A recent federal district court decision, Lawson et al. v Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc., US Dist Ct, MD Pa, 1:17-CV-1266, Carlson, J., 2019, reminds litigants of the need to tailor discovery requests for electronically stored information (“ESI”).

Before the Court was plaintiffs’ motion to compel defendants’ production of “all” text messages on approximately 100 company-owned cell phones.  The underlying discovery demand, “not bound or defined by any considerations of factual relevance to the issues in this litigation” (Lawson at *1), was deemed not relevant and overly broad.  And so, the motion was denied by the Court.

In reaching its conclusion the Court referenced the scope of discovery under the Federal Rules, observing that discovery is limited to that which “is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case” (Fed Rules Civ Pro rule 26 [b] [1]).  Relying upon this standard the Court noted that “no party would be entitled to all text messages contained on an opposing party’s cellphones, [but only to] those messages that were relevant to the issues in th[e] litigation” (Lawson at *1).  The Court further noted that the “element of pervasiveness that characterizes cell phones,” coupled with the fact that many people maintain “the most personal and intimate facts of their lives … in their personal electronic devices” (id. at *2, quoting Riley v California, 573 US 373, 395 [2014]), makes compliance with plaintiff’s demand, as written, significantly burdensome for defendant and steeped in issues that implicate privacy concerns.

Ultimately, the Court declined to order disclosure.  The Court, however, noted that “a more narrowly tailored request, supported by a more specific showing of relevance, might be appropriate” (id. at *5).

While this case serves as a reminder to all litigants that discovery demands must be specifically tailored, a few helpful tips for avoiding a dispute similar to the one in Lawson include:

  • Know the Facts – Once you appreciate fully the facts and issues relevant to your lawsuit, it will be easier to craft discovery demands that seek information that is relevant.
  • Tailor Your Demands – The goal is to draft Demands that encompass all information relevant to the litigation, while avoiding over breadth.
  • Be Prepared to Justify Your Demands – Discovery disputes often involve the issue of relevance.  In the event of a dispute, be prepared to educate the Court as to why a specific demand is relevant and tailored.