FRCP Mandates No ‘Document Dumps’

    Nov 18, 2014

    The recent court case Venture Corp. v. James P. Barrett, 2014 WL 5305575 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 2014) draws attention to the responsibilities of parties in complying with the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) Rule 34 (Producing Documents, Electronically Stored Information, and Tangible Things). 

    These requirements were particularly relevant in this case, as the two parties could not agree to the form of production during their meet and confer. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs produced 41,000 documents on a flash drive and by e-mail. However, the documents were not categorized or identified in any way, other than being folders of documents. It was, in effect, an electronic document dump.

    The defendants asked that the documents be categorized, but the plaintiffs refused, stating that the defendants had only stipulated that the documents be produced. 

    In U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal’s Order re: Motion to Compel, Grewal wrote that FRCP Rule 34 outlines two key requirements that are meant to prevent document dumps such as this:

    • “First, ‘[a] party must produce documents as they are kept in the ordinary course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request.’
    • Second, ‘[i]f a request does not specify a form for producing electronically stored information, a party must produce it in a form or forms in which it is ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form or forms. A party need not produce the same electronically stored information in more than one form.’”

    Grewal also wrote that Rule 34(b)(2)(E)(i) “[a]t a minimum … mean[s] that the disclosing party should provide information about each document which ideally would include, in some fashion, the identity of the custodian or person from whom the documents were obtained, an indication of whether they are retained in hard copy or digital format, assurance that the documents have been produced in the order in which they are maintained, and a general description of the filing system from which they were recovered.”

    The court found that the “grab bag of PDF and native files” did not meet this standard and ordered Venture Corp to “(1) either organize and label each document it has produced or it shall provide custodial and other organizational information along the lines outlined above and (2) produce load files for its production containing searchable text and metadata.”

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