eDiscovery Daily Blog
“Quality is Job 1” at Ford, Except When it Comes to Self-Collection of Documents: eDiscovery Case Law
In Burd v. Ford Motor Co., Case No. 3:13-cv-20976 (S.D. W. Va. July 8, 2015), West Virginia Magistrate Judge Cheryl A. Eifert granted the plaintiff’s motion for a deposition of a Rule 30(b)(6) witness on the defendant’s search and collection methodology, but did not rule on the issue of whether the defendant had a reasonable collection process or adequate production, denying the plaintiff’s motion as “premature” on that request.
In these cases involving alleged events of sudden unintended acceleration in certain Ford vehicles, the plaintiffs, in December 2014, requested regularly scheduled discovery conferences in an effort to expedite what they anticipated would be voluminous discovery.
At the February 10, 2015 conference, the plaintiffs raised concerns regarding the reasonableness of the searches being performed by the defendant in its effort to respond to plaintiffs’ requests for documents. While conceding that it had not produced e-mail in certain instances, because it did not understand that the request sought e-mail communications, the defendant did indicate that it had conducted a “sweep” of the emails of ten to twenty key custodians. That “sweep” was described as a “self-selection” process being conducted by the individual employees, who had each been given information about the plaintiffs’ claims, as well as suggested search terms. However, excerpts of deposition transcripts of defendant’s witnesses provided by the plaintiff revealed that some of those key employees performed limited searches or no searches at all.
Also, the Court ordered the parties to meet, confer, and agree on search terms. The defendant objected to sharing its search terms, contending that the plaintiff sought improper “discovery on discovery,” and deemed the plaintiff’s request as “overly burdensome” given that each custodian developed their own search terms after discussing the case with counsel.
Noting that the defendant’s “generic objections to ‘discovery on discovery’ and ‘non-merits’ discovery are outmoded and unpersuasive”, Judge Eifert stated, as follows:
“Here, there have been repeated concerns voiced by Plaintiffs regarding the thoroughness of Ford’s document search, retrieval, and production. Although Ford deflects these concerns with frequent complaints of overly broad and burdensome requests, it has failed to supply any detailed information to support its position. Indeed, Ford has resisted sharing any specific facts regarding its collection of relevant and responsive materials. At the same time that Ford acknowledges the existence of variations in the search terms and processes used by its custodians, along with limitations in some of the searches, it refuses to expressly state the nature of the variations and limitations, instead asserting work product protection. Ford has cloaked the circumstances surrounding its document search and retrieval in secrecy, leading to skepticism about the thoroughness and accuracy of that process. This practice violates ‘the principles of an open, transparent discovery process.’”
Judge Eifert also rejected the defendant’s claim of work product protection regarding the search terms, stating that “[u]ndoubtedly, the search terms used by the custodians and the names of the custodians that ran searches can be disclosed without revealing the substance of discussions with counsel.” As a result, Judge Eifert granted the plaintiff’s motion for a deposition of a Rule 30(b)(6) witness on the defendant’s search and collection methodology, but did not rule on the issue of whether the defendant had a reasonable collection process or adequate production, denying the plaintiff’s motion as premature on that request.
So, what do you think? Was the order for a deposition of a Rule 30(b)(6) witness the next appropriate step? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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