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Court Denies Plaintiff’s Request for Native ESI Format, Approves Request for Index: eDiscovery Case Law

In Stormo v. City of Sioux Falls, et. al., No. 12-04057 (D. S.D., Feb. 19, 2016), South Dakota District Judge Karen E. Schreier, ruling on several motions, denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel with regard to requiring the defendants to provide electronically stored information in its native format and metadata for these documents, but granted it with regard to providing an index explaining information about the documents.

Case Background

In this pro se lawsuit where the plaintiff sued the defendants for violations of his civil rights with respect to his status as a landowner and landlord, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in part. The plaintiff then filed a second amended complaint with additional claims.  As Judge Schreier noted, “Discovery is ongoing and fraught with complications. Stormo has filed numerous motions, often raising unrelated, irrelevant, or indecipherable arguments. Defendants have neither responded to all of Stormo’s discovery requests adequately nor complied with all of the court’s orders sufficiently.”

In the plaintiff’s latest motion, the plaintiff moved the court to, among other things, compel defendants to provide electronically stored information in its native format, provide metadata for these documents, and provide an index explaining information about the documents.

With regard to the metadata, the plaintiff argued that metadata would allow him to discover whether the data is “forensically sound,” specifically: when it was created, accessed, or modified.  Countering, the defendant argued that providing the metadata would be overly burdensome and stated that they have no system that tracks the metadata sought by the plaintiff and they would have to go through each document and retrieve the metadata from the program with which the document was created.  As for the request for the index, the plaintiff claimed that the defendants produced a jumbled group of documents which is not labeled or indexed in any manner, but the defendants argued that they produced documents in an organized fashion and in the form kept in the ordinary course of business.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Schreier began her analysis by citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34(b)(2)(E), which states:

“(i) A party must produce documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request; (ii) If 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…”

With regard to the plaintiff’s request to compel the defendants to reproduce documents in their native format, Judge Schreier stated that “He claims that he made a general request for all electronically stored information in its native format at the time of his initial document request…He does not, however, explain what is wrong with the format in which defendants have produced the documents. Therefore, the motion to compel is denied as it concerns his request to reproduce documents in their native format.”

With regard to the request for metadata, Judge Schreier stated:

“Defendants’ response may fail to articulate how this discovery is extraordinary or unusual, but Stormo has failed to show the metadata’s relevancy to his claims. His motion to compel argues that he wants the metadata to be sure that the documents were not created for or altered in anticipation of litigation…Stormo has not explained why he thinks defendants might have done this. There is no indication that they have altered the documents. Stormo fails to convince the court that the metadata is relevant to his claims, the request falls outside of the parameters of discovery, and therefore, his motion to compel is denied as it concerns his request for metadata.”

As for the request for an index, Judge Schreier ruled on this point in favor of the plaintiff, noting that “Stormo requests only “a) the bates number or other identifier of the document; b) the name of the person who is custodian of the document; c) the original source and author of the document; and d) the document request number and request number of any requests that the document is responsive to” for each document…Supplying this information is not overly burdensome on defendants. Therefore, Stormo’s motion to compel is granted as it concerns preparation of an index that supplies the information described above.”

So, what do you think?  Was the plaintiff’s request for native format documents and metadata unreasonable?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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