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Plaintiffs Denied Motion to Depose Defendants Regarding ESI Processes Prior to Discovery Requests – eDiscovery Case Law

In Miller v. York Risk Servs. Grp., No. 2:13-cv-1419 JWS (D. Ariz. Apr. 15, 2014), Arizona Senior District Judge John W. Sedwick denied the plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel, requesting permission to conduct depositions in order to determine the defendant’s manner and methods used for storing and maintaining Electronically Stored Information (ESI) prior to submitting their discovery requests.

This action involves two claims against the defendant revolving around workers’ compensation benefits: (1) that the defendant “fraudulently denied [plaintiffs’] workers’ compensation benefits in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”),” and (2) that the defendant aided and abetted the plaintiffs’ employer or former employer with a “breach of its duty of good faith and fair dealing” by denying the claims. In filing the Motion to Compel, the plaintiffs sought a wide ranging inquiry pursuant to Rule 30(b)(6) that would enable them to “tailor their discovery requests to avoid potential disputes over what may be discovered” by deposing the defendant regarding their process of storing and maintaining ESI.

The plaintiffs contended that other courts have “allowed discovery of the very sort they seek” for the purpose of tailoring discovery requests, and cited several appellate decisions to reinforce the contention. While most of the decisions cited by the plaintiffs were from trial courts in other circuits, two of the district court cases cited were within the Ninth Circuit—specifically, Great Am. Ins. Co. v. Vegas Constr. Co., Inc., and Starbucks Corp. v. ADTSec. Services, Inc.

In reviewing these appellate decisions, Judge Sedwick noted that the first cited Ninth Circuit case was inapplicable, as it discussed extensively “a corporation’s duty to identify and prepare a witness for a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition, but nothing in the opinion suggests that the case involved any request to conduct discovery into the manner and methods used by the defendant to store and maintain electronic data.” Regarding the second case, it was noted that the plaintiffs had in fact submitted a substantive request for discovery prior to the court ordered Rule 30(b)(6) deposition, which only attempted to conclude whether the discovery would actually be “unduly burdensome and difficult to retrieve,” as the defendants alleged.

Therefore, Judge Sedwick stated that the cited decisions were inconclusive in determining “whether starting the discovery process with a wide ranging inquiry into the manner and method by which a party stores and manages ESI is a helpful and appropriate approach to obtaining substantive information,” and therefore starting discovery with an inquiry as requested by the plaintiffs “puts the cart before the horse and likely will increase, rather than decrease, discovery disputes.” Hence, the plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel was denied.

So, what do you think? Are there circumstances under which taking depositions prior to discovery would be helpful and appropriate? Should depositions be reserved for resolving discovery disputes, rather than preventing them? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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