Peterson v. Matlock, New Jersey District Court Denies Motion to Compel Production of Native Files; Orders Production of Metadata Audit Trail

In this case, Magistrate Judge Arpert found that Defendants effectively demonstrated the “undue burden” associated with the requested production and denied Plaintiff’s Motion to compel the production of native files.

In this case, the Plaintiff alleged that when handcuffed, he was beaten by several corrections officers in the presence of other officers and supervisors who failed to intervene and then conspired to cover up the incident.

During discovery, Defendants produced Plaintiff’s medical records in PDF format. The Plaintiff contended that the PDF format made the records hard to navigate and interpret and filed a Motion to compel the production in native format together with the required software reader or broken down into searchable headings. The Plaintiff argued that the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) uses a software program called “Centricity” to maintain and store inmate’s medical records and that the PDF production was missing the “functionality, searchable data points and metadata that are contained in the electronic medical record and provided to the provider.” Plaintiff also claimed that the PDF record did not have the metadata audit trail reflecting changes or additions made to the records.

Defendants claimed that they had limited control over the format of the medical records in Centricity and that providing the records in chart format and organized in categories as they are viewed in Centricity would be “an inordinate drain of time and manpower” and require the DOC to look at each page of the medical record to ascertain the applicable category. Defendant did not object to producing the metadata “audit trail” but contended that it did not exist at the level Plaintiff requested. Further, the Centricity program was updated recently and the Defendants contended that they could not provide the audit trail immediately due to upgrade issues but agreed to provide it as soon as it is possible to do so.

In its analysis, the Court pointed to FRCP Rule 34 (b) which notes that “a request for ESI may specify the form in which the information is to be produced, and the producing party must provide the records ‘as they are kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories from the request.’” Citing Susquehanna Commercial Fin., v. Vascular Res. Inc. 2010 WL 4973317, at 13 (M.D. Pa Dec. 1, 2010), the Court noted that the burden “rests with the party objecting to production of metadata or ESI to show undue hardship or expense.”

In the present case, the Court found that the Defendants “demonstrated that they would suffer an undue burden” in complying with Plaintiff’s request. In its ruling, the Court held that while the PDF record “may be less convenient for the Plaintiff, requiring the 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.”

The Court denied Plaintiff’s Motion to compel production of the native files, but ordered the Defendants to provide the Plaintiff with the metadata in the audit trail as soon as it was available.

Peterson v. Matlock, 2014 WL 5475236 (D. N.J. OCT. 29, 2014).

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