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Defendant Ordered to Produce Source Code Responsive to Agreed Upon Search Protocol: eDiscovery Case Law

Court Denies Defendant’s Motion to Overrule Plaintiff’s Objections to Discovery Requests

In ACI Worldwide Corp. v. MasterCard Technologies, LLC et. al., No. 14-31 (D. Nebraska, Oct. 27, 2016), Nebraska Magistrate Judge F.A. Gossett granted the plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Production of the defendant’s Full Source Code in part, “to the extent there are any files that MasterCard has not produced responsive to the parties’ previously established joint Search Protocol.”

Case Background

In this action where the plaintiff alleged the defendants violated a licensing agreement and disclosed confidential information regarding the plaintiff’s software, the disclosure of the defendant’s source code had been the subject of ongoing discovery disputes for more than a year.  In an order dated July 13, 2015 (and covered by us here), the court found the plaintiff had shown the relevance and a particular need for electronically stored information (“ESI”) constituting or containing the plaintiff’s proprietary information, but, because the court did not have the expertise necessary to determine the best way to retrieve the requested information, the parties were directed to devise a joint search protocol or methodology to retrieve the information requested by the plaintiff; otherwise, the court would appoint a special master.

The parties then generally agreed to a search protocol, but were unable to reach a full agreement on the search terms to be used.  In August 2015, the court ordered the defendant to run the plaintiff’s “Counterproposal Search Protocol” and produce the search results no later than September 16, 2015; after the defendant’s objections were overruled, the parties subsequently conferred and agreed that the defendant would run the Search Protocol and produce the requested materials by October 9, 2015. The defendant continued to hesitate to produce actual source code without an additional protective order, and after another motion to compel by the plaintiff, the court again ordered the defendant to run the Search Protocol and produce the requested information, which included source code. In February 2016, the court denied the defendant’s motion for partial reconsideration, but stated it would entertain inclusions of additional provisions to the protective order in place, if the parties agreed. In March, the court adopted the parties’ joint protective order for source code.

Ultimately, the plaintiff filed the current motion to compel disclosure of the entire source code, claiming that the defendant had not produced all items identified by the Search Protocol, stating production of the entire source code was warranted due to “MasterCard’s history of refusing to produce clearly relevant source code” and alleging that the source code produced to date supported its allegations of misappropriation. The defendant counters that the remedy is the production of missing files pursuant to the Search Protocol, and not the production of the entire source code.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting its previous emphasis that “The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . . emphasize that electronic discovery should be a party-driven process”, Judge Gossett ruled that:

“ACI’s request now for the entire source code to the MDS is not proportional to the needs of the case, would include information irrelevant to ACI’s claims, and would defeat the purpose of the protracted efforts by the parties to reach a compromise regarding production of MDS source code…To the extent MasterCard’s production has been deficient, the remedy is not to compel the production of its entire source code for the MDS. Rather, the court will compel MasterCard to produce only the source code retrieved using the parties’ joint search protocol that MasterCard has not yet produced.”

So, what do you think?  Given the defendant’s numerous delays in producing source code, should the court have granted the plaintiff’s motion in total?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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