eDiscovery Daily Blog

Search Process for ESI Called into Question, but Court Denies Sanctions for Plaintiff – eDiscovery Case Law


In Brown v. West Corp., No. 8:11CV284, 2013 U.S. Dist. (D. Neb. Dec. 4, 2013), the plaintiff filed a motion to compel, claiming the defendant had been insufficient in its handling of searching for Electronically Stored Information (ESI) relevant to discovery. The plaintiff additionally contested a prior order from a magistrate judge, requiring the defendant to explain its search processes to the defendant. Ultimately, Nebraska Senior District Judge Lyle E. Strom denied the requested sanctions and rejected the challenge to the prior order.

The most recent motion saw the plaintiff asking for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b), stating that the defendant failed to comply with the prior order, the purpose of which was stated to “lay bare the defendant’s search process and expose any deficiencies that might be a basis for plaintiff’s motion to compel a more stringent search of potentially relevant ESI for preservation.” In addition, the plaintiff asked that additional discovery be permitted.

However, the defendant had in fact complied with the prior order and explained its search processes regarding ESI, noting that its system did not permit a “‘global search’ of all electronic information in West’s possession.” The substance of the magistrate judge’s concerns regarding the prior order had concerned preservation of ESI, and not necessarily discovery requests. Judge Strom noted that the plaintiff had misinterpreted the prior order, and that the defendants had addressed concerns by “explaining the process by which West employees were directed to identify, preserve, and search potentially relevant materials.” Therefore, “the court finds no reason to require more from the defendant by way of evidence of a proper search.”

In the same motion and combined with the efforts to seek expanded discovery, the plaintiff raised two issues of spoliation. One that the defendant had erased the data of three potential custodians who had left the company, and two, that the defendant had failed to halt the automatic deletion of e-mail which may have been relevant to discovery.

Regarding these issues, Judge Strom once again rejected the contentions, stating that the defendant had repurposed the computers of former employees in apparent good faith, and as a regular business practice, “only after making a determination that all of the relevant information stored on those computers was preserved.” Additionally, the objection to automatic email deletion was dismissed because the plaintiff had not identified relevant emails or email categories that are “not subject to defendant’s preservation process or that have been deliberately destroyed in an attempt to thwart discovery.”

Finally, the plaintiff’s request to overturn the magistrate judge’s order that limited discovery to certain custodians was denied. Regarding Federal Rule 26(b), which states in part that requests for discovery should be limited due to “relevance and the balance between likely benefit and the burden on the producing party,” the magistrate judge had found nothing that would “suggest sufficient benefit [to the plaintiff] to warrant the expansive scope of the requested discovery” as outlined by the plaintiff. Such a scope, the magistrate judge felt, would be “grasping at the periphery by reviewing thousands or tens of thousands of emails,” and further that, “a few pointed questions in a deposition [would be] less burdensome.”

So, what do you think?  Should defendants be permitted to limit responses to discovery when producing ESI due to the limitations of their technology? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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