Sailing the Hazards Waters of Search Terms

Shipmates, get ready for a voyage of Electronic Discovery.

A cruise line sued their agents for the Defendants’ alleged failure to “provide proper ship management, care and oversight,” for the Plaintiffs’ cruise ships.  Seven Seas Cruisesn S. DE R.L. v. V Ships Leisure SAM, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131606 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 2, 2010). 

In sailor parlance, the ship was not kept in a shipshape and Bristol fashion. 

The Plaintiffs embarked on a voyage to compel the Defendants to run searches for electronically stored information to comply with their discovery requests.  Seven Seas, at *5-6. 

The Plaintiff’s Logbook showed the parties agreed to search terms and that the Defendants would collect responsive, non-privileged, ESI for production.  Seven Seas, at *6. 

The Defendants produced a DVD with purportedly responsive ESI, which the Plaintiff deckhand attorneys reviewed.  The Plaintiffs even deposed one of the Defendants…and then learned that the search terms were in fact never run.  Seven Seas, at *6. 

All associate attorneys were sent to general quarters and broadsides were fired at the Defendants. 

The Defendants’ decks were awash with a motion to compel the Defendants to run the “proper” searches and produce the responses within 10 days, in TIFF format, with extracted text and specific load files for the Plaintiffs’ litigation support platform.  Seven Seas, at *6-7. 

The Plaintiff did allow for the possibility a harbor pilot, specifically a third-party service provider, could run the Defendants’ searches for production.  Seven Seas, at *6-7. 

The “Admiralty” Court noted that the Defendants failed to even oppose the motion to compel.  Seven Seas, at *7-8. 

During Captain’s Mast, the Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion to compel, in part, by Default.  Seven Seas, at *8-9. 

The Court specifically ordered:

The Defendants shall conduct a search of electronically stored information using the terms submitted by Plaintiffs contemporaneously with the Motion to Compel (DE # 150-1) and produce the results of said searches on or before the close of business on Monday, December 13, 2010. The Defendants shall produce the requested electronically stored information in the format as specified above in this order. If the Defendants are unable to perform the search in the manner specified, the Defendants shall notify the Court no later than Wednesday, December 8, 2010, so that the Court may appoint a third party vendor to perform the search, if necessary. To the extent that Plaintiffs seek to conduct additional or second deposition of certain witnesses based upon the information provided by Defendants in compliance with this Order, Plaintiffs must seek relief by way of a separate motion which specifically identifies the reasons for the additional deposition.

            Seven Seas, at *9. 

Bow Tie Thoughts

If the Defendants had filed a motion to repel boarders, there may have been some debate over the sufficiency of search terms.  However, that was not this case.

Search term efficiency is like the race to measure Longitude; the one who knows how to search will rule in the waves. 

In the 18th Century, this race was won by John Harrison, who invented the chronometer. 

Today, it is won by attorneys and e-Discovery experts who understand how to develop defensible search to eliminate false-positive results and find responsive data.

The ocean may now be digital, but we still have seas to navigate.