Case Law: Adams v. AllianceOne, Inc.
Court Declines to Impose Sanctions Despite Inconsistent Production Formats
Adams v. AllianceOne, Inc., 2011 WL 2066617 (S.D. Cal. May 25, 2011). In this class action suit, the plaintiff requested $17,076.06 in sanctions arguing the defendant committed discovery abuse by producing over 20 million pages of documents in unsearchable PDFs. In response, the defendant argued a PDF was the most useable format available because data extraction from its third party, proprietary software storage system rendered the data unreadable “mush” that could become readable only via printing (impractical due to the volume) or PDF conversion. Further, the PDFs could be searched using commercially available software. Finding the plaintiff did not specify a desired format and noting that past production practices do not dictate future requirements absent a party agreement, the court found no basis on which to impose sanctions. The court additionally found the information was usable and searchable, that translating data between formats was permissible under the Fed.R.Civ.P. and that there was insufficient evidence the defendant acted with willful intent. Although the court remained “less than pleased” with the defendant’s past discovery delays, it withdrew its informal recommendation for sanctions and denied the motion.
Production problems continue to plague practitioners despite having rather clearly dictated requirements included in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and case law from around the country. In 2010, of the 39 percent of cases that addressed production issues, 27 percent involved production disputes. A separate 18 percent of cases addressed various production considerations (but did not involve sanctions).
In this case, the plaintiff filed for sanctions claiming the defendant violated its production and discovery obligations by producing unsearchable PDFs. However, because the plaintiff did not specify a particular format upfront, the court refused to impose sanctions after finding the format was within the bounds of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This highlights the importance of discussing production formats early at the meet and confer. To have a productive discussion, counsel must be prepared and understand what the best production options for the case are taking into account associated review and production expenses. Production is one part of the ediscovery puzzle that can be negotiated and agreed upon early, theoretically eliminating future disputes which only serve to waste time and money. Act proactively now and save headaches later on.