Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 220 F.R.D. 212, 217 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) is, as I wrote before, the Tale of Genji for electronic discovery. It is as widely-cited as all but the most prominent of Supreme Court opinions.

Gregory P. Joseph brings us selections from Judge Scheindlin’s new magnum opus on the subject, Pension Comm. of Univ. of Montreal, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4546 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010):

In an era where vast amounts of electronic information is available for review, discovery in certain cases has become increasingly complex and expensive. Courts cannot and do not expect that any party can meet a standard of perfection. Nonetheless, the courts have a right to expect that litigants and counsel will take the necessary steps to ensure that relevant records are preserved when litigation is reasonably anticipated, and that such records are collected, reviewed, and produced to the opposing party. As discussed six years ago in the Zubulake opinions, when this does not happen, the integrity of the judicial process is harmed and the courts are required to fashion a remedy. Once again, I have been compelled to closely review the discovery efforts of parties in a litigation, and once again have found that those efforts were flawed. As famously noted, "[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." By now, it should be abundantly clear that the duty to preserve means what it says and that a failure to preserve records — paper or electronic — and to search in the right places for those records, will inevitably result in the spoliation of evidence.

The Court granted sanctions in the form of an adverse inference / spolitation instruction and monetary compensation to opposing counsel.

Going forward, courts will no longer accept excuses when corporations allow relevant evidence to be destroyed by failing to implement adequate controls:

After a discovery duty is well established, the failure to adhere to contemporary standards can be considered gross negligence. Thus, after the final relevant Zubulake opinion in July, 2004, the following failures support a finding of gross negligence, when the duty to preserve has attached:

  • to issue a written litigation hold;
  • to identify all of the key players and to ensure that their electronic and paper records are preserved;
  • to cease the deletion of email or to preserve the records of former employees that are in a party’s possession, custody, or control; and
  • to preserve backup tapes when they are the sole source of relevant information or when they relate to key players, if the relevant information maintained by those players is not obtainable from readily accessible sources.

(Emphasis and formatting added).

Consider yourselves warned.