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Court Orders Defendant to Submit Further Declaration after Plaintiff Disputes its Claimed eDiscovery Costs – eDiscovery Case Law

In Bonillas v. United Air Lines Inc., No. C-12-06574(EDL) (N.D. Cal. Dec. 19, 2014), California Chief Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. LaPorte ordered the defendant to submit a further declaration supporting its claimed eDiscovery costs by addressing several issues raised by no later than January 5, 2015, with the plaintiff having until January 8, 2015 to submit a brief response to the further declaration if he chose to do so.

Case Background

The plaintiff sued the defendant for race and disability discrimination and retaliation. On August 19, 2014, the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted (with the plaintiff appealing the decision to the Ninth Circuit). After the summary judgment was granted, the defendant filed a Bill of Costs seeking $63,302.19 in costs as the prevailing party. The Clerk of Court reduced the amounts sought, awarding $50,617.61. The plaintiff then filed a Motion for Review of the Clerk’s Taxation of Costs and the trial judge referred the motion to Judge LaPorte’s Court for a Report and Recommendation. Judge LaPorte held a hearing on the matter on November 18, during which she requested a supplemental declaration from Defendant on the issue of which electronic discovery costs contained in the invoices are properly taxable, and allowed Plaintiff time to respond.

During oral argument, Judge LaPorte directed the parties to recent case law analyzing § 1920 as it applies to various categories of eDiscovery tasks and required further documentation from the parties. The defendant submitted a supplemental Declaration which reduced the defendant’s claimed ESI-related costs to $19,786.30, referencing CBT Flint Partners, LLC v. Return Path, Inc. The defendant claimed it “omitted approximately $13,886.65 in costs associated with de-duplicating, de-Nisting, culling extracted files using search terms, database and project management tasks, monthly hosting and licensing fees, and fees incurred for copying ESI onto backup media following production.”

The plaintiff responded that the reduced amount was “still too high” because, unlike the detailed ESI production process agreed to by the parties in CBT Flint Partners, here the parties “had no agreement as to format and Plaintiff made no request for documents to be produced in a particular format”. So the plaintiff argued that “all costs for file extraction and conversion were unnecessary and for the convenience of Defendant’s counsel”, contending that the defendant “should have simply copied responsive files to a storage device in the format in which they were ordinarily kept and provided that storage device to Plaintiff”.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge LaPorte agreed with the plaintiff that, “absent an agreement or rule governing the format of ESI production, Defendant’s recoverable costs are generally limited to those incurred during the third phase of its ESI production process, such as [the defendant’s eDiscovery provider] Blackstone’s assistance with document production including PDF conversion, Bates numbering, and loading the final production onto a secure FTP site for download.” However, she noted, “some preliminary tasks necessary to make the information readable may also be compensable.”

As a result, Judge LaPorte ordered the defendant to submit a further declaration of costs by January 5 to provide:

  • A breakdown of PDF conversion costs to detail what file and metadata costs were necessary to produce reasonably usable copies (as opposed to costs incurred for the defendant’s convenience to filter, search and review its own files prior to production),
  • A breakdown of which load files were created to separate electronic documents for production to the plaintiff (as opposed to those prepared for loading documents into the defendant’s review database), and
  • Support whether the “processing costs” incurred by the defendant were for the smaller subset of produced documents (as opposed to all documents reviewed).

So, what do you think? Should eDiscovery costs be recoverable in cases where the losing party did not request the documents in a particular format? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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