In what format must documents be in response to document demands and interrogatories?

When Responding to Document Requests, What Format Must the Documents Be Produced In? If the Requesting Party Specifies a Format, Documents Must Be Produced In the Format Specified

In this case, a non-profit corporation, National Jewish Health, is suing WebMD. A very important sub-issue arose in this case regarding electronically stored information requested by the plaintiff during discovery. The plaintiff issued very broad discovery and interrogatory requests regarding emails between employees of the defendant. Because of the complexity of the electronic discovery at issue, the presiding judge, Daniel Y. Wiley, appointed Ronald J. Hedges as a special master to give a recommendation regarding electronic discovery.

WebMD uses Enterprise Vault to maintain its email. This system is very useful because it preserves all emails sent by employees to prevent the emails from being altered or destroyed. This system also allowed the IT department of WebMD to search and sort the emails received and sent by specific employees. Using an eDiscovery tool in Enterprise Vault, the IT department of WebMD produced emails generated by the search criteria provided by WebMD’s legal team.

WebMD’s counsel produced the emails in one of the following formats:

  • Individual native files with attachments extracted;
  • .DAT file using standard concordance delimiters and containing metadata (standard fields) for the above mentioned native files; and
  • Text files/OCR for each native file provided as individual text files with a text path provided in the .DAT file.

Additionally, all the emails produced are fully text searchable, sortable, and paired with all metadata.

National Jewish Health (NJH) submitted a motion for sanctions against WebMD because they received roughly 280,000 documents as a result of their document request. NJH viewed this as a data dump and claimed there were over 100,000 duplicate files produced. But as it turned out, WebMD had already filtered the documents for duplicates and NJH could not prove that it had even conducted searches of the documents. Additionally, all documents produced by WebMD were in their native format, or an otherwise usable format. As a result, NJH’s motion for sanctions was denied.

Another notable issue in this case is regarding WebMD’s storage of employee emails because an individual must serve as the custodian of the emails. Judge Wiley stated that, “a company, through its IT department, can serve as the custodian of electric files stored on company servers.” Since WebMD saved its emails on the Enterprise Vault, NJH has no argument as to custodianship.

The final issue raised in this case is regarding NJH interrogatories. WebMD objected to the interrogatories as being overbroad and burdensome because the interrogatories requested the sorting and labeling of documents. Instead of answering the interrogatories, WebMD instead turned over their business records, which is acceptable under the rules. The purpose of this option to produce documents in the usual course of business is to place the burden of research on the party seeking the information, instead of requiring the responding party to conduct a burdensome or expensive search of its own records. Judge Wiley stated that the interrogatory requests were in fact overly burdensome as WebMD is not required to sort and label documents.

Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently Daniel is serving as a legal intern in Seton Hall’s Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey.

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