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Archive for the ‘Sanctions’ Category

Case Blurb: Santana; Awarding of Attorney’s Fees Under FRCP 37(a)(5)

Posted by rjbiii on April 8, 2011

Rule 37(a)(5) provides that if a court grants a motion to compel discovery “– or if the disclosure or requested discovery is provided after the motion was filed — the court must . . . require the party or deponent whose con-duct necessitated the motion . . . to pay the movant’s reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion, including attorney’s fees,” unless the court finds that “that opposing party’s nondisclosure, response, or objection was substantially justified” or “other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.”

Santana v. RCSH Opers. LLC., CASE NO. 10-61376-CIV-SELTZER, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21785 @ *15 (S.D. Fla Feb. 18, 2011).

Posted in 11th Circuit, Case Blurbs, FRCP 37(a), Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer, S.D. Fla., Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Santana; Federal Court Cites Florida Law on Spoliation Sanctions

Posted by rjbiii on April 8, 2011

Under Florida law, the party seeking spoliation sanctions must prove
(1) that the missing evidence existed at one time;
(2) that the alleged spoliator had a duty to pre-serve the evidence; * and
(3) that the evidence was crucial to the movant being able to prove its prima facie case or defense.”

Even if these three elements are met, before a court may impose spoliation sanctions, the movant must also show, through direct or circumstantial evidence, that the alleged spoliator acted in bad faith.

* “A party has an obligation to retain relevant documents . . . where litigation is reasonably anticipated.” Managed Care Solutions, Inc. v. Essent Healthcare, Inc., 2010 WL 3368654, at *6; see also Wilson, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88429, 2008 WL 4642596, at *2 (stating that “[t]he law imposes a duty upon litigants to keep documents that they know, or reasonably should know, are relevant to the matter.”) (footnote omitted).

Santana v. RCSH Opers. LLC., CASE NO. 10-61376-CIV-SELTZER, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21785 @ *4-6 (S.D. Fla Feb. 18, 2011).

Posted in 11th Circuit, Case Blurbs, Case Blurbs-FL, Florida, Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer, S.D. Fla., Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Santana; Courts May Look to State Law for Guidance (11th Cir. / Fla.)

Posted by rjbiii on April 8, 2011

Federal law governs the imposition of sanctions for spoliation of evidence, even in diversity cases. Because the the Eleventh Circuit has not set forth specific guidelines for the imposition of spoliation sanctions, the “courts may look to state law for guidance so long as the principles are consistent with federal spoliation principles.” Although the Eleventh Circuit has not expressly found Florida law to be wholly consistent with federal spoliation principles, lower federal courts have routinely looked to Florida law for guidance on when to impose sanctions for spoliation.

Santana v. RCSH Opers. LLC., CASE NO. 10-61376-CIV-SELTZER, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21785 @ *3 (S.D. Fla Feb. 18, 2011).

Posted in 11th Circuit, Case Blurbs, Florida, Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer, S.D. Fla., Sanctions, Spoliation | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Santana; Spoliation Sanctions for the 11th Cir.

Posted by rjbiii on April 8, 2011

In the Eleventh Circuit, spoliation sanctions may include:
“(1) dismissal of the case;
(2) exclusion of expert testimony; or
(3) a jury instruction on spoliation of evidence which raises a presumption against the spoliator.”

Santana v. RCSH Opers. LLC., CASE NO. 10-61376-CIV-SELTZER, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21785 @ *3 (S.D. Fla Feb. 18, 2011).

Posted in 11th Circuit, Case Blurbs, Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer, S.D. Fla., Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Summary: Seven Seas Cruises; Gaps in the Production Examined

Posted by rjbiii on March 24, 2011

Seven Seas Cruises S. De. R.L. v. V. Ships Leisure SAM, 09-23411-CIV-UNGARO/SIMONTON, 2011 U.S. Lexis 19465 (S.D. Fla., Feb. 19, 2011).

Plaintiff Seven Seas initiated the action against multiple defendants, claiming damages from defendants’ “failure to provide proper ship management, care and oversight for several cruise ships…”. Specific accusations included, inter alia: negligent representations, negligence, and breach of contract. After defendants answered, and both sides filed tit for tat motions for summary judgment, the court issued an order granting a motion to compel filed by Plaintiffs. The motion required defendants to:

  • Identify which employees’ systems had been searched;
  • Explain the absence of certain documents from production; and
  • Describe search terms used to conduct ESI searches.

