Post Process

Everything to do with E-discovery & ESI

Case Blurb: Covad Communs Co.; Court examines form of production dispute

Posted by rjbiii on February 23, 2009

On August 4, 2008, [Producing Party] advised [Requesting Party] that it had additional responsive documents available for inspection and copying. [Requesting Party] apparently never responded to that letter, but instead wrote to [Producing Party] on August 18th and demanded that [Producing Party] produce those documents by August 22nd. In an August 20, 2008 conference call, [Producing Party] stated that it would make the 35,000 pages of e-mails that are responsive to [Requesting Party’s] request available in hard copy at [Producing Party’s] office for inspection and copying. [Requesting Party] took issue with [Producing Party’s] offer to produce the documents in hard copy as hard copy is not the documents’ native format. A few weeks later, on September 3, 2008, [Producing Party] offered to make the e-mails available in electronic format as TIFF files, but only on condition that [Requesting Party] agree to pay for the fees incurred by having one of Revonet’s legal assistants delete privileged or otherwise non-responsive documents from the electronic production set. [Requesting Paryt] objects to the form of defendant’s production because printed pages (and TIFF files) are not the native format for e-mails.

Thus, [Producing Party] insists that it be permitted to produce the e-mails in hard copy or as TIFF, provided Covad pays for the necessary deletions.

[…]

Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that (1) the requesting party may designate the form in which the electronically stored information should be produced, and (2) if the request does not specify, then it should be produced in a form in which it is ordinarily maintained, or in a reasonably usable form. Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(1)(C), 34(b)(2)(E)(ii). Thus, as just explained, the parties’ view of the preliminary inquiry here is whether [Requesting Party] designated the form in which the documents should be produced.

Rule 26(f), as amended, specifically requires the parties to discuss the form that production of electronically stored information should take. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(f)(3)(C). This controversy predates that provision, and underscores its importance. It does not appear that [the parties] ever discussed what form this (or any other) production should take. Instead the parties seem to be making assumptions based on each others’ behavior: [Requesting Party] expecting its documents in electronic form because [Producing Party] hired a company to collect electronically stored information, and [Producing Party] assuming that they should produce 35,000 pages of e-mails in hard copy because [Requesting Party] produced its documents in that format. As there is no agreement, the parties invite me to turn to the language of the requests themselves to determine whether [Producing Party] can produce the e-mails other than in their native format.

The instructions to [Requesting Party’s] document requests ask that [Producing Party] “[p]roduce all documents in [its] possession, custody or control, as they are kept in the ordinary course of business, including with all staples and clips attached and with all associated file folders, dividers and labels.”

“Documents” are defined as:

[A]ny tangible thing upon which any expression, communication, representation or data has been recorded by any means including, but not limited to, handwriting, printing, photostating, photographing, on a computer, instant messages, magnetic impulse, or mechanical or electronic recording and any non-identical copies (whether different from the original because of notes made on such copies, because of indications that said copies were sent to different individuals than were the originals, or because of any other reason), including but not limited to working papers, preliminary, intermediate or final drafts, correspondence, memoranda, charts, notes, records of any sort of meetings, invoices, financial statements, financial calculations, diaries, reports of telephone or other oral conversations, desk calendars, appointment books, audio or video tape recordings, microfilm, microfiche, computer tape, computer disk, computer printout, computer card, and all other writings and recordings of every kind that are in your actual or constructive possession, custody or control.

Thus, I am supposed to determine by examining ancient boilerplate — designed for discovery in a paper universe — such nice questions as whether an e-mail, existing in a computer’s memory is a “tangible thing” and how e-mails are “maintained in the ordinary course of business.” While I have considered a similar provision in depth once before, I see no need to repeat that metaphysical exercise here because it is a waste of judicial resources to continue to split hairs on an issue that should disappear when lawyers start abiding by their obligations under the amended Federal Rules and talk to each other about the form of production. I would much prefer to carry out my duties in accordance with Rule 1, which provides that the rules “should be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”

More importantly, I do not need to parse words because no one is pretending that Revonet prints all of its e-mails or converts them to TIFF files on a daily basis no matter how ephemeral, meaningless or trivial their content. Therefore, though [Requesting Party’s] instruction is hopelessly imprecise and [Producing Party] could colorably argue that it should be interpreted to include several different formats, no reasonable person can honestly believe that hard copy is one of them. For hard copy to be an acceptable format, one would have to believe that [Producing Party], in its day to day operations, keeps all of its electronic communications on paper. There is no evidence in the record that [Producing Party] operates in this manner, and no suggestion that such a practice would be anything but incredible. Therefore, even though I can’t say I know what [Requesting Party] has asked for, I can say what they have not asked for, and that is what they got.

Covad Communs. Co. v. Revonet, Inc., 254 F.R.D. 147 (D.D.C. 2008) (internal citations removed).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: