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Court Denies Defendant’s Motion for Protective Order in Broiler Chicken Case: eDiscovery Case Law

In the In re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation, No. 16 C 8637 (N.D. Ill. July 26, 2018), Illinois Magistrate Judge Jeffrey T. Gilbert denied defendant Agri Stats’ Motion for Protective Order, ruling the defendant “Has Not Made a Threshold Showing” that the information requested by the End User Consumer Plaintiffs (“EUCPs”) was not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost (and even if they had, the EUCPs had shown good cause for requesting custodial searches of ESI for the entire time frame set forth in the ESI Protocol) and that Agri Stats “Does Not Satisfy the Rule 26(b)(2)(C) Factors” to limit discovery.

Case Background

Prior to this class action lawsuit involving broiler chicken prices, defendant Agri Stats was the subject of a DOJ investigation and claimed it “searched for and produced to the DOJ documents and information like what the EUCPs are requesting”.  Agri Stats ran custodial searches for designated custodians for the period between September 17, 2008 through September 17, 2010, and it produced to the DOJ responsive documents it collected with those searches. But, the time frame for discovery in this case was much broader, extending from January 1, 2007 until September 2, 2016.

Agri Stats argued that it should not be required to run custodial searches of ESI created prior to October 3, 2012 (the date the DOJ investigation closed) for the agreed upon 12 custodians because it ran similar searches for most of those custodians during the DOJ investigation and “requiring it to re-run expensive searches with the EUCPs’ search terms for those same custodians for a broader time period than it already ran is burdensome, disproportionate to the needs of this case, and unreasonable when viewed through the filter of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(2).”

The EUCPs disagreed and contended that Agri Stats should be required, like every other Defendant in this case, to perform the requested searches with the EUCPs’ proposed search terms for the time frame stated in the ESI Protocol, contending that both were broader than what Agri Stats produced for the DOJ investigation.

Judge’s Ruling

Considering the arguments, Judge Gilbert stated:

“The Court agrees with EUCPs. Although Agri Stats conducted custodial searches for a limited two-year period in connection with the DOJ’s investigation of possible agreements to exchange competitively sensitive price and cost information in the broiler, turkey, egg, swine, beef and dairy industries, that investigation focused on different conduct than is at the heart of EUCPs’ allegations in this case, which cover a broader time period than was involved in the DOJ’s investigation. The Court finds that a protective order is not warranted under these circumstances.”

While noting that “Agri Stats says that it already has produced in this case more than 296,000 documents, including approximately 155,000 documents from before October 2012” and that “Agri Stats represents that the estimated cost to run the custodial searches EUCPs propose and to review and produce the ESI is approximately $1.2 to $1.7 million”, Judge Gilbert observed that the “estimated cost, however, is not itemized nor broken down for the Court to understand how it was calculated”.  Judge Gilbert also noted that “EUCPs say they already have agreed, or are working towards agreement, that 2.5 million documents might be excluded from Agri Stats’s review. That leaves approximately 520,000 documents that remain to be reviewed. In addition, EUCPs say they have provided to Agri Stats revised search terms, but Agri Stats has not responded.”

As a result, Judge Gilbert determined that “Agri Stats falls woefully short of satisfying its obligation to show that the information EUCPs are seeking is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.”  In denying the defendant’s motion, he also ruled that “Even if Agri Stats Had Shown Undue Burden or Cost, EUCPs Have Shown Good Cause for the Production of the Requested ESI and Agri Stats Does Not Satisfy the Rule 26(b)(2)(C) Factors”.

So, what do you think?  Could the defendant have done a better job of showing undue burden and cost?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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