The Proportional Request for Production

Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd engaged in very granular analysis of discovery requests for email messages in a wage and hour case. This type or analysis is a mainstay in many motions over discovery requests, but likely will be more common as Federal Courts conduct proportionality analysis.


The Court first summarized that Plaintiff’s Request for Production number 18, which sought all documents “regarding the acquisition of AT&T Language Line Services.” Van v. Language Line Servs. (N.D.Cal. Mar. 2, 2016, No. 14-cv-03791-LHK (HRL)) 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26440, at *12.

Judge Lloyd held the Defendants put this information at issue with their argument that the terms of the Plaintiff’s employment were altered by a past acquisition. Id. However, the Court limited the request to information that showed the specific acquisition altered the terms of the Plaintiff’s employment contract. Van, at *13.

Plaintiff’s Requests for Production 19, 23, and 24 all sought specific email regarding the Plaintiff’s employment history. The Court explained that those emails would likely have some probative value to the Plaintiff’s claims. Van, at *12. Judge Lloyd held under Rule 26(b)(1) that “the virtually non-existent burden of producing three specific emails is proportional to the evidentiary needs of this wage-and-hour case.” Id.

Bow Tie Thoughts

I believe that Federal Judges will be very hands-on applying proportionality analysis. That requires requesting parties to be able to effectively demonstrate the “value” of the requested information to a case. It also requires producing parties to demonstrate burden. This means requests for production should not be a matter of dart throwing. Moreover, producing parties cannot simply say, “producing is expensive” in an attempt to avoid discovery obligations.

How can parties accomplish these realities? Both need to conduct effective reasonable inquiry into their case theories. That will most likely take shape with expert forensic reports, early case assessment, and effective document review. Lawyers will need to make clear arguments on why the requested information is needed; Lawyers objecting will need to do so with specificity. Both require analyzing the facts.

Proportionality and Labeling ESI Productions

The new Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are bringing new voices to discuss eDiscovery. Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang issued a thoughtful opinion of the new Rules in Kissing Camels Surgery Ctr., LLC v. Centura Health Corp. (D.Colo. Jan. 22, 2016, Civil Action No. 12-cv-03012-WJM-NYW) 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7668.

Here is the short version of the dispute in a complex case: The Plaintiff brought a motion to strike the Defendants’ requests for production that were duplicative. The Plaintiff had already produced a terabyte of ESI and were not in the mood for the Defendants’ position that the Plaintiff identify what ESI they had already produced that was responsive to the Defendants’ requests. Kissing Camels, at *3-4, 7-9.


Judge Wang very effectively summarized the world of civil litigation by invoking Chief Justice John Roberts’ Year End Report on the Federal Judiciary, which stated the 2015 FRCP Amendments were intended to:

(1) Encourage greater cooperation among counsel;

(2) Focus discovery—the process of obtaining information within the control of the opposing party—on what is truly necessary to resolve the case;

(3) Engage judges in early and active case management; and

(4) Address serious new problems associated with vast amounts of electronically stored information. 

Kissing Camels, at *5.

Judge Wang also made it a point to highlight the Chief Justice’s note that Rule 1 gives both lawyers and the Court an affirmative duty to work together to resolve disputes efficiently. Id.

The Court further outlined the proportionality principles of Rule 26(b)(1), which require Courts to “consider the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Kissing Camels, at *5-6.

The Court noted that many of the Defendants’ discovery requests were improper omnibus requests where no effort was made to tailor the discovery request to the issues in the case. Kissing Camels, at *7-8. The Plaintiff rightly objected to these requests, but made only improper boilerplate objections. Kissing Camels, at *8. The new Rule 34(b)(2)(B)-(C) requires parties to object with “specificity” and “an objection must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of the objection.” Id. The Court described the Plaintiffs’ objection as follows:

As far as this court can tell, Plaintiffs fail to provide any specificity to their objections, including their objection that they have already produced responsive documents. Rather, it appears that Plaintiffs’ response simply points generally to the production of 1 terabyte of information—conservatively, millions of pages—without providing any type of guidance to Defendants as to where in the production such responsive documents are to be found.

Kissing Camels, at *8-9.

Judge Wang took a deep dive into the issue of whether Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) and (ii) both apply to electronically stored information. As many recall, subsection (i) requires a party to produce documents in the ordinary course of business or label a production. Kissing Camels, at *9. Many courts have treated (E)(i) and (E)(ii) as “supplementary rather than alternative.” Kissing Camels, at *12.

