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Court Agrees with Defendants that Producing Medical Records in Native Form is an “Undue Burden” – eDiscovery Case Law


In Peterson v. Matlock, 11-2594 (FLW)(DEA). (D.N.J.Oct. 29, 2014), New Jersey Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert denied the plaintiffs motion to compel defendants to produce the plaintiff's electronically stored medical records in “native readable format” after the defendants produced the records in PDF format, agreeing that the defendants had demonstrated that they would suffer an undue burden in complying with the plaintiff's request.

The plaintiff sought a native file production from a computer system that maintained medical files of prison inmates in a database application called “Centricity” from the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) related to his claim that he was beaten by several correctional officers while restrained with handcuffs.  The plaintiff's medical records were previously provided in a PDF file organized in reverse chronological order, which the plaintiff claimed renders the records difficult to navigate and interpret.  According to the plaintiff, when provided in PDF format, the record is missing “the functionality, searchable data points, and metadata which are part of the electronic medical record and are available to a provider…using Centricity.”  Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the PDF record is missing metadata stored in Centricity in the form of an "audit trail" which records changes or additions to the record.

The defendants argued that the form in which the plaintiff's records were provided is the standard output and method of production and that to produce the records in the form requested by the plaintiff “would be an inordinate drain of time and manpower” because staff from the DOC would be required to “sort through each page of the medical record and make the determination as to which category it fits into.”

Judge Arpert stated that “While Plaintiff claims the record as provided in PDF format is difficult to interpret and navigate, Defendants have demonstrated that they would suffer an undue burden in complying with Plaintiff's request to provide the records in their native format. Although the PDF record provided may be less convenient for Plaintiff, requiring staff from the DOC to sort and identify each page of every inmate medical record would create a substantial hardship and/or expense, which outweighs Plaintiff's interests in receiving the records in their native format.”  As a result, the judge found “that Defendants have fulfilled their obligation with respect to the production of Plaintiff's medical records” and denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel.

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

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