With growing volumes of electronically stored data, it’s imperative that legal teams take a proactive approach to early case assessment by setting specific production requests to prevent receiving “document dumps” with poor text-search capabilities.
In this employment discrimination case, the plaintiff brought a motion to compel the reproduction of documents provided by the defendants.
During discovery, the plaintiff issued a document request to the defendant seeking all documents in the defendants’ possession which pertain to the plaintiff. The defendants responded to the request with a “document dump” of 5,295 documents consisting of 111,896 pages.
Although the defendants provided all the requested materials, the plaintiff then filed a motion to compel the re-production of documents, stating that the documents provided were not in a text-searchable format.
• Importance of ESI Discovery Specifications. The court explained that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(ii) requires that “[i]f a request does not specify a form for producing electronically stored information, a party must produce it in a form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form or forms.” Court records do not indicate the plaintiff ever requested ESI discovery be produced in any particular format. Thus, the court found the defendants’ response to be sufficient.
• Reasonably Usable vs. Searchability. The definition of “text searchability” was a key issue in this case. The defendants claimed the PDF documents they provided were reasonably searchable using the “Ctrl-F” function. While the plaintiff argued against the defendants’ claims of reasonable searchability, the court noted that searchability itself is not required by federal rules; rather that documents themselves be provided in a reasonably usable format.
• Motion for Re-Production Denied. The court denied the plaintiff’s requests for re-production. Citing the plaintiff’s original requests did not specify that the documents be produced in a particular format. Therefore, the court ruled the documents provided were reasonably usable or in their originally maintained format.
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Case lessons here include “be careful what you ask for” and “be careful how you ask for it.” A party’s “document dump” claims are unlikely to gain traction where the volume results from the breadth of the request (“all documents.. relating to plaintiff…”.) Likewise, complaints about the form of production may not garner sympathy where the requests fail to specify a form of production and then documents are produced in standard formats with load files.