In Murray v. Coleman, No. 08-CV-6383, 2012 U.S. Dist. (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 12, 2012), the plaintiff alleged harassment and retaliation in connection with his employment with the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). This discovery dispute arose when the plaintiff requested access to certain electronic records, alleging that the defendants withheld them.
In his motion, the plaintiff asserted that the defendants “never provided a ‘chronological e-mail history of any kind.’” In response, defense counsel “simply aver[red] that after plaintiff filed this motion to compel, he provided plaintiff with…‘the documents sought’ and, therefore, plaintiff’s motion is ‘moot.’” The plaintiff responded to the defendant’s reply, asserting that “‘virtually no electronic records [were] included’ in defendant’s discovery responses.”
Because the defense counsel’s response to the plaintiff’s motion was “terse,” New York Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman stated that it was “difficult . . . to determine whether defendants have in fact produced all relevant electronic records and e-mails as demanded by plaintiff.” Lacking in defense counsel’s response were “details regarding how and where electronically stored information (“ESI”) is held, what efforts were made to preserve relevant ESI, and the method used by defendants to locate, search and produce relevant ESI.”
As such, Judge Feldman “construe[d the defendants’] response as a claim that ESI, including e-mails, [were] not . . . produced because the data demanded [was] destroyed or [was] not ‘reasonably accessible’” pursuant to Rule 26(b)(2)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires a producing party to “show that the information is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.”
Therefore, because the defendants had not sufficiently demonstrated that the ESI was not reasonably accessible, Judge Feldman ordered as follows:
“Defense counsel shall file an affidavit of a person with direct knowledge of DOCS’s document and e-mail retention system stating: (1) the document/e-mail retention policy used by DOCS currently and during the relevant time periods, (2) the dates of e-mails “reasonably accessible” for production in this litigation, (3) the back up or legacy system, if any, used by DOCS to preserve or archive e-mails that are no longer “reasonably accessible” and whether responsive documents or data may potentially be found on such back up or legacy systems, (4) whether accessing archived or back up e-mails would be unduly burdensome or costly and why, and (5) the date when a litigation hold or document preservation notice was put in place by DOCS regarding this matter and either a copy of or a description of the preservation or litigation hold utilized by DOCS.” [emphasis added]
Judge Feldman ordered the defense to provide this affidavit within 30 days.
So, what do you think? Was this an appropriate ruling given the situation? Or did the defendant deserve sanctions? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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