What should a party do to ensure their e-discovery requests stay within the confines of Fed R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1)?

How Broad is Too Broad?

Author: Aislinn Koch
Case Citation: Rutledge-Plummer v. SCO Family of Servs., No. 15-CV-2468 (MKB) (SMG), 2017 WL 570765 (E.D. N.Y. Feb. 13, 2017)
Employee/Personnel/Employer implicated: Cecelia Rutledge-Plummer (Former employee of SCO Family of Services), SCO Family of Services (Company)
eLesson Learned: Parties need to be concise and articulate when specifying which documents they are requesting that are truly relevant to their case in order to adhere to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

Specificity is the key to a proper electronic discovery request in order to comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The Plaintiff in Rutledge-Plummer v. SCO Family of Servs. was about as non–specific as they come when she requested documents related to her discrimination lawsuit.

 The scope of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) is limited to “any nonprivledged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Plaintiff, while pro se, decided that asking for every single email sent and received between eight different individuals from August 1, 2013 to the day this decision was made, February 13, 2017, was a perfectly legitimate request. Absolutely not. This would include more than likely thousands and thousands of emails, most of which might not have a single thing to do with her discrimination case.  This is way too broad.

The court was not about to allow this Plaintiff to burden the Defendant with this request for an absurd number of documents. Plaintiff’s request was denied on the grounds that it was overly burdensome. Even during oral argument when the Plaintiff attempted to somewhat limit the scope to just emails that had to do with her and to put the end date of August 4, 2014, the court found these extra limitations still to not be enough. Clearly, there is a high burden on the specificity requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

Defendant actually did search for some emails, but they limited their email search to “(i) the decision to eliminate plaintiff’s position, (ii) plaintiff’s allegation that her responsibilities changed even before the decision to eliminate her position was made, and (iii) plaintiff’s requests for medical leave and her alleged disability.” Because of the tailoring that the Defendant did to the search, the court said that denying Plaintiff’s motion to compel will not cause her to end up with nothing. However, this massive blunder by the Plaintiff to over request documents caused the court to allow the Defendant to decide which documents were relevant. That’s probably the exact opposite of what the Plaintiff was hoping for.

Litigators beware, you better know what documents you really want because if you go too far, you might just end up with something else entirely. Limiting the scope of your electronic discovery requests is imperative to the outcome of your case. This Plaintiff and her counsel, whom did not even bother to check for what she asked for while she was pro se until the deadline for discovery was almost up, ended up with emails that the Defendant had control over. Plaintiff even botched her other electronic discovery requests for the same reason that they were not specifically tailored to relevant information to her case.

Broader is not better when it comes to electronic discovery. You should know precisely what documents you are looking for when making a discovery demand. Otherwise, your request could be denied and you’ll end up with nothing useful to your case. The Plaintiff in Rutledge-Plummer v. SCO Family of Servs. learned this the hard way.

Aislinn Koch is a 2014 magna cum laude graduate of Elon University located in North Carolina where she earned her B.F.A. in Dance, Performance and Choreography and her B.A. in Strategic Communications.  She will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in May of 2018. After graduation, Aislinn will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division, in Bergen County.

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