What is the threshold requirement needed in order to seek custodians email records?

When is it permissible to gain access to government officials emails in a case relating to violations of constitutional rights?

Author: Elliot M. Hirsch
Case Citation: Mann v. City of Chicago
Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: Certain Custodians from the Mayor’s Office
eLesson Learned: If there are emails or records that can be used to support a claim by a party, then those emails/records will be subject to discovery and can be compelled to be pursued.
Tweet This: Motions to Compel discovery email search on people who work in an office that has a connection to the case isn’t that difficult, just ask the City of Chicago.

The City of Chicago’s police force has allegedly engaged in some shady practices at non-public locations in Chicago that have come to the forefront in many cases appearing in United States District Court.

There is a place called Hopman square in Chicago. The police officers of the city of Chicago have allegedly taken many people there and subjected them to unconstitutional searches and arrests. These are extremely serious allegations. The issue in front of the court here was not about damages that Chicago should pay these citizens.

The issue here was regarding emails that would show that the police force had policies that were not in accordance with the law and prove that they engaged in these illegal practices. The main case that the complainants relied upon in their argument was Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

The city of Chicago had about 9 custodians from the Mayor’s office that the complainants were seeking to compel to release emails from their servers to reveal the illegal practices that were prevalent amongst the police force in the City of Chicago. The defendants agreed to release 2 custodians’ emails to the court but did not want to release the others. They cited undue burden and high costs as their main argument in order to prevail. But the court was not impressed and didn’t agree to their arguments.

The rule at play here was the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 which discusses discovery and has a specific mention about electronically stored information. But before discovery can be commenced the law is that the information being sought must be considered “relevant”. Miller UK Ltd. v. Caterpillar, Inc., 17 F. Supp. 3d 711, 721 (N.D. Ill. 2014). The court concluded here that the emails of the custodians could certainly contain information that would buttress the complainant’s allegations and were not persuaded by the argument of the City of Chicago.

It is an important ruling pertaining to eDiscovery that the court was very generous in allowing the search of more person’s email servers. But the court did set out a sort of warning or rule that should pertain to future cases in similar situations. The court did not allow every single custodian email server to be searched. They set out a precondition of the sort that said that those custodians that are of the short tenure of the staff person or the time during which the person holding the position would not be searchable. This was a kind of solution to the argument made by the City that stated claims such as high cost and undue burden of discovery procedures.

It should be noted that the court mentioned that because the City did not provide a number or even an estimate of the amount of money that the burden would cost, their argument was shut down. If they did provide such data, then it appears the court might have made a different decision.

Elliot M. Hirsch is a third-year law student at Seton Hall Law school. Before attending law school, Mr. Hirsch was a semi-professional tennis player training with some of the best tennis players in the world. Additionally, Mr. Hirsch was a Math teacher and tutor for students in middle school and high school. Mr. Hirsch has taught over 3500 students ranging from Honors programs to students with severe learning disabilities.

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