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Murphy v. Piper

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 14, 2017

Tenner Murphy, by his guardians Kay and Richard Murphy; Marrie Bottelson; Dionne Swanson; and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
Emily Johnson Piper in her Capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Defendant.




         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's appeal of Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson's October 4, 2017 Order and Opinion on Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Regarding Temporal Scope and Terms for Searching Electronically Stored Information (ESI) (“Order”) (Doc. No. 102). Plaintiffs filed a response to Defendant's objections on November 1, 2017. (Doc. No. 118.)


         I. Legal Standard

         The Court must modify or set aside any portion of the Magistrate Judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Local Rule 72.2(a). This is an “extremely deferential” standard. Reko v. Creative Promotions, Inc., 70 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1007 (D. Minn. 1999). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Chakales v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 79 F.3d 726, 728 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting Chase v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 926 F.2d 737, 740 (8th Cir. 1991)). “A magistrate judge's ruling is contrary to law when it either fails to apply or misapplies pertinent statutes, case law or rules of procedure.” Coons v. BNSF Ry. Co., Civ. No. 15-4282, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2017 WL 3382311, at *5 (D. Minn. Aug. 7, 2017) (citing Edeh v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 748 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1043 (D. Minn. 2010)).

         II. The Magistrate Judge's Order and Defendant's Objections

         In the October 4, 2017 Order, Magistrate Judge Thorson addressed disputes between Plaintiffs and Defendant regarding (1) search terms for conducting electronic discovery and (2) the temporal scope applicable to particular discovery requests. Defendant objects to the Order as it relates to both issues, and Plaintiffs argue that Defendant has not met her burden to prevail on these objections. The Court summarizes the Magistrate Judge's conclusions and Defendant's objections to the Order, below.

         A. Search Terms

         First, Magistrate Judge Thorson considered the proper search terms to be applied to Plaintiffs' discovery requests.[1] The Magistrate Judge considered Defendant's argument that utilizing Plaintiffs' search terms would result in an undue burden but determined that Defendant had not met her burden to preclude discovery on this basis. In particular, the Magistrate Judge discussed Defendant's lack of specificity regarding the claimed burden and noted that “[g]iven the issues in this case, it is not surprising that nearly 100, 000 documents could be discoverable.” (Doc. No. 102 at 4.) Thus, the Magistrate Judge “order[ed] the parties to adopt the Plaintiffs' proposed search terms.” (Id.)

         Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge's Order is contrary to law because she failed to adequately analyze proportionality and relevance with respect to the search terms dispute. In addition, Defendant asserts that the Magistrate Judge clearly erred in concluding that Defendant had not established an undue burden because “[i]t is overburdensome on its face to review tens of thousands of electronic records.” (Doc. No. 109 at 4.) Defendant emphasizes that her proposed search terms would yield approximately 17, 000 documents whereas Plaintiffs' proposed terms which were adopted by the Magistrate Judge yield more than 70, 000 documents. Discovery, Defendant urges, should not be used to permit parties to conduct “a ‘fishing expedition.'” (Id. (quoting Carlson Cos. v. Sperry & Hutchinson Co., 374 F.Supp. 1080, 1089 (D. Minn. 1973)).)

         In contrast, Plaintiffs assert that the Magistrate Judge properly determined that Plaintiffs' search terms should be utilized in light of the relevance of the proposed terms and the corresponding burden to Defendant. Plaintiffs emphasize that their proposed search terms are necessary to avoid missing relevant documents. Plaintiffs suggest that “it is to be expected that a large number of relevant documents will be in DHS's possession” in light of the statewide scope of this class action litigation. (Doc. No. 118 at 11-12.) Plaintiffs contest Defendant's arguments that the requested discovery is facially overburdensome or will result in a fishing expedition. Finally, Plaintiffs contend that the Magistrate Judge correctly found that Defendant had not established the alleged undue burden.

         B. Temporal Scope

         Second, Magistrate Judge Thorson evaluated the appropriate temporal scope pertaining to Plaintiffs' written discovery requests.[2] The Magistrate Judge was “persuaded that Plaintiffs' temporal limits are appropriate” because the requested discovery was both relevant and proportional. (Doc. No. 102 at 6-7.) Specifically, the Magistrate Judge concluded that “Plaintiffs have explained why the temporal scope should reach back to 2009 for Document Requests 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, and 16.”[3] (Id. at 7.) The Magistrate Judge acknowledged Defendant's argument that information from 2009 is not relevant in an official-capacity suit seeking prospective relief, but determined that “Defendant's argument . . . does not rebut Plaintiff's showing that responsive documents created between 2009 and the lawsuit are relevant to the underlying claims and defense in order to establish that Plaintiffs are entitled to the relief sought.” (Id. at 7-8.) The Magistrate Judge further concluded that Defendant ...

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