despite what the Court might want a responding party to do, Sedona Principle 6 controls. Hyles’ application to force the City to use TAR is DENIED.
Principle Six is now providing cover for the technologically inept. It allows a lawyer to choose to use archaic methods of document review, all under the name of a supposed inherent special knowledge of the producing party. That makes no sense. The use of predictive coding, or not, has little or nothing to do with a party’s knowledge of unique, proprietary IT systems. It has to do with a lawyer’s search skills and competence. It has to do with what is reasonable and proportionate under the circumstances.
How can we in good conscience allow costs to limit the search for truth under 26(b)(1) and, at the same time, allow a producing party to use whatever expensive, ineffective method they want? This is like the billable hour itself where inefficiency is rewarded. Principle Six needs to be updated to address this unjust loophole.
Under the right facts, and with good supporting expert testimony, a judge may soon decide that predictive coding is the only way to avoid an injustice, no matter what Principle Six says about “producers superior knowledge.” That is going to hurt the Sedona brand.
For example, what if the producing party’s discovery plan for review of One Million emails for relevance was to hire a team of one-hundred contract lawyers, located and licensed in the Philippines, and have them “speed-read” all One Million of them. To make it worse, what if the plan was for them to follow a two page definition of relevance (the terms of which they refuse to disclose, claiming work-product)? Might a court in these circumstances compel the producing party to retain an expert in predictive coding to search the same One Million emails? What if the cost of the expert supervised method was projected to be substantially less than the outsourced manual review plan? What if the projected TAR method cost allowed for proportional review of all twenty custodians the requesting party wanted, but the archaic, linear review method only allowed for proportionate review of ten?
The day will come when a scenario like this is presented to a court. Maybe the judge will hear testimony on whether the producing party and legal team are in fact best situated to evaluate the document search method. Maybe that will be unnecessary. Either way the Sedona Principle Six presumption may be proven foolish, at least as to document review. The Judge will be forced by Rule One to order the responding party to use the right technology. He or she will do that in spite of the current language of Principle Six. Maybe it will be Judge Peck again, maybe it will be some other judge less friendly to the Sedona Principles.
Principle Six should be revised so that it does not provide comfort for Luddites, or worse, cover for an unethical litigant trying to hide the ball by use of dinosaur methods of search. Please do not be so naive as to believe this is not happening. There are strong economic incentives in some firms to play games and feed a profitable in-house army of contract lawyers. What is the motive to use best practices when the profit is in the worst.
we do not want to be accused of being nay sayers who just criticizes and do not offer any positive solutions. So here are three possible alternative revisions. The first involves just a minor change to existing language:
Responding parties are best situated to evaluate
the reasonable procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information.
We are not sure if this minor tweak will be affective or not. Probably not, but it should be an easy-sell to those over-concerned about primum noc nocere. Appropriate comments should go along with that change. Another fairly easy way to address the issue is to leave the language as is, but add a sentence:
Responding parties are best situated to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information. Procedures, methodologies and technologies selected must be reasonably effective and cost-efficient.
We like that revision better. Another possible, more drastic solution is a re-write where the “responding parties” language is eliminated altogether:
Responding parties are best situated Parties should use best practices to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information. Procedures, methodologies and technologies selected should be reasonably effective and cost-efficient.
We hope that Sedona considers some kind of revision like this to the otherwise near perfect Third Edition of the Sedona Principles.
SUPPLEMENTAL READING: Obviously, you need to read the Sedona Principles, 3rd Ed. Of course, study all of the linked web pages that show up in a module, including Craig Ball’s article. Try to do this on every module, even if we do not provide a reminder like this.
NON-MANDITORY ADDITIONAL READING: Read some of the many cases and articles referred to in the Principles. This is terrific background reading and study.
EXERCISE. Determine which Sedona Principle you like the best and why. Write a short summary to yourself (or friends) of your thoughts. On Principle Six, what are your thoughts? Should it be revised? Why or why not? How?
Students are invited to leave a public comment below. Insights that might help other students are especially welcome. Let’s collaborate!
Copyright Ralph Losey 2017