eDiscovery Daily Blog

Plaintiff Requests His Entire PST File, Court Says No: eDiscovery Case Law

In Russell v. Kiewit Corp., No. 18-2144-KHV (D. Kan. June 4, 2019), Kansas Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara denied the plaintiff’s motion seeking to compel supplemental discovery responses by the seven defendants, including the request to receive his entire e-mail personal storage (PST) file, agreeing with the defendants’ contention that the request was overly broad and not proportional.

Case Background

In this case where the plaintiff alleged he was fired in retaliation for opposing age discrimination, disability discrimination, and FMLA violations in the workplace through his role in the defendant’s human resources department, the parties had several unresolved issues that they could not agree on with regard to discovery.  The defendants proposed that the scope of electronic discovery would run from May 27, 2015 through April 22, 2016 and focus on specifically identified custodians using agreed and limited search terms, but the plaintiff did not agree with those propose limitations.

Among the areas where there were disputes were: 1) plaintiff’s email, where the plaintiff moved to compel defendants to produce the e-mail file from his entire employment with defendants as a PST file; 2) the scope of discovery searches; 3) discovery requests to additional entities beyond the plaintiff’s employer; and 4) the plaintiff’s request for policies related to the HR and IT operations of the defendants for whom plaintiff was not an employee.  The parties did resolve their dispute over production of the data from plaintiff’s company-issued iPhone.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to production of the plaintiff’s PST file, the plaintiff argued that the defendants had an unfair advantage by having access to e-mails that the plaintiff could not access, also arguing that it was proportional to allow him to “see all emails in context maintained in his own email folders” because it “equalizes access.”  The defendants argued the plaintiff’s request was overly broad and not proportional, asserting they had searched for all terms requested by plaintiff, as well as many additional search terms not requested by plaintiff, and produced all responsive e-mails.

With regard to this dispute, Judge O’Hara stated: “The court agrees with defendants. Rule 26(b)(3)(c) relates to a party’s ‘own previous statement about the action or its subject matter.’ To the extent plaintiff seeks his own e-mails related to this action, those were captured in the e-mails defendants produced in response to plaintiff’s search terms, plus the additional terms defendants searched…Conspicuously, plaintiff has not cited any authority for the proposition that Rule 26(b)(3)(C) requires the production of all statements plaintiff has ever made in an e-mail about any subject, such that his entire e-mail file during his tenure with Kiewit Energy must be produced.

Although plaintiff is entitled to request the production of files in .pst format, which are ‘generally associated with the Microsoft Outlook email program,’ Document Request No. 29 seeks the entire file for the ‘email account assigned to plaintiff during his employment with defendants.’  Plaintiff purports to address the ‘proportionality standpoint’ by arguing the .pst file would allow him to more efficiently review the file. But producing the entire PST is ‘simply requesting discovery regardless of relevancy,’ which most definitely is not the standard under the 2015 amendments to Rule 26(b). The language in Document Request No. 29 is not tied to plaintiff’s protected activity or his employment with the company; rather, plaintiff requests the entire e-mail account during the entire length of his employment. That request is facially overly broad and not proportional. Plaintiff has not shown how every e-mail he has sent and received is relevant to this action, particularly in light of defendants’ production of 775 documents from e-mail searches.  The court sustains defendants’ objection to Document Request No. 29.”

Judge O’Hara also found that “defendants have adequately responded to plaintiff’s discovery requests” and rejected his requests for ESI from other entities, sustaining the defendants’ objection that the requests were overly broad and not proportional.

So, what do you think?  Should a former employee have the right to look at his or her entire email repository in litigation?  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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