7-Eleven Ordered to Produce Metadata in Franchise Litigation
In Younes, et al. v. 7-Eleven, Inc., Civil Nos. 13-3500 (RMB/JS), 13-3715 (MAS/JS), 13-4578(RMB/JS) (D.N.J. Mar. 18, 2015), the District Court of New Jersey considered whether to order Defendant 7-Eleven to produce metadata requested by Plaintiffs, despite the parties’ initial agreement to not request metadata production.
Plaintiffs, 7-Eleven franchise owners who allege business torts and discrimination based on national origin, collectively sought metadata for 89 documents, many of which appeared to relate to something called “Project P,” which Plaintiffs believed involved a systematic effort by 7-Eleven to “churn” franchises in order to collect windfall franchisee fees from new franchise owners. Plaintiffs sought “the date or origination, author, custodian date of each modification, and author of each modification,” as well as the date which established to whom the document had been electronically distributed. Defendant filed a motion for a protective order to bar the discovery of the metadata.
The court considered FRCP 34(b)(2)(E), which addresses the production of ESI, including metadata, and cited opinions holding that a party must demonstrate a “particularized need” for metadata before a court can order its production. The court found that Plaintiffs here had demonstrated such need, observing that “[t]o put it mildly, plaintiffs have had a difficult time obtaining 7-Eleven’s documents regarding Project P,” and that “[t]he missing information is plainly relevant and discoverable.” Further, the court emphasized that Plaintiffs requested metadata for a relatively small and targeted group of documents, and that Defendant had failed to show that it would suffer undue hardship to provide this information. The court also noted that Defendant had produced its documents in “dribs and drabs,” and that not all relevant documents had yet been produced. Although the court recognized that the parties originally agreed to not produce metadata, the court held the changed circumstances justified modifying the original discovery order, especially because the court concluded that had Plaintiffs known the difficulties they would face in obtaining the discovery, they likely would have not agreed to forgo metadata production in the first place.
Did you know? Metadata for Word documents can provide information regarding the last 10 authors of a document.