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Plaintiffs Triumph in Second Motion to Enforce Court Ordered Production of Email Attachments – eDiscovery Case Law
In Skepnek v. Roper & Twardowsky, LLC, 11-4102-KHV (D. Kan. Jan. 27, 2014), Kansas Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara ruled on a second motion filed by the plaintiffs to enforce a discovery order that was not followed completely by the defendants – specifically, the plaintiffs sought to compel the production of email attachments that were not produced along with the emails themselves.
The defendants opposed the motion to enforce, first by claiming that the plaintiffs had failed to meet and confer with them regarding the production of the Electronically Stored Information (ESI). While federal rules state that a party filing a motion has a duty to confer with opposing counsel, the local rules for this district expand upon that duty, specifically stating that “a ‘reasonable effort’ to confer means more than mailing or faxing a letter to the opposing party” and that the parties must in good faith “converse, confer, compare views, consult and deliberate, or in good faith attempt to do so.”
Judge O’Hara noted that the opposing parties had exchanged correspondence and held a telephone conference in attempt to resolve this discovery dispute without the court’s intervention, and ruled that the plaintiffs had made a reasonable effort to confer with regard to producing email attachments.
The defendants also objected that the plaintiffs had waived their right to object to the form of production, which was at issue in that it resulted in emails being produced with the attachments missing. The defendants had been ordered to produce “all internal communications among defendants…that pertain to Requests for Production Nos. 6, 7, 10, and 11,” as well as “all electronic communications between Angela Roper, Kenneth Thyne or anyone else associated with Roper & Twardowsky, LLC and the fifteen individuals listed by defendants in their motion.” These emails had been produced in PDF format, which did not result in the attachments being produced.
The plaintiffs suggested that if the ESI had been produced in native format, the attachments would have been included in production. Here, the defendants countered that they have always produced documents in PDF format, including emails, and that it would be “duplicative and burdensome to comply with plaintiffs’ request.” Further, the defendants had claimed that their “e-mail server search was not capable of producing the attachments to the e-mails,” but offered to produce specific attachments requested by the plaintiffs.
Judge O’Hara noted that producing attachments that have not previously been produced is not duplicative, and questioned why the defendants would be able to “produce specific attachments upon request,” when they claimed it was “impossible” to include all of the attachments. Additionally, the defendants did not offer evidence that producing the attachments would be burdensome, and the plaintiffs had not requested re-production of all documents. Instead, they “point[ed] out that one way defendants could [produce the missing attachments] is by producing the e-mails in their native format.”
Stating that the defendants “do not have the leisure of picking and choosing what responsive documents to produce,” Judge O’Hara ordered the defendants to produce all relevant communications, including attachments. No sanctions were imposed, since “both parties are at fault to some degree for failing to adequately confer early on regarding the production of ESI,” but the defendants’ request to have the plaintiffs pay for their production time was denied.
So, what do you think? Should a phone conference constitute a reasonable effort to confer with regard to the production format of ESI? Is PDF ever an appropriate format to produce email communications when attachments are relevant to the litigation at issue? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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