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Bailey v. Alpha Technologies Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 1, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Yvette Bailey's motion to compel (Dkt. No. 35). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The underlying facts of this case have been discussed at length in a previous order. (See Dkt. No. 16 at 1-3.) Plaintiff's claims include wrongful termination, failure to pay overtime wages, willful withholding of wages, and defamation. (See Dkt. No. 30.)

         Relevant to this motion, the Court entered the parties' proposed Electronically Stored Information (ESI) Agreement. (Dkt. No. 22.) The ESI agreement includes acceptable formats for production. These acceptable formats include, but are not limited to, native format, multi-page Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), single-page TIFF, and searchable Portable Document Format (PDF). (Dkt. No. 22 at 5.) Plaintiff asked that all ESI requested be produced in its native format. (Dkt. No. 36 at ¶ 3; see, e.g., Dkt. No. 36-1 at 2.) Defendants responded to the discovery requests, but none of the documents, except for Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, were in native format. (Dkt. No. 36 at ¶ 4.)

         On September 14, 2016, the parties conducted a discovery conference on the issue of ESI format production. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Defendants maintained their refusal to produce the remaining documents, mostly emails, in native format. (Id.) On October 14, 2016, the parties met again to discuss specific interrogatories and requests for production. (Id. at ¶ 6.) On November 2, 2016, Defendants restated their arguments and refusals to comply with some of Plaintiff's requests. (Dkt. No. 36-9.) On December 15, 2016, Defendants Alpha and Altair supplemented their responses. (Dkt. No. 36-10.) Over four months later, Plaintiff filed this motion to compel. (Dkt. No. 35.)


         A. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” When addressing proportionality, the Court considers “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 the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Id. This Court strongly disfavors discovery motions and prefers that the parties resolve discovery issues on their own. (See Dkt. No. 3.) However, if requested discovery is not answered, the requesting party may move for an order compelling such discovery after having met and conferred with the party failing to make the disclosure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1). The Court has broad discretion to decide whether to compel disclosure of discovery. Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v. General Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 2002).

         B. Native Format Production

         Plaintiff objects to Defendant's refusal to produce all of the documents requested in native format. (Dkt. No. 35 at 5, 10-12.) Native format production is one in which ESI is produced in its “native application, ” which allows the parties to see the document's metadata. (Dkt. No. 41 at ¶ 3.) For example, a document created using Microsoft Word would be produced as a Word document file. Comparatively, PDFs and TIFFs are an “imaged production” in which ESI is produced in a “static image format.” (Id.) Essentially, PDFs and TIFFs are screenshots of the ESI whose content cannot be edited and metadata is not visible.

         Here, Defendants have produced certain ESI files in native format, and others in imaged formats-“searchable PDF and TIFF, with accompanying load files containing extracted text and all metadata required by the ESI order.” (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to ESI in native format because it would provide important and relevant metadata information, including the ability to accurately track communications exchanged in this case between the United States, Bahamas, and China. (Dkt. No. 35 at 11-12.)

         Defendants' arguments that the production complies with the ESI order and that the mixed format production conforms to “best practices” in ESI discovery, (Dkt. No. 38 at 11-13), are unavailing. Native format production also complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this case's ESI order. Moreover, the Court finds that metadata and native format production are relevant and proportional to the needs of discovery. It is untenable to assert in this technology-driven age of litigation that images of electronic documents provided in TIFF and PDF form offer all of the relevant information possible. The metadata that is not visible in TIFF and PDF productions, but is visible in native format production, is relevant information. Therefore, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion on this issue.

         C. Alpha and Altair's ...

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