Can this Plaintiff Get Medical Records in Native File Format with Metadata?
Peterson v. Albert Matlock, et al., Civil Action NO. 11-2594(FLW)(DEA)(D.N.J. October 29, 2014) is a civil case of a prisoner suing the New Jersey DOC, alleging correctional officers severely beat him while in custody. As part of the defense production, PDF files of Plaintiff’s medical records were tendered. Plaintiff filed a motion to compel Defendants to produce the medical records in native format with a software reader or broken down into “searchable headings.” Plaintiff also noted that PDF files do not contain metadata, which is necessary to see an “audit trail” that records changes or additions made to the medical documents.
Defendants objected to producing the medical files in native format. They noted they used software called “Centricity” for medical records and that the manner in which the records are stored is dictated by a third-party software developer. They testified it would be unable to provide the documents organized into various categories as Plaintiff requested and doing so would be an “inordinate drain of the time and manpower” of the DOC. However, they did not object to the request for metadata contained in the audit trail.
The Court looked to Federal Rule 34 regarding the production of electronically stored information (ESI). Under 34(b), ESI productions can be made either in the usual course of business or organized and labeled to correspond with the categories of the request. If one party specifies the form, the other party has the burden to show undue hardship or expense. The Court found the DOC fulfilled that burden: although the PDF files might be “inconvenient” for Plaintiff, it would be an undue burden on the DOC to reproduce the data in native format that outweighs any benefit.
However, the Court ordered the Defendant DOC to produce the metadata contained in the audit trail as soon as it becomes available.