Not all native files are in a “reasonably useable form.” To borrow from the Dark Knight, sometimes, producing native files as PDF’s with metadata is the “reasonably useable” form you deserve, but not the one you need for convenient document review.
A Plaintiff sought a native file production from a computer system that maintained medical files of prison inmates in a database application called “Centricity.” The Defendant produced the medical records as PDF’s in reverse chronological order and a motion to compel ensued. Peterson v. Matlock, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152994, at *3-4(D.N.J.Oct. 29, 2014).
A requesting party can state the form of production in their request. A producing party must produce the information as it is “kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request.” Peterson, at *6, Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(E).
If a producing party objects to producing as native files (or any form of production), they have the burden of showing the “undue hardship or expense” prohibiting the production in the stated form. Peterson, at *7, citing Susquehanna Commercial Fin., Inc. v. Vascular Res., Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127125, at *13 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 1, 2010).
The Defendants explained that they had limited control on the export of the medical records, thus could not produce the information the way the Plaintiff requested in a piecemeal fashion or chart form. Peterson, at *5. Moreover, to produce the information in “chart format and organized into various categories as they are viewed through Centricity ‘would be an inordinate drain of time and manpower’ because staff from the DOC would be required to ‘sort through each page of the medical record and make the determination as to which category it fits into.’” Peterson, at *5-6.
The Court held that even though the PDF production was “less convenient” for the Requesting Party, “requiring staff from the DOC to sort and identify each page of every inmate medical record would create a substantial hardship and/or expense, which outweighs Plaintiff’s interests in receiving the records in their native format.” Peterson, at *7.
Bow Tie Thoughts
Document review and medical records can become complicated. I worked on a case where we as the plaintiff produced medical records to an insurance company in a personal injury case. We were given the Plaintiff’s medical records on easy-to-use interactive DVDs that had an impressive viewer where X-Rays were in 3D and could be rotated in any direction. It was extremely dynamic in analyzing the Plaintiff’s injuries.
The attorney at the insurance company did not want to use the DVDs and requested we produced everything as PDFs, thereby destroying the insurance company’s ability to review anything. The lawyer claimed the DVDs were “too complex” for him. Despite conferring directly with the IT support for the insurance company, we produced the information again as PDFs.
The case of Peterson v. Matlock is different, because here we have an export issue that does not match the stated format in the request. One option might be to give the Plaintiff access to a database with the information. Such access would likely NOT be proportional to the case given the cost to do so, but there are situations where this could happen.
The Court’s very short ruling is based on proportionality based on cost of producing the information stated in the request against the value of the information to the Plaintiff. This case easily could have been decided as a form of production case, in that the native files were not in a reasonably useable form, thus required translation to PDFs. This might be the less conventional approach, but would be statutorily correct in my opinion.
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016, the Web 100 from 2017 to 2018, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.