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Bethea v. Comcast

December 3, 2003

VALERIE BETHEA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMCAST ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter was referred to me by Judge Roberts for resolution of all discovery disputes. Currently ripe for resolution are Plaintiff's Motion for Order Compelling Entry on Premises to Inspect Defendants' Computer System and Programs and Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, for Sanctions, and Response to Defendant's Objections to Plaintiff's Notices of Deposition Duces Tecum for Deposition of Cynthia Hultquist and Curt Pendleton. For the reasons stated herein, both motions are denied.

Plaintiff's Motion for Order Compelling Entry on Premises to Inspect Defendants' Computer System and Programs

Background

On September 9, 2003, plaintiff Valerie Bethea ("Bethea") moved this court for an order compelling defendants to allow her to enter upon their premises, inspect their computer systems and related programs, and copy any information relevant to her employment discrimination claims. Plaintiff's Motion for Order Compelling Entry on Premises to Inspect Defendants' Computer System and Programs ("Pl. Mot. to Insp. Comp.") at 1. Plaintiff has been dissatisfied with the results of the discovery process and suspects that defendants possess more information than they have produced.*fn1 At a status conference held before Judge Richard W. Roberts on September 4, 2003, plaintiff's counsel represented to the court:

We would like to inspect the computer and make another request for some additional documents just to see if the defendants are going to say that there are no documents that exist which we are requesting.... We just can't believe that an organization of that magnitude could go through a reorganization and would not create one single document.

Transcript of September 4, 2003 Status Conference ("Tr.") at 6,7 (emphasis added). Thus, plaintiff seeks access to defendants' hard drives to determine whether defendants possess any additional documents that they have not yet produced.

Defendants insist that plaintiff should not be allowed to enter their premises and inspect their computers. Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Inspection of Defendants' Computer System and Programs ("D. Opp. to Insp. Comp.") at 1.

Defendants maintain that they have already searched their files and produced all unprivileged documents that respond to plaintiff's discovery requests. Id. at 4. In addition, defendants claim that plaintiff has failed to make any showing that relevant materials exist on the hard drive or that defendants have destroyed or unlawfully withheld any documents. Id. at 2. In addition, in his deposition, the Director of Human Resources for Comcast testified that all documents responding to plaintiff's discovery requests had already been produced and that any other communications regarding plaintiff and the reorganization of 2001 were conducted by phone and via meetings. Id. at 6.

Analysis

When a party seeks to compel discovery, it first has the burden of demonstrating the relevance of the information to the lawsuit. Alexander v. FBI, 194 F.R.D. 305, 311 (D.D.C. 2000). In the context of computer systems and computer records, inspection or seizure is not permitted unless the moving party can"demonstrate that the documents they seek to compel do, in fact, exist and are being unlawfully withheld." Id. As indicated by this court and other courts, a party's suspicion that another party has failed to respond to document requests fully and completely does not justify compelled inspection of its computer systems. See id.; see also Medical Billing Consultants, Inc. v. Intelligent Medical Objects, Inc., No. 01 C 9148, 2003 WL 1809465, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 4, 2003).

Here, plaintiff seeks to enter defendants' premises and inspect their computer systems merely because they are"believed to contain appropriate discovery information." Pl. Mot. to Insp. Comp. at 2. With this vague assertion, plaintiff fails to demonstrate what relevance any information still contained on the defendants' hard drives may have to the pending lawsuit. Rather, plaintiff is speculating, and such conjecture does not warrant the compelled inspection of a computer system that contains voluminous information relating to many topics other than plaintiff's employment discrimination claim. In addition, plaintiff has made no showing that the documents she seeks actually exist or that the defendants have unlawfully failed to produce them.*fn2 Indeed, plaintiff has not alleged that the defendants failed to make a search of adequate scope or duration. Instead, defendants have stated that they have made diligent searches and complied with all discovery requests, and plaintiff has not refuted them. For all of these reasons, I will not compel the inspection of defendants' computer systems and records.

Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, for Sanctions, and Response to Defendant's Objections to Plaintiff's Notices of Deposition Duces Tecum for ...


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