Judge Paul Cherry wrote a masterful opinion involving an EEOC motion to compel production of agreed upon production formats. The case is an excellent example of the issues very alive over the form of production, understanding technology, educating the Court with expert affidavits, and the value of the meet and confers.
The EECO requested in writing that ESI be produced as Tiffs with Concordance Load Files (strangely referenced as near-native) and spreadsheets/databases in native format. The Defendants agreed to the production formats. EEOC v. SVT, LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50114, 3-4 (N.D. Ind. Apr. 10, 2014).
The Defendant produced spreadsheets in Tiff format and employment applications as single-page, non-unitized PDF and TIFF format without a load file. SVT, LLC, at *4.
The Defendants claimed that they had produced their discovery “pursuant to industry standards.” SVT, LLC, at *4.
The EEOC took the very brilliant step of having their Litigation Support Manager explain by affidavit the issues with the Defendant’s production. The Litigation Support Manager explained that the static images of the spreadsheets were “unusable because they cannot be searched or manipulated for analysis.” SVT, LLC, at *4-5.
The Litigation Support Manager further explained how exporting the data from the Defendant’s Kronos system as spreadsheets was not unduly burdensome, as the application had the built-in functionality to run searches, reports and export the data. SVT, LLC, at *5-6.
The Litigation Support Manager further explained that the static images of policies, handbooks, and contracts were “bulk scanned” without any logical unitization or a load file. The production lacking any document breaks made the production unusable. SVT, LLC, at *5-6.
The Court explained that the EEOC could request the Defendants to produce in specific forms pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 34(b)(1)(C). In this case, TIFF’s and a load file for some ESI and native file for spreadsheets. SVT, LLC, at *8.
The Defendants produced the ESI without a load file. That did not happen.
The Court rejected the Defendants’ argument that the third-party cloud application used by the Defendant was outside of their “control.” The Court noted testimony from Defendant’s HR representatives on how they could generate reports in Excel from the application. SVT, LLC, at *9-11.
The Defendant did produce the spreadsheets as native files during the briefing of the motion. However, the Court granted the EEOC’s motion AND further ordered the parties to conduct an in-person meet and confer. All discussions over the production had been by written communications, without an in-person meeting. Given the disputes that came up, the Court went so far as saying the Litigation Support Manager was “uniquely qualified” to participate in a meet and confer with the opposing side. SVT, LLC, at *19-20.
Bow Tie Thoughts
Reviewing Excel spreadsheets converted to non-searchable TIFFs is about as fun as looking at the sun with binoculars. Heck, if it happened to me, you would think I was hunting bear from the motion to compel I would write.
Battles over the form of production and Rule 26(f) conferences will not go away, even as we debate amending the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Form of production disputes tend to happen because 1) the lawyers are simply fighting for the sake of fighting or 2) they do not know how to conduct eDiscovery. When both reasons occur at the same time, things can get very unpleasant.
The meet and confer can be a very effective time for the parties to come to an understanding about the tech issues in the case. This almost always requires having an eDiscovery attorney or litigation support professional at the meeting to help focus on the solutions to the technology issues.
The EEOC should be commended on having their Litigation Support Manager provide an affidavit that educated the Judge on the form of production and technology to review ESI. Such individuals are extremely important internally to successfully manage cases and can be mission critical in working with the other side.