Elizarri v. Sheriff of Cook County, No. 07 C 2427, 2013 U.S. Dist LEXIS 20570 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 13, 2013)

Plaintiffs had sought “original intake receipts” and “any documents related to the processing of personal property and money belonging to individuals incarcerated in the Cook County Jail” for an approximate five year period. Defendants scanned over 400,000 property receipts from the jail. Plaintiffs sought production of the electronic versions of the property receipts.

The magistrate judge held that the defendants were not required to produce the scanned version of the property receipts, and had met their discovery obligations by permitting plaintiffs to inspect and copy the receipts. The judge held that plaintiffs should not get the benefit of the electronic imaging when the defendants had incurred the expense of conversion, and further held that plaintiffs had received the receipts in the original paper format.

The district court reversed, holding that plaintiffs were entitled to the digital versions of the receipts. The court first noted that defendants had not offered plaintiffs access to the original receipts, but the scanned versions. Therefore, since the original documents were not being produced, defendants were obligated to produce them in a reasonably useful form. As the scanned documents were presumably the form of the receipts which defendants would be using during the litigation, it was the electronic format which had to be produced, not a less manageable format.

Defendants basically did not want to turn the digital versions of the receipts over to the plaintiffs because they had incurred considerable expense in scanning them. That was not a basis for denying plaintiffs’ request. Defendants had not argued that the information was not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. Even materials prepared in anticipation of litigation must be produced if they are otherwise discoverable, and the party cannot obtain their equivalent without undue hardship. Scanning documents does not result in a privileged work product. Forcing the plaintiffs to copy the scanned documents, and then scan them again, would result in undue hardship to the plaintiffs.

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