eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Denies Plaintiff’s Request to Hold Non-Party in Contempt for Failing to Produce Native Files: eDiscovery Case Law

In Smith v. TFI Family Services, Inc., No. 17-02235-JWB-GEB (D. Kan. Sep. 4, 2019), Kansas Magistrate Judge Gwynne E. Birzer denied the Plaintiff’s Motion for Order Against Defendant State of Kansas Department for Children and Families to Show Good Cause Why it Should not be Held in Contempt and Motion for Sanctions for failing to produce ESI in native format with associated metadata.  Judge Birzer found that “Plaintiff cannot point to a ‘specific and definite’ section of the Court’s June 8, 2018 Order requiring specific types of ESI be produced or requiring records be produced in native format with associated metadata” and also that “Plaintiff has not made a particularized showing” why re-production of the PDF documents in native format with associated metadata “is relevant to the case at hand”.

Case Background

In this case involving alleged abuse of a child placed in a home by the defendants, the Court conducted an in-person hearing regarding the Kansas State Department of Children and Families’ (“DCF”) Amended Motion to Quash Subpoena and ultimately granted in part and denied in part the Motion to Quash on June 8, 2018, ordering DCF to produce certain records by July 31, 2018, with any responsive records subject to in-camera review to be produced directly to the Court for review.  DCF timely produced the records by July 31.  On October 24, 2018, after a review of the records submitted in-camera, the Court entered an order directing DCF to produce most of those documents to the plaintiff by November 30, 2018 and DCF timely produced those records as well.

On May 6, 2019, Plaintiff filed an instant Motion arguing DCF failed to comply with the Court’s June 28, 2018 Order because its November production did not contain six identified types of ESI in native format with associated metadata, instead producing the court-ordered documents (consisting of 5,767 pages) in PDF format on a USB flash drive.  The plaintiff asked the Court to issue an order: (1) requiring DCF to show good cause for why it should not be held in contempt of the Court’s June 28, 2018 Order; (2) requiring DCF to show good cause why it should not produce the requested ESI; and (3) imposing various sanctions on DCF pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(A) for not obeying a discovery order.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that “the subpoena asks for the records to be produced in ‘electronic format,’ but gives no specifics regarding whether the format should be PDF or native format with metadata intact”, Judge Birzer stated: “The Court is at a loss as to why Plaintiff would believe the June 8, 2018 Order required Defendant to produce the six above types of ESI when the subpoena did not specify it and the matter was not presented to the Court for consideration.”  As a result, Judge Birzer found that “the production of records in PDF format on an USB flash drive adequately satisfied DCF’s obligation under the June 8, 2018 Order, the subpoena and Rule 45” and that “there is no occasion for the undersigned Magistrate Judge to certify facts to the District Judge or to issue an order for DCF to show cause why it should not be held in contempt.”

Noting that “DCF is not a party to this action”, Judge Birzer also found that “requiring a non-party to spend time and money to re-produce 5,767 pages of PDF documents in native format with metadata would be burdensome and not proportional to the needs to the case considering Plaintiff has provided little reason as to why the native format and metadata would be relevant.”  As a result, Judge Birzer denied the plaintiff’s motion.

So, what do you think?  Could the plaintiff have done a better job of specifying its production format requirements up front?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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