The order allowed that after defendants filed an affidavit with the information required by the order, plaintiffs were free to renew their motion for to compel further discovery. They elected to do exactly that, resulting in this opinion.

Plaintiffs’ position:

Plaintiffs maintain that they have discovered “gaps” in the production by plaintiffs, despite defendants’ repeated assurances to the contrary. First, plaintiffs contend defendants searched (and produced) the ESI for a mere nine employees, failing to search other custodians likely possessing relevant data. Seven Seas had submitted a list of 19 employees/custodians or email addresses that were incorrectly excluded from searches.

Next, Seven Seas argue that the production for those custodians that were searched was incomplete. To bolster their claim, plaintiffs identified specific time frames where ESI was not produced for those custodians. They claimed this was the case for at least four custodians. Plaintiff’s attorneys approach in pressing their case is described by the court:

At the hearing, Plaintiffs chronologically recounted each request made by Plaintiffs through the course of discovery regarding the production of ESI, and also reiterated the representations made by the Defendants in response to those requests. Generally, throughout the course of the ESI discovery, Defendants assured Plain-tiffs that Defendants were conducting complete ESI searches for materials responsive to Plaintiffs’ requests. Plaintiffs contend, however, that each time such production or representation regarding the thoroughness of the production was made, that Plaintiffs later found out that the production was not, in fact, complete.

In addition, throughout the hearing, Plaintiffs pointed to statements made by Defendants in submissions to the Court wherein Defendants repeatedly asserted that all relevant custodians’ computers and laptops had been searched. According to Plaintiffs, as a result of the repeated assurances by Defendants that ultimately proved to not be true, Plaintiffs have no confidence in the Defendants’ ability to conduct proper ESI searches, and further have no faith in the Defendants’ representations regarding the same.

And then they bring it home with this:

Thus, Plaintiffs argue that because the Defendants’ failure to produce all responsive ESI discovery has prejudiced the Plaintiffs and because such omissions are ongoing and intentional, that the Court should strike the Defendants’ pleadings and enter a final default judgment against both Defendants. In addition, Plaintiffs request that the Defendants be ordered to pay the costs associated with Plaintiffs having to bring the Renewed Motion to Compel.

Post Process Comment: From the outside looking in, it really looks like counsel for Seven Seas went about this the right way. We have analyzed, in the past four years, innumerable cases where the court felt the need to admonish counsel for vagueness, or making conclusory statements without backing them up with evidence. Here, counsel went through a round of “attack analytics,” (we’ll look at this in a moment) during which they analyzed the production, documented what they perceived as deficiencies, and presented their findings as argument, while including specific examples for the court to hang its hat on. Of course, we aren’t done…defendants get their chance to speak.

Defendants position:

Defendants “generally took exception” with some of the “missing custodians” included on Plaintiffs list, and supplemented their arguments with specific information to explain the absence of either custodians from the search, or for data missing for specific time periods from produced custodians.

Defendants then acknowledged that not all relevant ESI had been produced, and then conceded that “in hindsight” and e-discovery consultant or vendor should have been retained to assist them.

Post Process Comment: This is a telling admission. It is an implicit acknowledgment that eDiscovery methodologies weren’t solid due to the inexperience of their staff who were engaged in the project.

In an effort to put the best face on things, V. Ships Leisure reiterated earlier assertions (at least to effort…doesn’t seem possible that they continued to claim the production wasn’t deficient in light of their earlier admission). They also noted that they had supplemented production with additional data, and were prepared to hand over more data that very day. V Ships Leisure then noted went to the “volume defense” by noting that they had already produced hundreds of thousands of documents (ESI and hard copy). They also defended their efforts by noting that some of their custodians were overseas, complicating the logistics behind their project.

V Ships Leisure continued their arguments by stating that the bulk of the relevant evidence was contained in correspondence between plaintiffs and defendants, so plaintiffs already had most of the evidence prior to their suit. Defendants complained that Seven Seas had never alerted them to the gaps prior to filing their motion. Although defendants agreed to re-execute the searches on both already produced custodians and on “missing” custodians, they also claimed that no prejudice to plaintiffs had been demonstrated, an argument plaintiffs could not refute.

