Bald Assertions of Burden Insufficient Under Rule 26(b)(2)(B); Ball Club Ordered to Produce Remaining Email Using Previously Agreed-Upon Search Terms

City of Seattle v. Prof’l Basketball Club, LLC, 2008 WL 539809 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 25, 2008)

The discovery dispute in this decision involved the City of Seattle’s request to have defendant Professional Basketball Club, LLC (“PBC”) search for and produce responsive emails for six of its eight members.  In January 2008, PBC produced approximately 150,000 emails from two members of PBC.  It objected to producing emails for the remaining six PBC members because such a search would “increase the universe exponentially” and would generally produce irrelevant documents.  The City moved to compel production of the requested emails.

The court first considered whether the requisite principal-agent relationship existed to establish that PBC had the legal right to obtain documents upon demand from its members.  The court analyzed PBC’s operating agreement under Oklahoma law, and concluded that the City had met its burden in establishing that PBC had “possession, custody, or control” over the at-issue documents for purposes of Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a).

Next, the court found that the substance of the requested emails – information regarding the formation of PBC and the Sonics’ finances – may be relevant to the underlying issues.  Given the liberal discovery rules, the court declined to limit the City’s inquiry on relevancy grounds.  It stated that, whether such evidence warrants admissibility is a distinctly separate question that would be addressed at the appropriate time.

Finally, the court observed that the Federal Rules contemplate a specific requirement when a party objects to the production of electronically stored information, citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(B).  The court faulted PBC’s lack of specificity, stating that PBC had not explained why producing the emails at issue would be unnecessarily burdensome.  It continued:

PBC also states in its moving papers that the emails add “nothing to the case except mountains of work for no return.”  But a bald assertion that discovery will be burdensome is insufficient in light of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b) (2)(B).  The Court is not permitted to presume the potential burdensome effects upon a party.  The parties have already agreed upon a group of search terms that PBC previously used to search Messrs. Bennett and McClendon’s emails and the Court assumes those terms may be used again to make further searches efficient.

Thus, the court granted the City’s motion and ordered PBC to produce the emails of the remaining PBC members within two weeks of the order.

The City of Seattle is represented in the case by K&L Gates attorneys Jeffrey C. Johnson, Paul J. Lawrence, Thomas Slade Gorton, III, Jonathan H. Harrison, and Michelle D. Jensen, along with Thomas Aquinas Carr and Gregory Colin Narver of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

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