eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Denies Plaintiffs’ Request to Email All Defendant Employees as “Simply Unreasonable”: eDiscovery Case Law

In Firefighters’ Ret. Sys., et al. v. Citco Grp. Ltd., et al., No. 13-373-SDD-EWD (M.D. La. Jan. 3, 2018), Louisiana Magistrate Judge Erin Wilder-Doomes denied the plaintiffs’ renewed motion to compel after the parties previously agreed upon search terms and document custodians, stating that the plaintiffs’ request to “email everyone in every Citco entity to ask whether anyone employed by any Citco entity has knowledge relevant to this litigation, and thereafter require the Citco Defendants to conduct additional electronic and hard copy searches for documents” was “simply unreasonable” and would be “unduly burdensome”.

Case Background

In this case regarding claims of unjust enrichment and breach of contract (among others) regarding fund shares purchased for $100 million that ultimately turned out to be worthless, the plaintiffs previously filed a Motion to Compel seeking an order compelling Citco Group to respond to multiple interrogatories and requests for production based upon the knowledge of entities controlled by Citco Group and/or possession of documents by entities controlled by the Citco Group.  In response, the Citco Defendants argued that granting Plaintiffs’ motion would ignore the substantial discovery efforts already made in the case (as the parties had previously agreed to a scope of 56 search terms to be applied against 21 custodians) and would be incompatible with the proportionality requirement of the federal rules.

The Initial Motion to Compel was discussed during an October 2017 status conference with the parties, and the court found that Plaintiffs’ concerns should be addressed with a 30(b)(6) deposition of defendant’s corporate counsel to describe the process for locating responsive documents (and denied the Initial Motion without prejudice to re-urging following the corporate deposition).  After the 30(b)(6) deposition, the plaintiffs filed a Renewed Motion to Compel, contending that the defendants’ responses to these interrogatories “were incomplete and inaccurate” and resulted in “a flawed list of custodians” and a “flawed electronic search for documents.”  They also contended that the defendants’ 30(b)(6) deponent confirmed that “one email can be sent to everyone in the Citco organization and ask them limited questions about their personal knowledge of the issues in this lawsuit”.  The defendants objected, asserting that any additional searches (beyond the previously agreed scope) based on an e-mail questionnaire to all employees “would be disproportional to the needs of this case”.  A December 2017 status conference failed to resolve the dispute.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Wilder-Doomes reiterated that “Based on the parties’ correspondence, the parties agreed upon 56 search terms and…21 document custodians”.  She also observed that “Plaintiffs still have not explained why the custodians and search terms used were unreasonable. Moreover, although the Citco Defendants have been willing to add additional search terms during the course of this litigation, and note in opposition to the Renewed Motion to Compel that they are ‘prepared to discuss with Plaintiffs additional document custodians (if Plaintiffs identify any),’ Plaintiffs failed to identify proposed additional custodians in either their Renewed Motion to Compel or during the December 12, 2017 status conference.”

In denying the Renewed Motion to Compel, Judge Wilder-Doomes stated: “Instead, Plaintiffs seek permission from this court to email everyone in every Citco entity to ask whether anyone employed by any Citco entity has knowledge relevant to this litigation, and thereafter require the Citco Defendants to conduct additional electronic and hard copy searches for documents. That is simply unreasonable, and in essence is a request for the Citco Defendants to ‘go back to square one’ of their document production efforts despite the parties’ agreement regarding custodians and search terms, the Citco Defendants apparent willingness to consider additional custodians and search terms, and Plaintiffs failure to identify or explain the necessity of any additional custodians or search terms. Further, such a large scale search raises proportionality concerns and, especially in light of the parties’ previous agreements and efforts, would be unduly burdensome.”

So, what do you think?  Was this request a “fishing expedition” by the plaintiffs?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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