Topic: Metadata discoverability and production burden.
Former Allstate Insurance Company employees brought suit on behalf of a putative class alleging age discrimination and breach-of-contract claims after they executed broad releases altering their employee statuses, which subjected them to Allstate's subsequent mass-termination program of older agents. After remand of summary judgment in Allstate's favor, a new district court judge addressed plaintiffs' motion to compel documents, which included a request for production of certain material in "native" format with associated metadata. The court granted plaintiffs' request and ordered production of the responsive metadata after reviewing the Sedona Conference guidelines, which provide that requests for metadata should be viewed as inside the scope of normal electronic discovery because metadata allows the requesting party to search, understand, and use the requested documents. Rejecting Allstate's claims that metadata should only be produced upon a showing of "particularized need," the court opined that the party objecting to metadata production bears the burden of showing undue hardship. The court noted any hardship or expense may prove difficult to establish because metadata must generally be affirmatively removed from a document. This court-ordered metadata production was limited to current and future discovery efforts to avoid the burden of requiring Allstate to retrieve metadata of previously-produced documents.
- Production of metadata is being considered standard procedure in some courts and within the scope of normal electronic discovery guidelines.
- Although the court did not require it, plaintiffs here demonstrated a "particularized need" for the metadata. Efforts to discover metadata will usually be most effective when accompanied by a showing that access to the data allows for a more effective and meaningful search and use of documentation, particularly when there is an extensive amount of responsive information. In contrast to plaintiffs' particularized need, Allstate made no showing of financial burden or prejudicial harm by production of the metadata.
- This opinion joins many others in recognizing the Sedona Conference guidelines and principles as "the leading authorities on electronic document retrieval and production." Modern e-discovery practice requires fluency in Sedona Conference precepts-or advice from those already well-versed its requirements. The Romero court used Sedona Conference guidance to direct the parties to confer and cooperate on the details of future electronic discovery efforts. Proving compliance with similar Sedona-style inspired efforts at cooperation might become a necessary element of future motions to compel e-discovery.
If you have specific objections to producing metadata, make them known early. At the beginning of the case, Allstate attempted to use a letter commemorating an electronic discovery agreement between the parties, but the court refused to apply the eight-year-old "understanding" to newly-generated discovery requests. The letter was broadly-worded with no specification as to the scope of its application, and Allstate did not raise an initial objection to the production of metadata. A more specific and concrete agreement may have helped Allstate plan for-and limit-the scope of future e-discovery demands like the metadata request at issue here.
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