18 Missing Email Messages is not like 18 Minutes of Missing Watergate Tape

Vintage Reel-to-Reel Tape PlayerRosemary Woods was not involved in this document production.

In motion practice over the adequacy of a production, the Plaintiffs were able to show that the Producing Party did not produce 18 email messages that were produced by a third-party.

As such, the Plaintiff sought production of search efficiency reports that was conducted as an audit and investigation by two law firms for the Producing Party. The goal was to identify the missing discovery from the production, opposed to the specifics of the Producing Party’s discovery efforts. Freedman v. Weatherford Int’l, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133950, at *7-8 (S.D.N.Y.Sept. 12, 2014).

Judge Francis stated that “suggested remedy is not suited to the task,” because only three of the eighteen email messages would have been identified by the search terms used in the audit investigation. Freedman, at *8.

EmailAtSybolsThe Plaintiff’s argument focused on that the information produced by third-parties should have been produced by the Producing Party, opposed to whether the requested searches would have identified the missing information. Freedman, at *9. According to the Defendants, only one unproduced document would have been identified from the requested searches. Id.

The Producing Party had reviewed “millions of documents” and produced “hundreds of thousands” of documents that totaled nearly 4.4 million pages. Citing to the “proportionality rule” from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court invoked the maxim the Rules “do not require perfection.” Freedman, at *9, citing Moore v. Publicis Groupe, 287 F.R.D. 182, 191 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).

The Court stated it was “unsurprising that some relevant documents may have fallen through the cracks;” however, the remedy sought would unlikely cure any production defects. As such, the Court denied the production of the search report. Freedman, at *9-10.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Judge Francis’ opinion puts very proportional view of challenging production adequacy: you first have to demonstrate a production is inadequate and then demonstrate the remedy makes sense. Proving three email messages were missing out of thousands does not justify conducting searches that would not produce any missing information. The remedy has to be proportional to problem.

Proportionality is a balancing of interests. Do 18 missing emails out of thousands justify new searches? Well, if those 18 emails were the key smoking gun messages, maybe. Ask Rosemary Woods or Lois Lerner about missing information.

The message I take away from Judge Francis’ opinion, is that if you have emails from a third-party that show a production deficiency, you have to offer a proportional remedy. If the offer is for additional searches that would only produce one or two of the missing emails, that is not a proportional remedy. Alternatively, if you proffer search terms that would have generated “hits” on 17 out of 18, maybe that would tip the scales in favor of running additional searches. At the end of the day, the effort sought has to have value to the case and not be an experiment in futility.

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