Contents of Personal Computers and Email Accounts Within Scope of Discovery, Search Ordered by Court

Sunderland v. Suffolk Cty., No. CV 13-4838 (JFB)(AKT), 2016 WL 3264169 (E.D.N.Y. June 14, 2016)

In this civil rights action, the parties agreed upon search terms to identify responsive material but did not agree regarding the propriety of searching the Individual Defendants’ personal computers and email accounts. Concluding that responsive information located in the Individual Defendants’ personal repositories was within the scope of discovery, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel the requested searches.

Plaintiff, a former inmate at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, alleged that while incarcerated the Individual Defendants, “physicians employed by the County who treated Plaintiff while she was an inmate,” “acted with deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs by denying her hormone therapy for his [sic] gender dysphoria.” In the course of discovery, Plaintiff requested production of the Individual Defendants’ “documents and correspondence” related to gender dysphoria, transgender status and related issues.  Although the parties agreed on appropriate search terms, they disagreed regarding whether the Individual Defendants were required to search their personal computers and emails.

In support of her motion, Plaintiff argued that the Individual Defendants had been sued in their individual capacities and that the County’s representation of the individuals did not excuse them from their discovery obligations.

Upon analysis of the question, the court concluded that the requested information fell within the scope of relevant discovery under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b) “in light of Plaintiff’s allegations against the Individual Defendants and her Monell claim against the County” and indicated that it “d[id] not consider the requested discovery unduly intrusive or burdensome,” noting the limited timeframe for the search (to which the defendants did not object), the agreed-upon search terms, and the fact that Plaintiff was not seeking a forensic inspection of the personal computers.  The court also reasoned that “to the extent such documents exist on the … personal computers, they may contain information going to bias or motivation which may show why a personal computer was used for such communications, including information which may support Plaintiff’s claims of deliberate indifference . . . .”  Accordingly, the court ordered the Individual Defendants to utilize the agreed-upon terms to search their personal computers and email accounts and to produce any responsive documents or provide an affidavit confirming that no responsive materials were identified.  The court also reminded counsel of the need to “supervise and oversee” the search for and production of such information.

A full copy of the court’s order is available here.

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