eDiscovery Daily Blog

Another Case where Reimbursement of eDiscovery Costs are Denied – eDiscovery Case Law

When it comes to reimbursement of eDiscovery costs, sometimes courts feel like a nut and sometimes they don’t.  In other words, there appears to be no consistency.

In The Country Vintner of North Carolina, LLC v. E. & J. Gallo Winery, Inc., No. 12-2074, 2013 U.S. App. (4th Cir. Apr. 29, 2013), when deciding which costs are taxable, the Fourth Circuit chose to follow the Third Circuit’s reasoning in Race Tires America, Inc. v. Hoosier Racing Tire Corp.,674 F.3d 158 (3d Cir. 2012), which read 28 U.S.C. § 1920(4) narrowly. Specifically, the court approved taxation of file conversion and transferring files onto CDs as “[f]ees for exemplification and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case” but no other tasks related to electronically stored information (ESI).

In this case, the defendant balked at the plaintiff’s discovery requests, arguing that the requests created an undue burden, rendering the documents sought inaccessible. The plaintiff filed a motion to compel, which the district court granted. The defendant then collected more than 62 gigabytes of data for review.

After prevailing on a motion to dismiss several claims and having the rest dismissed at summary judgment, the defendant filed a bill of costs seeking $111,047.75 for e-discovery-related charges, including the following:

  • $71,910 for ‘flattening’ and ‘indexing’ ESI,”
  • $15,660 for ‘Searching/Review Set/Data Extraction,’”
  • $178.59 for ‘TIFF Production’ and ‘PDF Production,’”
  • $74.16 for electronic ‘Bates Numbering,’”
  • $40 for copying images onto a CD or DVD,” and
  • $23,185 for ‘management of the processing of the electronic data,’ ‘quality assurance procedures,’ ‘analyzing corrupt documents and other errors,’ and ‘preparing the production of documents to opposing counsel.’”

Following the Third Circuit’s reasoning in Race Tires America, the district court found that the defendant was entitled to costs for tasks that were the equivalent of copying or duplicating files, but not for “any other ESI-related expenses.” Here, the only reimbursable tasks were converting files to TIFF and PDF format and transferring files to CDs. Therefore, the court taxed $218.59.

On appeal, the defendant claimed its ESI-related charges were taxable because “ESI has ‘unique features’: ESI is ‘more easily and thoroughly changeable than paper documents,’ it contains metadata, and it often has searchable text.” The defendant argued converting native files to PDF and TIFF formats resulted in “‘static, two-dimensional images that, by themselves, [we]re incomplete copies of dynamic, multi-dimensional ESI,’” such that other processing was required to copy the “‘all integral features of the ESI.’”

The Fourth Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument.  The court noted that “the presumption is that the responding party must bear the expense of complying with discovery requests.” Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has opined that “‘costs almost always amount to less than the successful litigant’s total expenses’” and that Section 1920 is “‘limited to relatively minor, incidental expenses.’” Finally, the appellate court also relied on Race Tires in finding that Section 1920(4) limited the taxable costs to file conversion and burning files onto discs. The ESI-related charges were not taxable as “fees for exemplification” under the statute because they did not involve the authentication of public records, exhibits, or demonstrative aids.

Although the court’s reasoning meant the defendant would be reimbursed for only a fraction of its costs, it did not mean its interpretation of the statute was “too grudging in an age of unforeseen innovations in litigation-support technology.” Rather, the court suggested that where parties believe costs are excessive, they can file a motion seeking a protective order.

So, what do you think?  Should the costs have been awarded?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Summary Source: Applied Discovery (free subscription required).  For eDiscovery news and best practices, check out the Applied Discovery Blog here.

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