eDiscovery Daily Blog
‘Discovery About Discovery’ Motions Lead to Unusual Court Decision – eDiscovery Case Law
In Ruiz-Bueno v. Scott, No. 2:12-cv-0809, 2013 U.S. Dist. (S.D. Ohio Nov. 15, 2013), a discovery dispute in this wrongful death case arose, leading Ohio Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp to arrive at the unusual decision to direct a party to provide ‘discovery about discovery.’
The dispute arose when the plaintiffs filed a second set of interrogatories. Due to concern regarding the small amount of electronically stored information (ESI) produced by the defendants during the first round of discovery, the plaintiffs sought to compel the defendants to answer two questions: “(1) what efforts they made to comply with plaintiffs’ previous discovery requests, and (2) what procedures or methods were used to search for responsive electronically stored information, or ESI.”
In response, the defendants offered a simple objection on the basis that information sought by the plaintiffs’ request was irrelevant and had “no bearing on any aspect of the case.” The defendants alleged that discovery is not a “claim or defense” in this particular case, and cited Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), which limits the proper scope of discovery to “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense.”
Judge Kemp noted that not every case justifies directing council to provide discovery about discovery, but that the circumstances here required such direction, because the defendants were not “forthcoming with information needed to make further discussion of the issue a collaborative rather than contrarian process.” It was noted that the current dispute arose from the “plaintiffs’ distrust of the diligence with which defendants searched for ESI,” although it was conceded that the defendants likely believed they had “made a good faith effort to locate and produce all relevant emails.”
However, in this case the defendants had not collaborated with the plaintiffs to share information about their search protocols, other than to state that each of 50 defendants had been asked twice to produce their relevant emails. Judge Kemp noted that rather than relying on “50 different employees to search emails in some unspecified manner,” which likely resulted in searches carried out with different protocols—such as by sender, by recipient, by keyword, or by date, for example—the defendants could have instituted a controlled search that would have produce more comprehensive discovery responses.
Judge Kemp additionally noted that from personal observation and the “tenor of telephone conferences and written submissions,” it appears that there are issues in the relationship between counsel for the plaintiffs and counsel for the defense. It was recommended that counsel cooperate for the remainder of the discovery ahead, and for the potentially lengthy trial, in the interests of ensuring that processes are “cost-efficient for their own clients and for the Court.”
The defendants were directed to answer the plaintiffs’ interrogatories concerning ‘discovery about discovery,’ and also left with a standing order that presumes any issues remaining after the document retrieval process is satisfactorily described, will be addressed cooperatively by counsel.
So, what do you think? Should parties be permitted to compel answers concerning method of discovery in all cases when those methods are unclear? Should there be special exceptions, either for or against discovery about discovery? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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