The ESI had been produced in a searchable format, so normally there would be no further analysis or production requirements. However, the Court noted the case was not ordinary. Judge Wang explained:

Based on the specific facts before me, including the volume of the document production to date, the asymmetry of information regarding the production between Plaintiffs (who are trial ready with respect to co-Defendant Centura Health Corporation and in a separate case with similar allegations against Cigna), the duration of time during which this case has been pending, and the fact that the Parties suggest that additional discovery must be conducted as to both the claims of the Second Amended Complaint and the counterclaims asserted by Defendants, this court concludes that Plaintiffs must provide additional information about where in the production Defendants may find certain information. This court will not, however, compel Plaintiffs to provide bates range numbers for responsive documents for every Request for Production; given the breadth of the discovery requests, such an Order would simply foment additional disputes. Rather, this court will permit Defendants to identify ten limited categories of documents already requested through the existing Requests for Production to which Plaintiffs objected based on being duplicative (e.g., documents that reflect Plaintiffs’ internal communications regarding network contracts with United, Anthem, Aetna) no later than February 4, 2016. Once identified, Plaintiffs must identify bates ranges of responsive documents to those ten categories, in writing, no later than February 16, 2016. This will ensure that Defendants prioritize their requests regarding location of responsive documents within the 1 terabyte of data, and will limit Plaintiffs’ obligation to sort through the production on Defendants’ behalf and correlate every Request for Production to specific bates ranges. 

Kissing Camels, at *14-15.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Electronically stored information is generally produced as it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably useable form under Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(ii). However, I still like to do my issue coding for responses that could comply with Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) for organization.

Binders in Everlaw grouping discovery responses.

I like setting up issue coding to correspond to each request for production. As searches are conducted for each response, ESI that is responsive to that request is tagged for that response. As is often the case, an email or Excel file can be responsive to more than one request, but that does not mean the data is produced more than once. After review for responsive discovery is completed, a report can be exported out to Excel if the requesting party has sought the production to comply with Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i).


I know many attorneys who think is a waste of time. Others take a hard line to make the other side’s life as difficult as possible. I think it is vital for internal monitoring of knowing which ESI is responsive to what request. Moreover, if there is a reason to object to a specific request, knowing what ESI might be responsive makes objecting to that request with specificity a far easier task.

CSV Export from Everlaw with fields and objection.

CSV Export from Everlaw with fields and objection.


Form of Production Battles: TIFF vs MSG

Pick your battles is a truism in form of production disputes.


In Feist v. Paxfire, Inc., the Plaintiff alleged the Defendant made multiple discovery abuses, from producing email in .msg format and not as TIFF, to making an “intentionally burdensome production.” Feist v. Paxfire, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145024 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 2015). These arguments failed.

The Plaintiffs requested ESI to be produced as TIFFs and argued that the Defendant did not properly object to the form of production. Feist, at *2. The Court held that the Plaintiff’s argument was meritless, because 1) there were email communicates between counsel regarding the form of production for email in .pst format; 2) the Court downplayed the difference between .pst and .msg format; and 3) that “msg format contains more metadata than TIFF format.” Feist, at *4. The Court further stated that there was “no evidence” that the .msg form imposed “considerable costs” for the Plaintiffs. Id.

It is worth noting that TIFFs are static images that contain no metadata at all. Any metadata would need to be produced in a load file. While it is wise to always review in a review application, I personally would prefer reviewing native files in a near-native view in a hosted application.

The dispute further included the Defendant’s 2012 production being shared to the Plaintiff in a Dropbox folder. An attorney for the Plaintiff deleted some of the information on Dropbox, resulting in the Defendants re-producing the deleted ESI with a supplemental production. Feist, at *5.

The Court held the Plaintiff responsible for the production of any duplicative ESI, citing an email from Plaintiff’s counsel stating, “that Plaintiff’s counsel was attempting to restore files unsuccessfully, and that she understood ‘you are sending us a hard drive with the materials, so we don’t need to worry about drop box [sic]…’” Feist, at *5-6.

Judge Ronald Ellis ended the opinion with these final words to the litigants: On balance, both Parties have caused unnecessary delay in discovery and have exhibited a lack of communication regarding document production. Feist, at *6.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Attorneys often get lost in the “fog of war” in eDiscovery disputes. There are times when bringing a motion to compel is the absolute right answer; there are times when it is the absolute wrong course of action.

Is it really worth fighting over producing ESI with redactions as TIFFS instead of PDFs? Most review applications give options for either format. If the requesting party wants one over the other, the fight is just not cost effective.

History has many examples of miscommunications resulting in disaster. Lawyers who want to fight on every issue run the risk of ignoring what the opposing party is saying, creating a situation that can end in expensive motion practice. In the end, this results with money and time being lost with nothing gained.

