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  • A Closer Look at Microsoft Outlook

    Have you ever heard of a “.PST” or an “.OST” file? If not, you may be missing out on an important, if not necessary, weapon in your e-discovery arsenal.  Office Outlook Personal Folders files (“PST”) are files automatically created in Microsoft Outlook, and they contain a particular user’s e-mail messages (and attachments), calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes.  Outlook automatically generates these files under your Windows user account directory, unless you tell the program to use another location.

    Typically, a .PST is used by IT personnel to transport multiple e-mail messages from one computer to another. As e-discovery becomes a vital part of litigation, however, advocates are starting to make requests for these files in their discovery demands. Below, you will find information regarding .PST files, which was obtained from Microsoft’s support website:

    Personal Folders file (.pst)

    “Personal Folders files (.pst) contain your e-mail messages, calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes. You must use Outlook to work with the items in a .pst file. When you archive Outlook information, items are saved in a .pst files.”

    If you are interested in viewing these files, you can open Windows Explorer and navigate to the following directory:

    Windows Vista or Windows 7:    drive:\Users\user\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook

    Microsoft Windows XP: drive:\Documents and Settings\user\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook

    Once you are in the directory, you can open the files using Outlook or by using Microsoft’s open-source PST viewer: PST Data Structure View Tool (http://pstviewtool.codeplex.com/).

    Offline Folders files (“OST”) are created when Outlook is used in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange Server. OST files allow you to continue to work in Outlook even when you are not connected to the Internet. Once an action (creation, deletion, or an edit of an email, or any other Outlook task) is completed in offline mode, the .OST file saves those actions and waits for the computer to be connected to the Internet. When the computer goes back “online,” the .OST file is then synchronized with the Exchange Server and the saved actions are completed.  The Microsoft support website describes OST files as the following:

    Offline Folders file (.ost)

    “The .ost file is synchronized with the items on the server running Microsoft Exchange.”

    Similar to .PST files, .OST files are located in the following directories:

    Windows Vista or Windows 7: drive:\Users\user\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook

    Microsoft Windows XP: drive:\Documents and Settings\user\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook 

    So, how can these files be used during litigation? In Einstein v. 357 LLC, et al., 2009 NY Slip Op 32611 (N.Y. Sup.Ct., 2009), which involved the sale of the allegedly defective condominium unit in Brooklyn, New York, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants fraudulently induced, concealed, and negligently misrepresented information regarding the sale of a defective condominium. The alleged correspondence included emails sent by the defendant’s brokers.

    During discovery, plaintiffs made a series of discovery demands, including a request for the defendants’ broker’s emails relevant to the litigation. After the defendants failed to respond, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel discovery.  In response, the broker represented that it had made a good faith effort to produce all the documents it could find. The court then ordered the defendants to turn over the hard drives of their brokers to a third-party vendor in order for the third-party to check if there was any evidence of the emails remaining on the drives.  The search did not reveal emails that were actually produced to the plaintiffs by the defendants, which should have remained on the hard drive pursuant to a litigation hold. Moreover, the third-party vendor concluded that the hard drives contained no .PST or .OST files at all.

    Ultimately, the court held that “failure to suspend the deletion policy or to investigate the basic ways in which e-mails were stored and deleted constitutes a serious discovery default on the part of [defendants] and their counsel rising to the level of gross negligence or willfulness,” and thus sanctioned the defendants.