eDiscovery Daily Blog

Appellate Court Upholds Ruling to Require Production in Native Format: eDiscovery Case Law

On Monday, we covered a case where the requesting party objected to receiving a native format production by the opposing party instead of TIFF files (go figure).  In today’s case, it was the producing party that objected to providing a native format production.  Here’s the case.

In the case In re State Farm Lloyds, No. 13-14-00616 (Tx. App. Ct., Oct. 28, 2015), the Texas Court of Appeals, finding that the relator failed to meet its burden to support its objection that it could not produce the discovery through reasonable efforts, denied the petition for writ of mandamus filed by the relator in which it contended that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering the production of discovery in native or near-native formats rather than the “reasonably usable” formats it proposed.

Case Background

In this case which involved a homeowner’s insurance claim after hail storm damage, the parties met repeatedly and unsuccessfully to attempt to negotiate a protocol for the production of ESI, causing the real parties to file a motion to “Motion for the Entry of Production Protocol and Motion to Compel Testimony Regarding Technical Information”.  The relators objected, claiming that the real parties’ proposed ESI protocol language would “impose significant burdens” on it to develop (test and implement) unique and burdensome processes just for this case.  The relators also claimed the real parties’ approach was “unsupported under the law”, indicating that “[t]he Texas Legislature did not craft Rule 196.4 [the Texas rule that addresses the procedures that must be followed in seeking the discovery of data or information that exists in electronic or magnetic format] as a mandate for native production”.

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the discovery issues at which various witnesses testified (including Craig Ball, who testified on behalf of the real parties that production of the ESI in native and near-native format was both easier and cheaper for the relator than the production of information lacking metadata and that the “reasonably usable” format proposed by the relator was incomplete and lacked essential information.

After the testimony, the trial court granted the real parties’ motion to compel.  The relator filed a petition for writ of mandamus, contending: (1) Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 196.4 and 192.4 allow for the production of ESI in “reasonably usable forms”; and (2) the trial court clearly abused its discretion by entering an order requiring the production of all ESI in specific formats (e.g., “native”) as demanded by real parties and by refusing to allow State Farm to produce ESI in the “reasonably usable” forms it proffered.

Appellate Court Ruling

The court noted that “Under the express terms of the Rule 196.4, the real parties are required to specify the form of production for requested ESI, and State Farm has the obligation to either produce the responsive ESI that is reasonably available to it in the ordinary course of business or to object if it cannot produce the ESI in the requested form through ‘reasonable efforts.’”  Finding that the “real parties have clearly specified the form for production of ESI as specified by our rules and consistent with federal practice”, the appellate court also found that the real parties had presented evidence that “ESI discovery in native and near-native formats is necessary”.  The appellate court also noted that “the record contains evidence that the discovery offered by State Farm as ‘reasonably usable’ lacked numerous categories of information regarding State Farm’s evaluation of the real parties’ claim such as emails, instant messages, captions next to photographs that incorporated the adjuster’s evaluations of the real parties’ damages, and ‘Xactanalysis’ reports on the claim.”

Noting that “State Farm did not provide the trial court with any evidence regarding the estimated cost or expense of producing the ESI data in the requested forms, any evidence regarding the time that it would take to produce the ESI data in the requested forms, or any other estimate of the ‘reasonable expenses of any extraordinary steps required to retrieve and produce the information’”, the Appellate Court determined that “the trial court acted within its discretion in determining that the discovery was not unduly burdensome or that the burden or expense of the discovery outweighed its likely benefit” and denied the petition for writ of mandamus filed by the relator.

So, what do you think?  Should requesting parties always be able to receive native and near-native formats of ESI if they request it?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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