N.D. Ind.: Inspection of Computer Systems Disproportionate


Last month, Magistrate Judge Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. issued a decision, Gonzalez v. ADT, No. 3:15-CV-290-PPS-MGG, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 215813 (N.D. Ind. Nov. 15, 2018), denying the Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment Pursuant to Rule 37. The Plaintiffs filed suit against ADT for negligence in the installation and monitoring of an home security system. The Plaintiffs were assaulted and robbed after their home was broken into.

The Plaintiffs alleged that ADT falsely certified that its production was complete; did not produce all discoverable documents available to it by a court imposed deadline; and failed to prepare its 30(b)(6) representatives for depositions.

The Court did not fault ADT for incorrectly asserting at a December 2017 hearing that it had already produced the 'global universe' of information for the Plaintiffs' account and then later producing additional such information in the early months of 2018, because there was nothing to suggest that it willfully lied to the Court. It was reasonable for ADT to re-examine their production after a court order modifying the scope of production. Rule 26(b) requires the production of relevant discovery, proportional to the needs of the case, but "ADT's decision to produce more information does not automatically establish that all the produced information is indeed relevant to the claims and defenses in this case." Id. at *20. Because no bad faith was shown, a motion for sanctions based on misrepresentation was not justified.

Although some of ADT's deposition witnesses were not able to answer all of the questions asked of them, the topics did not relate to the Plaintiff's claims with respect to the installation and monitoring of an alarm system, but to the general training of the employees who did the installation, and so ADT had a right to withhold the information on the basis of relevance and proportionality.

Judge Gotsch held both sides accountable for the contentious manner in which they conducted discovery, noting that the Plaintiffs repeatedly sought discovery beyond the scope defined in court orders.

Although ADT produced notes related to the Plaintiffs' account after the discovery deadline because they were not transferred to MasterMind after a software upgrade, the Court did not find any bad faith even though ADT gave no explanation for its failure to search its old system, because the notes would likely have assisted its defense.

The omission of other information from the production of MasterMind screenshots that the Court acknowledges would have been valuable at depositions was not found to be the result of bad faith. Judge Gotsch noted the difficulty of preparing the information for production. "[T]he record shows that the gathering of the MasterMind screenshots was a tedious process of taking individual screenshots of every record in the system. Thus, it is reasonable that one or more screenshots might be inadvertently truncated in the process just as ADT contends." Id. at *27-28.

The Court denied the Plaintiffs' request to inspect the MasterMind customer database and standard operating procedures database. The cost of the inspection and the failure to show that the databases contained relevant information that was not already produced shows that relevancy and proportionality could not be established under Rule 26(b). Judge Gotsch expressed a strong general skepticism about the wisdom of allowing a review of an opposing party's databases. "[I]nspection of ADT's computer systems is disproportional to the needs of not only this case, but probably any case. Courts are cautioned against allowing a party direct access to electronically stored information and advised to consider more convenient, less burdensome and cheaper alternatives to ESI access to avoid encroachment on a party's privacy interests." Id. at *31-32.

Note that the MasterMind database is question is apparently software specialized designed for security companies. See: http://www.masmonitoring.com/Pages/Home.aspx