On Monday, Virginia Circuit Court Judge James H. Chamblin issued what appears to be the first state court Order approving the use of predictive coding technology for eDiscovery. Tuesday, Law Technology News reported that Judge Chamblin issued the two-page Order in Global Aerospace Inc., et al, v. Landow Aviation, L.P. dba Dulles Jet Center, et al, over Plaintiffs’ objection that traditional manual review would yield more accurate results. The case stems from the collapse of three hangars at the Dulles Jet Center (“DJC”) that occurred during a major snow storm on February 6, 2010. The Order was issued at Defendants’ request after opposing counsel objected to their proposed use of predictive coding technology to “retrieve potentially relevant documents from a massive collection of electronically stored information.”
In Defendants’ Memorandum in Support of their motion, they argue that a first pass manual review of approximately two million documents would cost two million dollars and only locate about sixty percent of all potentially responsive documents. They go on to state that keyword searching might be more cost-effective “but likely would retrieve only twenty percent of the potentially relevant documents.” On the other hand, they claim predictive coding “is capable of locating upwards of seventy-five percent of the potentially relevant documents and can be effectively implemented at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time of linear review and keyword searching.”
In their Opposition Brief, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants should produce “all responsive documents located upon a reasonable inquiry,” and “not just the 75%, or less, that the ‘predictive coding’ computer program might select.” They also characterize Defendants’ request to use predictive coding technology instead of manual review as a “radical departure from the standard practice of human review” and point out that Defendants cite no case in which a court compelled a party to accept a document production selected by a “’predictive coding’ computer program.”
Considering predictive coding technology is new to eDiscovery and first generation tools can be difficult to use, it is not surprising that both parties appear to frame some of their arguments curiously. For example, Plaintiffs either mischaracterize or misunderstand Defendants’ proposed workflow given their statement that Defendants want a “computer program to make the selections for them” instead of having “human beings look at and select documents.” Importantly, predictive coding tools require human input for a computer program to “predict” document relevance. Additionally, the proposed approach includes an additional human review step prior to production that involves evaluating the computer’s predictions.
On the other hand, some of Defendants’ arguments also seem to stray a bit off course. For example, Defendants’ seem to unduly minimize the value of using other tools in the litigator’s tool belt like keyword search or topic grouping to cull data prior to using potentially more expensive predictive coding technology. To broadly state that keyword searching “likely would retrieve only twenty percent of the potentially relevant documents” seems to ignore two facts. First, keyword search for eDiscovery is not dead. To the contrary, keyword searches can be an effective tool for broadly culling data prior to manual review and for conducting early case assessments. Second, the success of keyword searches and other litigation tools depends as much on the end user as the technology. In other words, the carpenter is just as important as the hammer.
The Order issued by Judge Chamblin, the current Chief Judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, states that “Defendants shall be allowed to proceed with the use of predictive coding for purposes of the processing and production of electronically stored information.” In a hand written notation, the Order further provides that the processing and production is to be completed within 120 days, with “processing” to be completed within 60 days and “production to follow as soon as practicable and in no more than 60 days.” The order does not mention whether or not the parties are required to agree upon a mutually agreeable protocol; an issue that has plagued the court and the parties in the ongoing Da Silva Moore, et. al. v. Publicis Groupe, et. al. for months.
Global Aerospace is the third known predictive coding case on record, but appears to present yet another set of unique legal and factual issues. In Da Silva Moore, Judge Andrew Peck of the Southern District of New York rang in the New Year by issuing the first known court order endorsing the use of predictive coding technology. In that case, the parties agreed to the use of predictive coding technology, but continue to fight like cats and dogs to establish a mutually agreeable protocol.
Similarly, in the 7th Federal Circuit, Judge Nan Nolan is tackling the issue of predictive coding technology in Kleen Products, LLC, et. al. v. Packaging Corporation of America, et. al. In Kleen, Plaintiffs basically ask that Judge Nolan order Defendants to redo their production even though Defendants have spent thousands of hours reviewing documents, have already produced over a million documents, and their review is over 99 percent complete. The parties have already presented witness testimony in support of their respective positions over the course of two full days and more testimony may be required before Judge Nolan issues a ruling.
What is interesting about Global Aerospace is that Defendants proactively sought court approval to use predictive coding technology over Plaintiffs’ objections. This scenario is different than Da Silva Moore because the parties in Global Aerospace have not agreed to the use of predictive coding technology. Similarly, it appears that Defendants have not already significantly completed document review and production as they had in Kleen Products. Instead, the Global Aerospace Defendants appear to have sought protection from the court before moving full steam ahead with predictive coding technology and they have received the court’s blessing over Plaintiffs’ objection.
A key issue that the Order does not address is whether or not the parties will be required to decide on a mutually agreeable protocol before proceeding with the use of predictive coding technology. As stated earlier, the inability to define a mutually agreeable protocol is a key issue that has plagued the court and the parties for months in Da Silva Moore, et. al. v. Publicis Groupe, et. al. Similarly, in Kleen, the court was faced with issues related to the protocol for using technology tools. Both cases highlight the fact that regardless of which eDiscovery technology tools are selected from the litigator’s tool belt, the tools must be used properly in order for discovery to be fair.
Judge Chamblin left the barn door wide open for Plaintiffs to lodge future objections, perhaps setting the stage for yet another heated predictive coding battle. Importantly, the Judge issued the Order “without prejudice to a receiving party” and notes that parties can object to the “completeness or the contents of the production or the ongoing use of predictive coding technology.” Given the ongoing challenges in Da Silva Moore and Kleen, don’t be surprised if the parties in Global Aerospace Inc. face some of the same process-based challenges as their predecessors. Hopefully some of the early challenges related to the use of first generation predictive coding tools can be overcome as case law continues to develop and as next generation predictive coding tools become easier to use. Stay tuned as the facts, testimony, and arguments related to Da Silva Moore, Kleen Products, and Global Aerospace Inc. cases continue to evolve.