Judge Orders Forensic Examination of ATTORNEY’s hard drive

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Commercial Law Corp. v. FDIC, No. 10-13275, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51437 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 12, 2012)

The Plaintiffs in the above captioned case were attorneys attempting to recover attorney’s fees for services rendered to a bank before the bank was taken over by the FDIC in receivorship. Plaintiff asserted that it had valid liens on two branches of the bank, and that documents relating to these liens were executed by the bank on November 1, 2009, five days before the bank went into receivership.

Plaintiff had sent an email in January 2010 to the bank’s board of directors containing draft lien documents. This email had been produced in discovery, and the attachments were not signed by either plaintiff or the bank’s directors.

Defendant contended that it had reason to believe that the lien documents were prepared in January, 2010, after the bank had gone into receivership, and sought a forensic image of the plaintiff’s hard drive to determine when the documents were created. The magistrate judge granted defendant’s motion to compel plaintiff to produce the forensic image, setting forth detailed instructions on the process in order to protect plaintiff’s privileged files.

The district court rejected plaintiff’s arguments that a finding of actual fraud was necessary in order to compel the forensic search. The court stated that “[i]f the Court had before it ‘actual proof of an alleged fraud,’ as Plaintiff contends is required for the Court to grant the computer inspection, the forensic search of Plaintiff’s computer would serve no purpose.” Nevertheless, “extraordinary circumstances” existed which justified the forensic search.

The date that the Plaintiff executed the lien was “clearly relevant to a defense against Plaintiff’s attorney lien claim.” Rule 26’s limitation on the discovery of nonprivileged material was followed by the magistrate’s detailed instructions which were designed to protect the privileged material. The request for the image was based on more that a mere “hunch.” The FDIC had reason to believe that the documents were created at a later date and then backdated.

The fact that defendant had not originally requested metadata in its initial discovery requests was not dispositive, as defendant did not learn of the existence of the January email until it deposed the recipient of the email, well after the submission of the initial discovery requests.

The district court accordingly overruled plaintiff’s objections to the magistrate’s order.

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