Personal Computer/Email Accounts Discoverable
September 14, 2016
In Sunderland v. Suffolk Cty., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77212 (E.D.N.Y. June 14, 2016) Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson granted plaintiff’s motion to compel defendants to search for and produce certain documents from their personal computers.
Specifically, plaintiff – a transgender inmate incarcerated at Suffolk County Correctional Facility (“SCCF”) – brought a civil rights case against the County of Suffolk and also three individuals in both their individual and official capacities. The gist of the complaint, as against the individual defendants, was that they knew of plaintiff’s gender dysphoria but were dismissive of the condition and refused to continue plaintiff’s hormone therapy while incarcerated at SCCF.
While the parties agreed on the relevant time period and search terms for purposes of identifying relevant information, the parties disagreed as to whether the individual defendants were required to search their personal emails and computers. The defendants argued that while their electronic work devices and accounts can be searched, their personal items are not discoverable. Plaintiff moved to compel production of personal emails.
The court granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel, explaining that the personal documents are relevant under FRCP 26(b)(1), even after the December 2015 amendments. The court elaborated that the nature of the case made it likely that information relevant to claims of bias, deliberate indifference or state of mind, would have been kept on a personal device or account rather than a work one. In its reasoning, the court further explained that such a search is not overly burdensome because the parties already agreed to the terms to be used, the searches had a limited temporal scope, and the plaintiff insisted that the defendants’ computers would not have to undergo forensic inspection.
While this decision is important for a number of e-discovery principles, it is also a good reminder that one should limit personal devices to personal emails and, likewise refrain from using work computers/emails for personal purposes.