Magistrate Judge Limits Discovery of E-Mails and Text Messages to Those Directly Relevant to Employment Claims on Proportionality Grounds

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In suit brought by a former State employee for retaliation, invasion of privacy, and defamation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Wilder-Doomes, in the Middle District of Louisiana, granted in part, and denied in part, the defendant employer’s motion to compel various e-mail and text messages.

With respect to requests for plaintiff’s e-mails and text messages from his own personal cell phone and private e-mail account, the Court found that the requests “are not proportional to the needs of the case. A request for ‘all text messages’ and ‘all electronic mail (e-mail) messages’ that Plaintiff exchanged with any former or current employee of the ATC between January 1, 2012 and the present encompasses a large array of communications, not all of which are likely to be relevant. Hebert’s request for ‘any text or electronic mail messages sent, received, or exchanged by you referring to or otherwise relating to Troy Hebert or your employment with the ATC’ fails to specify a time period for the information requested. The request would also encompass a large number of communications that may not be relevant to the claims or defenses in this litigation. Parties are not required to produce discovery regarding matters not relevant to the litigation.”

With respect to requests for all text messages, e-mails, and information deleted from the plaintiff’s State-issued cell phone, the Court found that such requests “do not appear to be relevant to any claim or defense in this litigation. According to the portion of Plaintiff’s deposition testimony attached to the Motion to Compel, Plaintiff described the information deleted from his ATC-issued cell phone as ‘notes with passwords on it,’ my ‘bank stuff,’ and ‘bank account records and passwords for the Coast Guard and that kind of stuff that I didn’t want on my phone.’ Plaintiff testified that ‘most of it was text messages between me and my wife and my kids and family members.’ Plaintiff further testified that he ‘left anything from the employee on the phone’ and that, ‘I think—when I saw an agent’s name, I left it on the phone … I don’t think I deleted any e-mails.’ Hebert has not shown that information such as passwords and electronic communications between Plaintiff and his family members is relevant to this litigation. Nor has Hebert pointed to any evidence to suggest that Plaintiff deleted information other than what he testified to during his deposition. Thus, Hebert’s request appears to be a fishing expedition for racially inflammatory emails or text messages that Hebert believes may have been deleted from Plaintiff’s ATC-issued cell phone…. [H]owever, racially inflammatory emails and text messages about which Hebert was unaware cannot form the basis for the termination of Plaintiff’s employment and thus, are not relevant to assisting Hebert in establishing the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff’s employment that he has alleged in this case.”

Hence, the Court only ordered the plaintiff to produce “any text messages or emails that Plaintiff exchanged with former or current ATC employees on Plaintiff’s personal cell phone, or any of Plaintiff’s personal email addresses, or any text messages or emails that were deleted from Plaintiff’s ATC-issued cell phone prior to Plaintiff returning the cell phone to the ATC, for the time period between August 22, 2012 and August 18, 2015 that reference or discuss Hebert or race discrimination at ATC.”

 

Tingle v. Hebert, No.15-626, 2017 WL 2536584 (M.D.La. June 9, 2017).

 

 

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