eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Are Attachments Part of the Email Or Are They Separate?

A Special Master recently investigated the legal standard concerning whether or not attachments must be produced with the emails to which they were attached in discovery proceedings, and determined that there is no certain answer to be found in case law precedent.

In Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank v. Morgan Stanley & Co, Inc., No. 08 Vic. 7508(SAS), 2011 WL 3738979 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2011), the defendants argued that SEI Investments (“SEI”) was at fault for neglecting to produce certain attachments to emails as part of discovery, and that SEI was obligated to produce these attachments and explain their absence. This request ultimately delved into issues of precedent and legal standard:

  • SEI stated that it had already produced the documents that were relevant and were not protected by privilege, and argued that it was not obligated to produce the attachments in question because they were non-responsive to discovery.
  • A Special Master was convened to consider the issue and to establish the legal standard for this type of discovery question.
  • The Special Master found a number of conflicting examples: In some cases, the obligation to produce attachments with the relevant emails was implied, but most of these instances assumed that attachments were required to be produced and focused solely on the format of production. In a number of cases, producing attachments with their emails has been the norm; however, in other cases, emails and attachments were treated as separate in terms of privilege determination.
  • The Special Master concluded that “conceptually” the two could be viewed separately, or they could be seen as a single unit for the purpose of discovery, and advised that the decision should generally be made by the parties involved in advance, during pretrial discovery talks.
  • In this case, the Special Master questioned SEI’s argument for not producing the attachments in question, and at the same time, argued against the probably unnecessary expense of forcing SEI to produce all attachments to all emails previously included in discovery.
  • Therefore, the Special Master made a series of recommendations that were adopted by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin. These included: a) Production of the non-privileged attachments to the 126 emails previously identified by the defendants, as well as a complete list of any such documents that it proves unable to produce; b) permission for the defendants to request further such attachments as deemed relevant and necessary to this case; and, c) a meeting between all parties to discuss this issue and reach an agreement on policy regarding the production or withholding of email attachments and their format.

So, what do you think? Do you believe that email attachments should generally be produced as a matter of course with the emails to which they were attached, or that they should be considered as separate documents for the purpose of discovery? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.