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Anticipatory Reorganization of Files for Production Leads to Metadata Dispute

Hoehl Family Foundation v. Roberts

D. Vt. 4/13/23 7:00


Why This Case Is Important

This case is a great example of how too much of good thing (file organization in preparation of production) can be a bad thing (resulting in missing or incomplete metadata). The key to success is to use technology that allows you to understand, organize, and manage your data for matters while preserving the original metadata.


In this case, the court addressed a motion to compel production of metadata that had been partially scrubbed by the movement of files in anticipation of litigation. 

The Plaintiff’s foundation sued the Defendants, investment managers and entities which serviced the Plaintiffs, due to a $1 million transaction which the Plaintiffs claim was “a total loss” that resulted in a $300,000 tax penalty. The court recognized another active matter filed in New Hampshire between a different entity controlled by the Plaintiff and the same Defendants and noted the discovery in both cases would proceed jointly. 

Plaintiffs sent the Defendants deficiency letter complaining of inaccurate or incomplete metadata, noting that the dates provided in some of the produced documents did not match the metadata. The Defendants explained that the inefficiencies may be due to changes made to servers or file organization in preparation of document production. 

A motion was filed by the Plaintiffs to compel Defendants to cure their production of defective documents by preforming additional discovery to provide documents in their native format, with accompanying metadata.


Motion for Production Granted. Despite the Defendant’s arguments, the court found that “[b]y failing to produce documents with complete and accurate metadata, Defendants fell short of their discovery obligations” and directed Defendants to provide complete and accurate metadata for the incomplete documents.

Affiliated Case Impacts Ruling. The Defendants main arguments were that the Plaintiffs did not raise metadata-based deficiency objections in a timely manner and that the production needed to produce additional metadata would be too expensive and “totally unnecessary.” However, the court rejected both arguments. First, the court noted between this and the New Hampshire case, the Plaintiffs raised the issue “frequently and promptly.” Second, the court rejected the metadata production issue due to the small volume of documents that required additional metadata information.

ESI Agreement Stands Strong. When the Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel defective documents, the court discussed the stipulated discovery order which specified that ESI would need to include original formatting, file structure, and metadata. Although the Defendants claimed metadata inaccuracies were due to the preparation of the files in anticipation of production, the court held the Defendants to the original ESI protocols outlined in the discovery order.

Expert Perspective

by: Hon. Andrew Peck (Ret.), Sr. Counsel, DLA Piper

Metadata is important to e-discovery. Be careful that employee collection, such as in moving ESI to forward it to counsel, does not inadvertently strip metadata. And as we are seeing more and more in the case law, courts will hold parties to what they agreed to do in an ESI a protocol— here, to produce ESI with its metadata. Be careful that you can do what you agree to do.

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