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E-⁠Discovery Case Law Library
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Case shelved under Proportionality

State Court Rules 3rd Party Not Allowed to Search Electronic Database

In re Methodist Primary Care Grp.
Tex. 14th Dist. Ct. App. June 21, 2018
Why This Case Is Important

Most litigation is conducted in state, not federal courts. While it’s important to be aware of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, states have their own rules about e-discovery, and attorneys practicing in those states must understand the rules that apply to them.

Overview:

This case between two medical groups centers on an allegation of trade secret theft and interference with patient relationships when two physicians left one practice to join Methodist Primary Care Group.

The e-discovery dispute over production arose when a motion or trial level judge allowed a third-party expert to “search electronic practice management systems…. in the cloud…” used by relators (not parties to the litigation) as part of the e-discovery process in response to the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery.

The relators filed a writ of mandamus requesting the appellate court to vacate the original discovery order based on four factors:

  • Data wasn’t adequately requested
  • Relators never defaulted on their discovery duties, and there was no evidence that an additional search would find responsive data
  • The order requested data outside the plaintiff’s original request
  • The order improperly granted access to data outside the scope of this litigation
Ruling:
  • Original Order Vacated. The appellate court vacated the lower court’s discovery order on multiple grounds: the relators had not defaulted on their discovery obligations; the relators did not have possession, custody, or control over the data; there was an “undue intrusion” by allowing third-party access to another entity’s electronic database; and finally that the order’s scope was much broader than the original discovery request.
  • Beyond the Scope. The court stated, “the order authorizes discovery that is significantly broader than was requested by Associates.” By not properly scoping their request, the court found that Methodist Primary Care’s request was overly broad and not relevant to the claims at issue.
  • “Undue Intrusion.” Due to the elevated risk of “revealing private conversations, trade secrets and privileged or otherwise confidential communications,” the court determined that giving direct access to another party’s electronic storage devices would be an “undue intrusion.”
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Download the PDF version of In re Methodist Primary Care Grp. case law alert here. 

Legal Analysis
On In re Methodist Primary Care Grp.
Cristin Traylor, Esq., Counsel, McGuire Woods
BY
Cristin Traylor, Esq., Counsel, McGuire Woods

Even though the court found that the Relators’ production was inadequate, it would not go so far as to order an extremely intrusive third-party search of their electronic data. The court also made an important distinction between a legal right of possession and merely having “access” to documents when it comes to production obligations. The parties in this case could have saved a lot of time and expense by just discussing the best way to retrieve the requested information.

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