What is an Overbroad Request for Production?

Among the standard, often improper, objections I receive to requests for production is the request is overbroad. When is a request actually overbroad?

Krause v. Nev. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14872, 2014 WL 496936 (D. Nev. Feb. 6, 2014) concerned employment discrimination. Plaintiff sent two RFPs that became the topic of this order.

Please produce the contents of the laptop computer Sandra Krause used during her employment and then turned into the Nevada Mutual office upon request and the termination of her consulting arrangement in March, 2011.

Please produce a copy of the contents of Ms. Krause’s IN Box and Sent Box on the TREAN email system for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 and then the time period of January-March 2011.

The defendant objected. “Throughout the course of the meet and confer process, it is clear that the primary objection that the request was overly broad and created an undue burden on Defendants. The objections served in response are not ideal. They lack a measure of specificity and explanation called for in Rule 34, which requires that when a party states an objection to a request it should include the reasons for the objection.” The court still elected to reach the merits of the dispute. “Even in the face of less than ideal responses or requests, the Court is vested with broad authority to manage discovery and may exercise that discretion to reach the merits of a discovery dispute despite a party’s failure to meet its burden.”

Plaintiff’s requests were in fact overly broad.

The Court has little difficulty in finding that a request for email from a specified email account spanning a specific time period can satisfy the particularity requirement. However, in this instance, the Court finds that the request is overbroad as Plaintiff made no attempt to refine, limit, or modify what is an otherwise blanket request for the entirety of the email account in question.

Requests which are worded too broadly or are too all inclusive of a general topic function like a giant broom, sweeping everything in their path, useful or not. They require the respondent either to guess or move through mental gymnastics which are unreasonably time-consuming and burdensome to determine which of many pieces of paper may conceivably contain some detail, either obvious or hidden, within the scope of the request.

Id. (quoting Dauska v. Green Bay Packaging Inc., 291 F.R.D. 251 (E.D. Wisc. 2013)).

The Dauska court found requests seeking “all documents and emails that refer or relate to” the allegations or defenses in the case impermissibly broad because response would require compilation and review of “a vast array of material having no possible relevance to [the] lawsuit.” Id. at 262. To require compliance under such circumstances would be unreasonably time-consuming, burdensome and unfair. The Dauska court determined that requests seeking production of documents and emails relating to a particular issue or claim were not overbroad. For example, the request to produce all documents that “refer[red] or relate[d] to [Defendant’s] decision to eliminate Plaintiff’s position” because the category of documents to be searched was clear and there was no mystery as to what documents were sought. Id.

Here, Plaintiff request is unlimited and is not sufficiently modified or tailored to apprise Defendants what is being sought. Plaintiff simply requests the entirety of the email in box and sent box for the email account for the years 2008-March 2011 without limitation. The request is unconnected to any particular or specific claim or defense that is part of this case. Functionally, this is the same as requesting that the reviewing party scour the voluminous records contained within the general category identified for any and all documents that might be relevant to any and all claims or defenses in a case. Compliance would, quite clearly, operate like a giant broom sweeping up everything in its path regardless of relevance or usefulness. It would require Defendants to engage in the mental gymnastics and time-consuming process identified in Dauska to determine which of many pieces of information may contain some detail, obvious or hidden, that is within the broad parameters of all claims and defenses. The email account will, unquestionably, contain untold numbers of entirely irrelevant documents and information. Plaintiff concedes she worked in a paperless office, meaning  [19] virtually everything she worked on during the time period identified would be subject to disclosure. It is absurd, under the circumstances, to expect Defendant to gather and review this unlimited request. It is equally absurd to believe that Plaintiff should be given unfettered access to every piece of information within or attached to her email account. The Court will not require any further response to this request as compliance would be unreasonably time-consuming, burdensome, and unfair.

This decision also reinforced the benefits of taking a reasonable position in a discovery dispute.

Defendants never stated that they would not, or indeed had not, reviewed Plaintiff’s email account for discoverable information. Defendants continually noted that the request for unfettered access was over broad and created an undue burden. Defendants specifically did not foreclose further response, asking only that a more specific reference or limitation be provided so that Defendants could adequately respond. Plaintiff’s counsel rejected this imminently reasonable request and continued to push for unfettered access to the entirety of the email account. Plaintiff’s request, as propounded, is overbroad on its face, and patently so.