eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Grants Discovery on Individual Defendants’ Personal Computers and Email: eDiscovery Case Law

In Sunderland v. Suffolk County et. al., No. 13-4838 (E.D.N.Y., June 14, 2016), New York Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson, determining that the plaintiff’s request for individual defendants to search for and produce certain documents from their personal computers and email accounts was not “unduly intrusive or burdensome” because the request was limited in time frame and the parties had agreed to search terms, granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel.

Case Background

In this case where a transgender prison inmate sued the defendants claiming they acted “with deliberate indifference” to serious medical needs by denying hormone therapy for gender dysphoria, the plaintiff served discovery requests on the both the county and the individual defendants seeking documents and correspondence that contained certain search terms related to gender dysphoria, gender identity, transgender status and sexual preference. The parties agreed upon the search terms, but the defendants refused to conduct searches on individual personal computers and email. The plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel, which pointed out that the plaintiff had sued the individual defendants in their individual capacities, not their official capacities as medical personnel employed by the County.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that the information requested by the plaintiff “falls within the broad scope of relevant discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) in light of Plaintiff’s allegations against the Individual Defendants and her Monell claim against the County”, Judge Tomlinson concluded that “Plaintiff has the right to pursue emails and other correspondence the Individual Defendants may have created/saved on their personal computers or sent from their personal email accounts which reference Plaintiff or discuss issues related to gender dysphoria.”

Judge Tomlinson noted that “to the extent such documents exist on the Individual Defendants’ personal computers, they may contain information going to bias or motivation which may show why a personal computer was used for such communications, including information which may support Plaintiff’s claims of deliberate indifference against the Individual Defendants.”  She also indicated that she “does not consider the requested discovery unduly intrusive or burdensome”, noting that the request “is limited to an approximate five-year time frame running from September 8, 2009 to January 3, 2014, which the Individual Defendants have not objected to in their opposition to Plaintiff’s motion. It also appears that the parties have agreed upon the search terms to be used.”  As a result, Judge Tomlinson granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery from the individual defendants’ personal computers and email accounts.

So, what do you think?  Was the plaintiff entitled to discovery from the individuals’ computers and email accounts?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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