eDiscovery Daily Blog
eDiscovery Case Law: Court Orders eDiscovery Evidentiary Hearing When Parties Are Unable to Cooperate
A month ago, in Chura v. Delmar Gardens of Lenexa, Inc., No. 11-2090-CM-DJW, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36893 (D. Kan. Mar. 20, 2012), Magistrate Judge David J. Waxse ordered an evidentiary hearing to discuss the sufficiency of the defendant’s search for ESI and format of production in response to the plaintiff’s motion to compel additional searching and production.
The case involved an employment dispute with claims of sexual harassment, hostile work environment and other employment-based causes of action. At a status conference, the parties had agreed to create a list of search terms in an attempt to resolve outstanding eDiscovery issues. However, the parties were unable to reach a consensus, and the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the defendant to search for and produce ESI.
The plaintiffs’ Request for Production 1 requested the defendant to produce information from 10 individuals identified by the defendants with knowledge of the facts concerning the allegations in the complaint or answer; however, the defendants’ reply merely referred the plaintiffs to the complaints and personnel files of the plaintiffs. In their motion to compel, the plaintiffs asserted that the defendant “failed to produce their written complaints, any emails or phone logs, the investigation files, and their personnel files”. The plaintiffs also claimed that the defendant also “failed to produce responsive documents that one would expect to find in this type of litigation”, such as:
- “emails between Defendant’s managers and witnesses regarding Plaintiffs’ allegations or Defendant’s defenses”;
- “notes by the human resource director from the investigation she conducted as a result of Plaintiffs’ complaints about the alleged harasser and the environment at the nursing facility where Plaintiffs worked”; and
- “reports and emails to the corporate office regarding the complaints”.
The plaintiffs noted that, “It does not make any sense that in response to numerous complaints from employees about the work environment that a corporate human resources manager would be sent to investigate and not create a single document reporting her findings to Defendant’s corporate managers.” They also suggested that the defendant had searched for the agreed-upon search terms in Microsoft Outlook on the alleged harasser’s computer only and argued that the defendant should run a forensically sound search of “all computers used by employees of the facility and corporate office who participated in or were involved in Defendant’s investigation of the allegations”.
While noting that it “cannot determine whether Defendant met its duty to both preserve relevant evidence” (based upon the limited information provided in the parties’ briefing), the Court found that “Defendant’s failure to produce any ESI, such as emails, attachments, exhibits, and word processing documents, raises justifiable concerns that Defendant may have 1) failed to preserve relevant evidence, or 2) failed to conduct a reasonable search for ESI responsive to Plaintiffs’ discovery requests.” Therefore, the court set an evidentiary hearing for April 30, at which the defendant was instructed “to be prepared to present evidence on the following topics”:
- At the time of the initial charge of discrimination, what did Defendant’s system of creating and storing ESI consist of;
- When and how a litigation hold was instituted;
- What employees were notified of the litigation hold;
- What efforts were made to preserve ESI;
- What or whose computers or components of the computer systems were searched for responsive ESI;
- How the computers of computer information systems were searched (e.g., keyword searches, manual review, computer-assisted coding); and
- Who performed the searches.
So, what do you think? Was the evidentiary hearing an appropriate next step? Should more cases conduct eDiscovery evidentiary hearings when there are disputes? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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