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Court Finds Rule for Arranging and Labeling Documents Does Not Apply to ESI – eDiscovery Case Law


In Anderson Living Trust v. WPX Energy Prod., No. CIV 12-0040 JB/LFG (D.N.M. Mar. 6, 2014), New Mexico District Judge James O. Browning granted the defendants’ Motion to Reconsider an earlier discovery ruling that would have required the defendants to arrange and label the discovery documents they had already produced, on the grounds that under Rule 34, this production was not considered electronically stored information.

At issue in this hearing was whether “a party must, under Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arrange and label electronically stored information (‘ESI’) to correspond to the categories in the request, or whether compliance with rule 34(b)(2)(E)(ii)—production of ESI in the form that the requesting party requests, or in another reasonably usable form—is sufficient.” This question was applied to the production of approximately 20,000 pages of hard copy documents, which the defendants had scanned and produced in the format requested by the plaintiffs.

Previously in the course of discovery for this case, both parties had reached an agreement concerning discovery for the defendants to convert particular hard copy documents “in the order they were maintained within each file” to “fully searchable PDF files.” However, once production was completed according to the plaintiffs’ specifications, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the defendants to arrange and label the scanned document in order to “designate which of the Plaintiffs’ numbered requests these documents are responsive to.” The plaintiffs maintained that they could not manage the “tens of thousands of pages of documents” produced by the defendants “[w]ithout knowing which documents correspond with specific requests and whether the Defendants have, in fact, produced any documents responsive to some requests…”.

The defendants voluntarily provided the plaintiffs with an index of their production in response to the motion to compel, and argued that requiring them to “parse through the verbiage of each request and narrow down precisely which file was produced in response to which request would take a significant amount of time” and would therefore be unduly burdensome.

Initially, Judge Browning was inclined to side with the plaintiffs, but after hearing the defendants’ Motion to Reconsider, it was concluded that under Rule 34, scanned hard copy documents would not be considered ESI, and therefore the requirement that “documents be produced either in the usual course of business or labeled to correspond to categories in the request” does not apply. Therefore, the defendants had met their discovery obligations.

Judge Browning stated in part: “From the evidence available to the Court, it appears that the Plaintiffs did more than merely ‘stipulate’ to the form of production – it appears the Defendants were the one making most of the concessions: they agreed to the Plaintiffs’ request to scan hard copy documents into ESI for the Plaintiffs’ convenience, and they assented to the Plaintiffs’ request to convert the information into PDF form, rather than the cheaper and more familiar [from the Defendants’ perspective] TIFF form.”

Therefore, the defendants’ Motion to Reconsider was granted, with the conclusion that the “defendants’ production of discovery in PDF format – consisting of items stored as ESI before the litigation, as well as approximately 20,000 pages of documents that existed in hard copy form before being rendered into ESI for production – is adequate, and no further production or labeling is required.”

So, what do you think? Should electronically stored information be defined solely as documents that already existed in electronic format prior to litigation? Should it be reasonably logical to assume that documents produced as discovery be arranged and labeled to correspond with responsive requests? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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