Proportionality in Asymmetrical Discovery

The Plaintiffs and Defendants in a SEC case highlight the importance of proportionality between asymmetrical parties. In such cases, one side has all of the electronically stored information for discovery requests; the other side does all the requesting. However, the smaller party can have an extremely high burden reviewing any produced ESI, especially if searchable features have been removed.

Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre in City of Sterling Heights Gen. Emples. Ret. Sys. v. Prudential Fin., (an opinion not for publication) did a great job balancing the proportionality interests between a motion to add additional search terms and custodians to the dispute.

Balancing Custodians

The Plaintiffs sough to add between 22 to 45 additional custodians for the Defendants to add to their discovery search. The Requesting Party made a strong argument for the additional custodians, including a chart of the custodians with the factual basis for expanding the scope of discovery. The parties had already agreed to 66 custodians. City of Sterling Heights Gen. Emples. Ret. Sys. v. Prudential Fin., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110712, *4-5; 8.

The Court denied adding the majority of the additional custodians, explaining, Neither plaintiffs nor the Court can know with certainty, of course, whether searches of the additional custodians’ ESI will yield unique, noncumulative documents.” Sterling Heights, at *9. The Court further explained that it was satisfied that the vast majority of the custodians likely had duplicate information. Id.

Judge Wettre drove home her proportionality analysis with the following: the Court is cognizant of the sizeable costs to Prudential involved in the searching, review and production of information from each additional custodian. Although Prudential is a large corporation with substantial resources, the Court should not be – and is not-insensitive to these costs.” Id.

The Court found that the Plaintiffs had provided enough information that there was a “fair inference” that there could be more custodians with additional information. Id. Judge Wettre explained in terms of proportionality that:

Although the number of agreed custodians is already substantial, the resources and personnel at Prudential devoted to the Verus audit and related issues also seem to have been immense. Therefore, it is not surprising that more than 66 Prudential employees may have been heavily involved in the issues relating to this case and may thus have relevant, noncumulative information. Moreover, allowing plaintiffs a moderate number of additional custodians does not seem disproportionate to the size and scale of this action. The Court understands that there are electronic de-duping tools that may be utilized to limit defendants’ review and production of duplicative documents, reducing some of the burden on Prudential of producing information from additional custodians.

Sterling Heights, at *10.

The Court explained that permitting the plaintiffs to select an additional 10 custodians “would balance fairly plaintiffs’ rights to relevant discovery against the costs and burden to defendants of providing that discovery.” Sterling Heights, at *10-11.

Search Terms

The question of adding four new search terms was decided swiftly. The Defendants challenged adding more search terms, claiming they had already produced 1.5 million pages of discovery. Sterling Heights, at *11. The Plaintiffs responded that over half of the 1.5 million pages were “completely unusable redacted pdfs of Excel spreadsheets.” Id.

The Court held that the four search terms appeared designed to target relevant information. Moreover, the Plaintiff noted that if the Defendant had produced a hit count that showed the terms had an “egregiously large” number of “hits,” the Plaintiffs would have considered narrowing the terms. Id.

Judge Wettre allowed the additional terms and explained:

The Court does not have before it information on which it is persuaded that it should deny these four additional terms because they would produce an unduly large number of results likely to be irrelevant to this case. While the Court does recognize that defendant has agreed to a large number of search terms, that is not sufficient basis in and of itself to deny plaintiffs the four additional search terms they seek.

Sterling Heights, at *12.

Bow Tie Thoughts

If proportionality cases were rock concerts, this case has a few “gavel drop” moments. It is great to see a Judge who incorporated proportionality throughout the entire opinion.

Proportionality arguments should not be made out of thin air. The Plaintiffs made a noble effort providing a chart with each additional custodian explaining the factual basis for expanding the scope of discovery for each individual. While they only got 10 additional custodians, this was an excellent way to explain to a Court the value of adding custodians to decide the merits of a case.

The search term arguments for both parties could have been stronger if the proposed search terms were supported by affidavits from expert witnesses. To be fair, the arguments might have been, but the tone of the opinion sounds like the arguments did not include expert affidavits. There are many lawyers who think that because they can conduct case law research that “search terms” in discovery are the same thing. That is a dangerous assumption.

I strongly encourage lawyers to work with eDiscovery consultants to help identify the concepts to identify electronically stored information. Advanced analytics from clustering of similar files to email threading, to visual analytics, to predictive coding all can help identify responsive files. Lawyers should think beyond “search terms” to concepts in order to search discovery.

Finally, I feel greatly for the Plaintiffs who had to review non-searchable PDF’s of Excel files. There are ways to redact Excel files that would require agreements between the parties, but it can be done. This would keep Excel files in native format and avoid spreadsheets exploding into multiple page nightmares.

In closing, a hat tip to the Judge and both parties on their well argued positions and the opinion.