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Case Summary-ME: Parlin; Spoliation not an Independent Cause of Action in Maine

Posted by rjbiii on November 17, 2009

Parlin v. Cumberland County, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83192 (D. Me. Sept. 11, 2009)

District Court of Maine interprets state law.

Factual Background: Prison inmate brings claims against Sheriff and sheriff’s employees for actions during her stay in the counter jail. Plaintiff was an inmate at the Cumberland County jail. She had self-reported to the facility to serve a seven day sentence. During the first day of her stay, she became emotional and disruptive, possibly due to the influence of prescription drugs, which were taken legally (although she admitted to taking double the amount prescribed for one of the medicines). Plaintiff’s outbursts caused her to be moved a number of times to the “detox” cell. The detox cell is a simple cement slab with a metal grate in the floor and no bunk or toilet. During one of these moves, an incident occurred in which the plaintiff and one of the defendant prison guards fell to the ground. Plaintiff landed chin first, while the guard landed on top of her. This incident, according to plaintiff, caused a torn rotator cuff to plaintiff’s shoulder, on which she had already had surgery.

Plaintiff’s Claim under a theory of Spoliation:
Plaintiff had submitted a claim for spoliation in her complaint, contending that defendants failed to preserve videotape of the incident in which she was injured. The court immediately dismissed this part of the complaint, because “Maine does not recognize an independent cause of action for spoliation.”

Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions for Spoliation: Plaintiff had moved that the court issue an order: (1) establishing as a matter of fact that Defendants destroyed the videotape and physically assaulted Plaintiff; (2) striking all defenses to Counts VI 1 (spoliation of evidence) and VIII (battery); and (3) prohibiting Defendants from introducing any evidence at trial opposing Counts VI and VIII. Plaintiff also requests an adverse inference instruction at trial.

Defendants argued that any failure to preserve was not their fault. The court agreed, stating that: “[a] key consideration in whether to impose sanctions for spoliation of evidence is the ‘degree of fault of the offending party.'” The court stated that Plaintiff had failed any fault could be attributed to defendants for the failure to preserve the video. Because it would be inequitable to sanction a blameless party for another’s act of spoliation, the court denied the motion.

Posted in 1st Circuit, Case Summary-ME, D. Me., Duty to Preserve, Judge George Z. Singal, Maine, Sanctions, Spoliation, states | Leave a Comment »