Post Process Commentary: Defendants fought back hard, but is it enough? Their admissions may be the most significant part of their arguments, but perhaps their efforts in already producing substantial volumes of data, and the potential lack of prejudice to plaintiffs will carry the day.

The court began by reciting the law behind FRCP 37.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 addresses a litigant’s failure to make disclosures or to cooperate in discovery and sets forth sanctions that may be imposed by a Court. Rule 37 sanctions are intended to prevent unfair prejudice to the litigants and insure the integrity of the discovery process.” Thus, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 gives a district court the power to enter a default, strike pleadings, or render judgment against a party that disobeys the court’s discovery or pretrial scheduling orders. However, the severe sanction of a default judgment is appropriate only as a last resort, when less drastic sanctions would not ensure compliance with the court’s orders. In addition, Rule 37(b) only permits imposition of the ultimate sanction if a party willfully or in bad faith failed to obey a discovery order. It is not justified under Rule 37(b) if a party’s failure to comply with a discovery order was caused by simple negligence or a misunderstanding of the court order. If the party does not provide a credible explanation of how he interpreted an order compelling discovery in a way that excluded certain documents from the scope of the order, the party’s unsupported assertion that it misunderstood the order is insufficient, and it is not clear error for the district court to find that the party’s failure to comply with the discovery order was willful and in bad faith. Further, when a party claims that he was unable to produce documents in the time allowed by the court, but he does not produce any evidence to support the argument, a district court’s finding of willfulness is not clearly erroneous. Nonetheless, a district court is not required to first impose lesser sanctions if the lesser sanction would be ineffective.

Defendants’ Failure to Produce ESI:

The court began by reciting a history of disputes caused by defendant’s failures to produce or thoroughly search for potentially relevant ESI. The court then admonished both parties for failing to conduct an early meet and confer:

[I]t appears that many of the disputes related to the production of e-discovery could have been significantly narrowed, if not totally avoided, had the Parties held an e-discovery conference early-on in the litigation as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f), wherein issues regarding disclosure and production of ESI could have been thoroughly discussed.

Continuing on, the court articulated its first major conclusion:

[I]t is clear that the Defendants have failed to properly conduct complete, thorough and timely searches of ESI responsive to the Plaintiffs’ discovery requests. There is no doubt that the manner and method in which the Defendants conducted their ESI searches were wholly inadequate.

That said, the court noted that because the production gaps had not yet been plugged, the damage done to plaintiff’s case could not yet be determined. The court also applied some blame to Seven Seas, noting that they could have identified missing custodians or data sources earlier. While the court granted that defendant’s deficiencies were more likely due to its staff’s “unfamiliarity” with e-discovery, and not any malfeasance, the continued inability to conduct EDD competently at this point in the game is inexcusable.

On this point, the court stated:

Indeed after this Court’s January 19th Order, if not before, the Defendants should have reasonably known that they needed to retain an E-discovery consultant to ensure that they properly conducted their ESI searches.

Because of this, said the court, sanctions were appropriate. The ordered defendants to engage an electronic discovery vendor to assist in searching and producing ESI from certain custodians included on plaintiff’s “missing custodian list.” Plaintiff’s request to re-execute searches over the data sets associated with custodians whose ESI had already produced was denied, as in the court’s view, the production of this data was sufficient.

The court concluded that the appropriate sanctions were to:

  • Deny defendants motion for summary judgment;
  • Award plaintiffs attorneys costs, to be paid by defendants.

The court declined to enter a default judgment on behalf of plaintiffs, as had been requested in the Motion to Compel.

Post Process Comment: The sanctions imposed might be considered fairly mild, considering some of the language contained within the opinion. The biggest mitigating factor for defendants appeared to be the lack of any evidence concerning damage done to plaintiffs case by the omissions in production.

I’d like to reflect a bit on the evidence and arguments brought by Plaintiffs to demonstrate that deficiencies exist in the production. There are two common methods of attacking document productions. You can impugn the results–that is, the contents in the production dataset–or you can question the methodology that produced the dataset. Here, we see examples of both.

In attacking the production, plaintiffs examined the production and reviewed what custodians might be missing. This can be done by reviewing correspondence. When you get significant email or mail traffic going to or coming from individuals whose data has not been produced, a flag should come up. And that’s what was done here.

Another way to look at custodians or data sources is to obtain knowledge of opposing party’s IT systems to ensure that all repositories were searched. Perhaps a Sharepoint site was established where an implicated project’s documents were stored, but not searched or produced.

