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Defendant Ordered to Produce Unredacted Versions of Agreements and Shipment Data: eDiscovery Case Law

In Mervyn v. Atlas Van Lines, Inc. et. al., No. 13-3587 (N.D. Ill., Oct. 23, 2015), Illinois Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel the defendants to produce unredacted owner-operator agreements and shipment data, rejecting the defendants’ argument that producing both would be an undue burden.

Case Background

In this dispute between a shipping company and an independent owner-operator over compensation calculations, the plaintiff requested certain owner-operator lease agreements (known as “PVOs”) from the defendants to support its class claims.  After the court entered an order directing the parties to hold an ESI liaison meeting to resolve the discovery issues, the defendants produced 18 PVOs with the names of the owner-operators redacted, stating that the sample of PVOs demonstrated that the contracts all differ greatly and showed insufficient commonality or typicality among the owner-operators to adequately define a workable class.  The defendants refused to produce unredacted versions of the PVOs, expressing concern that the plaintiff was likely to misuse the information it gained through discovery to bring additional claims or lawsuits against the defendant.

The plaintiff also requested specific shipping data related to a certain time period in “usable electronic format”, to which the defendants objected, indicating that database searching to provide that information would require the defendants to spend two weeks writing a “script” and that the request was beyond the scope of discovery as envisioned by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because it required them to create a new document.  In response, the plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel both the unredacted PVOs and the shipping data in the requested format.

Judge’s Ruling

Finding that the defendants claims regarding misuse of the owner-operators’ names to be “[b]aseless”, that the owner-operator names were relevant to the case and that producing additional PVOs necessary to determine issues related to class certification would not create an undue burden on the defendants, Judge Cox found that “Atlas has failed to show any threat of misuse and is incorrect that the names are irrelevant, thereby mooting its argument that redaction would be unduly burdensome”.

As for the request for shipping data in a particular format, Judge Cox cited Apple v Samsung to illustrate that requiring a party to query an existing database to produce reports for opposing parties is not the same as requiring the creation of a new document.  Finding that the argument that the plaintiff’s request is outside the scope of Rule 34 was unfounded and that the plaintiff “needs this data for Plaintiff’s expert to determine whether, and to what extent, the owner-operators’ in the putative class were damaged by the terms in the PVOs”, Judge Cox granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel the defendants to produce unredacted owner-operator agreements and the shipment data in the format requested.

So, what do you think?  Is querying a database to produce information creation of a new document or does it fall within the scope of Rule 34?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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