eDiscovery Daily Blog

Oh, Thank Heaven! Court Orders 7-Eleven to Produce Metadata: eDiscovery Case Law

In Younes, et al. v. 7-Eleven, Inc., Civil Nos. 13-3500 (RMB/JS), 13-3715 (MAS/JS), 13-4578(RMB/JS) (D.N.J. Mar. 18, 2015), New Jersey Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider granted the plaintiffs’ motions to compel the production of metadata for selected groups of documents, denying the defendant’s cross-motions to bar the production of metadata.

Case Background

In this dispute between franchisees and the parent company, the plaintiffs had struggled to obtain relevant documents from the defendant regarding the possible take back of franchises, with the defendant producing documents “in dribs and drabs”. Even after months of discovery and numerous court conferences addressing discovery disputes, the defendant acknowledged that not all relevant, requested and non-privileged documents had been produced. Moreover, some of the key documents produced were not dated and did not list the author or recipients.

As a result, one plaintiff group identified 38 documents and two Excel spreadsheets for which they wanted metadata (including “the date of origination, author, custodian, date of each modification and author of each modification, and to the extent available, any data which established to whom the document had been electronically distributed”), while the other plaintiffs sought metadata for an additional 49 documents, two of which were duplicative of the first group of documents. The plaintiff groups filed motions to compel production of the metadata.

The defendant, in its opposition to plaintiffs’ motions and in support of its cross-motions, argued that “(1) the parties agreed at the outset of the case that documents need only be produced in PDF format without metadata; (2) 7-Eleven does not possess much of the requested metadata; (3) the metadata that is available is ‘extremely limited, minimally meaningful and potentially misleading’; and (4) it would be ‘unreasonably burdensome to require 7-Eleven to re-produce [its] . . . documents with metadata.’” (emphasis added) The defendant supported its opposition with statements from the Declaration of its IT director.

Judge’s Evaluation and Ruling

Citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(E), Judge Schneider noted that “A party requesting ESI may specify the form of production, which can include metadata”, but did also note that “[s]ome courts hold that a party must show a ‘particularized need’ for metadata.” With regard to that, Judge Schneider stated:

“To the extent it is necessary, plaintiffs have shown a particularized need for the requested metadata. Plaintiffs have demonstrated that many of the paper documents produced to date are missing source, date, and other key background information. This missing information is plainly relevant and discoverable. Further, the requested metadata is relevant to authenticating 7-Eleven’s documents, especially since the authors or creators of some important documents are unknown. It is not insignificant that plaintiffs only identified a relatively small number of documents for which they request metadata rather than asking for metadata for all documents.”

Judge Schneider also found that “None of 7-Eleven’s arguments are persuasive. It is true that the parties originally agreed not to request metadata. However, good cause exists to modify the agreement… Had plaintiffs known at the outset of the case the difficulties they would face in obtaining relevant information regarding 7-Eleven’s documents, it is unlikely they would have agreed to forego requesting metadata. The changed circumstances plaintiffs face justify modifying their earlier agreement not to request metadata… Further, plaintiffs are not requesting metadata for all of 7-Eleven’s documents. Plaintiffs only request metadata for a finite number of documents. The Court does not expect the cost to retrieve the requested metadata to be extensive or costly.”

As a result, he granted the plaintiffs’ motions to compel the production of metadata for the selected groups of documents, denying the defendant’s cross-motions to bar same.

So, what do you think? Was that the correct decision or should the judge have honored the initial agreement between the parties to not require metadata? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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