By attacking the results, you eventually hope to discover a weak methodology or holes in the workflow…because merely pointing out bad results can sometimes be dismissed by legitimate factors (so-called safe harbor deletions, or data residing in sources which are “not readily accessible”).  Of course, if production results are obviously deficient, then perhaps that in itself can provide sufficient ammunition to warrant sanctions or other measures.

Next, plaintiffs looked at material from those custodians whose data was produced, and analyzed its completeness by focusing on chronology. This “production gap” analysis has proven very effective, in my experience. Sometimes such gaps can be legitimately explained, but their existence, especially across multiple custodians, should be explored.

Posted in 11th Circuit, Case Blurbs, Cooperation Between Parties, Cost of Discovery, Discovery Requests, Duty to Disclose, Duty to Produce, FRCP 26(f), FRCP 37, Magistrate Judge Andrea M. Simonton, Meet and Confer, Motion to Compel, S.D. Fla., Sanctions | 2 Comments »

Case Blurb: Magner; Focus of Spoliation Sanctions is to Deter Attempts to Suppress the Truth (8th Cir.)

Posted by rjbiii on October 29, 2010

Also critical to our decision is the magistrate judge’s conclusion that the [Producing Party] did not intentionally destroy or withhold evidence in an attempt to suppress the truth. See Greyhound Lines, 485 F.3d at 1035 (“The ultimate focus for imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence is the intentional destruction of evidence indicating a desire to suppress the truth[.]”). To be sure, a district court does not abuse its discretion by imposing sanctions, even absent an explicit bad faith finding, where a party destroys specifically requested evidence after litigation has commenced. Stevenson, 354 F.3d at 749-50. However, where a court expressly finds, as here, that there is no evidence of intentional destruction of evidence to suppress the truth, then the district court also acts within its discretionary limits by denying sanctions for spoliation of evidence. See Morris v. Union Pac. R.R., 373 F.3d 896, 901 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The most important consideration in our analysis is the district court’s own finding regarding Union Pacific’s intent.”).

Gallagher v. Magner, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 18245 (8th Cir. Minn. Sept. 1, 2010)

Posted in 8th Circuit, Sanctions, Spoliation | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Victor Stanley II; The Gang that couldn’t Spoliate Straight

Posted by rjbiii on September 14, 2010

PostProcess-Pappas = defendant and spoliating party; VSI = Plaintiff and Requesting Party Victor Stanley, Inc.

At the end of the day, this is the case of the “gang that couldn’t spoliate straight.” All in all, in addition to the attempted deletions that caused delay but no loss of evidence, there were eight discrete preservation failures: (1) Pappas’s failure to implement a litigation hold; (2) Pappas’s deletions of ESI soon after VSI filed suit; (3) Pappas’s failure to preserve his external hard drive after Plaintiff demanded preservation of ESI; (4) Pappas’s failure to preserve files and emails after Plaintiff demanded their preservation; (5) Pappas’s deletion of ESI after the Court issued its first preservation order; (6) Pappas’s continued deletion of ESI and use of programs to permanently remove files after the Court admonished the parties of their duty to preserve evidence and issued its second preservation order; (7) Pappas’s failure to preserve ESI when he replaced the CPI server; and (8) Pappas’s further use of programs to permanently delete ESI after the Court issued numerous production orders. The reader is forewarned that although organized into separate categories to facilitate comprehension of so vast a violation, many of the events described in the separate categories occurred concurrently. FN7

FN7: As will be discussed in detail later in this memorandum, when a court is evaluating what sanctions are warranted for a failure to preserve ESI, it must evaluate a number of factors including (1) whether there is a duty to preserve; (2) whether the duty has been breached; (3) the level of culpability involved in the failure to preserve; (4) the relevance of the evidence that was not preserved; and (5) the prejudice to the party seeking discovery of the ESI that was not preserved. There is something of a “Catch 22” in this process, however, because after evidence no longer exists, it often is difficult to evaluate its relevance and the prejudice associated with it. With regard to Pappas’s many acts of misconduct, the relevance and prejudice associated with some of his spoliation can be established directly, or indirectly through logical inference. As to others, the relevance and prejudice are less clear. However, his conduct still is highly relevant to his state of mind and to determining the overarching level of his culpability for all of his destructive acts. When the relevance of lost evidence cannot be proven, willful destruction of it nonetheless is relevant in evaluating the level of culpability with regard to other lost evidence that was relevant, as it tends to disprove the possibility of mistake or accident, and prove intentional misconduct. Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).

Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93644 at *11-13 (D. Md. Sept. 9, 2010)

Posted in 4th Circuit, Case Blurbs, D. Md., Duty to Preserve, FRE 404(b), Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm, Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Cammarata; The difficulty of proving relevance and prejudice of destroyed documents

Posted by rjbiii on March 29, 2010

It is well established that a party seeking the sanction of an adverse inference instruction based on spoliation of evidence must establish that: (1) the party with control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) the evidence was destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) the destroyed evidence was “relevant” to the party’s claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim or defense. The “relevance” and “prejudice” factors of the adverse inference analysis are often broken down into three subparts:

(1) whether the evidence is relevant to the lawsuit;
(2) whether the evidence would have supported the inference sought; and
(3) whether the nondestroying party has suffered prejudice from the destruction of the evidence.

Pension Committee recognized the difficulty and potential for unfairness in requiring an innocent party seeking discovery to show that information lost through spoliation is relevant and prejudicial. Those concerns are acute when the party seeking discovery cannot replace or obtain extrinsic evidence of the content of deleted information. But in many cases–including the present case–there are sources from which at least some of the allegedly spoliated evidence can be obtained. And in many cases–including the present case–the party seeking discovery can also obtain extrinsic evidence of the content of at least some of the deleted information from other documents, deposition testimony, or circumstantial evidence.

Courts recognize that a showing that the lost information is relevant and prejudicial is an important check on spoliation allegations and sanctions motions. Courts have held that speculative or generalized assertions that the missing evidence would have been favorable to the party seeking sanctions are insufficient. By contrast, when the evidence in the case as a whole would allow a reasonable fact finder to conclude that the missing evidence would have helped the requesting party support its claims or defenses, that may be a sufficient showing of both relevance and prejudice to make an adverse inference instruction appropriate.

See case summary here.

Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573, 30-31 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 19, 2010) (referring to Pension Comm. of the Univ. of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of Am. Sec., LLC, No. 05 Civ. 9016, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4546, 2010 WL 184312, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010))

See case Summary for Pension Committee here.

Posted in 5th Circuit, Adverse Inference, Case Blurbs, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, S.D. Tex., Sanctions, Spoliation | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Cammarata; Bad Faith a Requirement for the Imposition of Severe sanctions in the 5th Cir

Posted by rjbiii on March 29, 2010

As a general rule, in this circuit, the severe sanctions of granting default judgment, striking pleadings, or giving adverse inference instructions may not be imposed unless there is evidence of “bad faith.”

Other circuits have also held negligence insufficient for an adverse inference instruction. The Eleventh Circuit has held that bad faith is required for an adverse inference instruction. The Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits also appear to require bad faith. The First, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits hold that bad faith is not essential to imposing severe sanctions if there is severe prejudice, although the cases often emphasize the presence of bad faith. In the Third Circuit, the courts balance the degree of fault and prejudice.

See case summary here.

Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573, at *23-24 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 19, 2010)(internal citations removed).

Posted in 5th Circuit, Adverse Inference, Bad Faith, Case Blurbs, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, S.D. Tex., Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Cammarata; On Determining Appropriate Sanctions for Spoliation

Posted by rjbiii on March 29, 2010

Determining whether sanctions are warranted and, if so, what they should include, requires a court to consider both the spoliating party’s culpability and the level of prejudice to the party seeking discovery. Culpability can range along a continuum from destruction intended to make evidence unavailable in litigation to inadvertent loss of information for reasons unrelated to the litigation. Prejudice can range along a continuum from an inability to prove claims or defenses to little or no impact on the presentation of proof. A court’s response to the loss of evidence depends on both the degree of culpability and the extent of prejudice. Even if there is intentional destruction of potentially relevant evidence, if there is no prejudice to the opposing party, that influences the sanctions consequence. And even if there is an inadvertent loss of evidence but severe prejudice to the opposing party, that too will influence the appropriate response, recognizing that sanctions (as opposed to other remedial steps) require some degree of culpability.

See case summary here.

Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573, at *21-22 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 19, 2010)

Posted in 5th Circuit, Case Blurbs, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, S.D. Tex., Sanctions, Spoliation | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »