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Court Orders Plaintiff to Perform Some Requested Searches Despite the Plaintiff’s Claim that they’re “Unprecedented” – eDiscovery Case Law


In Swanson v. ALZA Corp., No.: CV 12-04579-PJH (KAW), 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2013), California Magistrate Judge Kandis A. Westmore granted in part and denied in part the defendant's request to compel the plaintiff to apply its search terms to his ESI, ordering some of the search terms to be performed, despite the plaintiff’s assertion that the “the application of Boolean searches was unprecedented”.

In this patent dispute, the plaintiff produced nearly 750,000 pages of documents to the defendant on a rolling basis between June and August 9, 2013, of which more than 600,000 pages were from ESI sources. During that period, the parties met and conferred regarding possible additional search terms designed to capture further documents responsive to the defendant's requests, but were unable to agree.  On July 17, the defendant filed a motion to compel demanding that its new terms be utilized to search the plaintiff's ESI, to which the plaintiff objected.

Part of the dispute was in agreeing on the number of terms that the defendant was requesting: the plaintiff characterized the defendant's request as proposing 89 additional terms, whereas the defendant characterized its request as only equating to 25 additional search "terms," which were distinct searches containing multiple terms and Boolean operators.  After the court ordered the parties to provide supplemental information to assist in the resolution of the underlying dispute on August 27, the defendant, believing documents were missing from the production based on the plaintiff’s sample searches, asked for access to the plaintiff’s database to run its own searches, or for the plaintiff to run a narrowed list of 11 “terms”.  At the hearing, the plaintiff's counsel explained that his firm ran two sample ESI searches, which took 34 hours and 51 minutes, and 23 hours and 58 minutes, respectively.

Judge Westmore “was not persuaded by Plaintiff's argument that running modified searches would place such an undue burden as to relieve Plaintiff of his obligation to produce responsive documents” and did not agree with the plaintiff’s contention that “the application of Boolean searches was unprecedented”, stating “[t]his is actually not the case, and given the availability of technology, Boolean searches will undoubtedly become the standard, if, for no other reason, to limit ESI documents to those most likely to be relevant to pending litigation.”

Ultimately, Judge Westmore ruled for the plaintiff to deduplicate the results of its two sample searches and to perform three of the other requested searches, stating that “[w]hile Defendant has not shown that it should be entitled to have all 11 searches performed, the Court is persuaded that it would not be unduly burdensome for Plaintiff to perform the searches below in light of Plaintiff's unwillingness to produce its ESI database”.

So, what do you think?  Was this a fair compromise?   Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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