New York Courts Address ESI Inconsistencies at State and Federal Level: An Erie Solution?

A panel of New York state and federal judges recently convened to discuss the differing standards between New York state and federal law governing the pre-litigation preservation of ESI and to make recommendations to resolve such inconsistencies. The panel’s findings are reported in the publication, Harmonizing the Pre-Litigation Obligation to Preserve Electronically Stored Information in New York State and Federal Courts. The critical issue is determining when a litigant’s duty to preserve ESI is triggered, how that duty is fulfilled, and the potential consequences for breaching the duty. The panel recognized that the disparate treatment that litigants may receive in New York state courts versus federal courts could lead to a great deal of confusion and uncertainty, even for parties that cautiously implement ESI strategies with an eye towards future litigation. For example, the trend in New York federal courts has been in favor of the adoption of per se culpability when determining a litigant’s state of mind. In Zubulake, the court held that once the duty to preserve ESI attached, any destruction of documents would be, at a minimum, negligent. In Pension Committee, the court held that failure to issue a written litigation hold constituted “gross negligence.” State courts, on the other hand, have largely declined to adopt such per se rules, preferring instead to analyze a litigant’s culpability on a case-by-case basis, as the courts did in cases such as Deer Park and Ecor Solutions.