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Archive for the ‘Spoliation’ Category

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).

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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 »

Case Blurb: Cammarata; Application of General Rules to Spoliation Allegations

Posted by rjbiii on March 29, 2010

These general rules (on spoliation and sanctions) are not controversial. But applying them to determine when a duty to preserve arises in a particular case and the extent of that duty requires careful analysis of the specific facts and circumstances. It can be difficult to draw bright-line distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable conduct in preserving information and in conducting discovery, either prospectively or with the benefit (and distortion) of hindsight. Whether preservation or discovery conduct is acceptable in a case depends on what is reasonable, and that in turn depends on whether what was done–or not done–was proportional to that case and consistent with clearly established applicable standards. As Judge Scheindlin pointed out in Pension Committee, that analysis depends heavily on the facts and circumstances of each case and cannot be reduced to a generalized checklist of what is acceptable or unacceptable.

See case summary here.

Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573, at *20-21 (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, Case Blurbs, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, S.D. Tex., Sanctions, Spoliation | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Case Blurb: Cammarata; Definition of Spoliation

Posted by rjbiii on March 29, 2010

Spoliation is the destruction or the significant and meaningful alteration of evidence.

See case summary here.

Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573 at *18 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 19, 2010)

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

Case Blurb: Cammarata; Court’s Authority to Impose Sanctions for Spoliation

Posted by rjbiii on March 29, 2010

Allegations of spoliation, including the destruction of evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation, are addressed in federal courts through the inherent power to regulate the litigation process if the conduct occurs before a case is filed or if, for another reason, there is no statute or rule that adequately addresses the conduct. If an applicable statute or rule can adequately sanction the conduct, that statute or rule should ordinarily be applied, with its attendant limits, rather than a more flexible or expansive “inherent power.”

When inherent power does apply, it is “interpreted narrowly, and its reach is limited by its ultimate source–the court’s need to orderly and expeditiously perform its duties.” In [Supreme Court case] Chambers, the inherent power was linked to the bad-faith conduct that affected the litigation. See 501 U.S. at 49. If inherent power, rather than a specific rule or statute, provides the source of the sanctioning authority, under Chambers, it may be limited to a degree of culpability greater than negligence.

See case summary here.

Rimkus Consulting Group, Inc. v. Cammarata, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573, 14-15 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 19, 2010) (internal citations removed).

Posted in 5th Circuit, Case Blurbs, Inherent Power of Fed. Courts, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, S.D. Tex., Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Summary: Cammarata; Court Discusses E-Discovery Misconduct, Proportionality and Reasonableness

Posted by rjbiii on March 26, 2010

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

Procedural History: In Nov. 2006, Rimkus was sued by former employees Nickie Cammarata and Gary Bell. In this action in Louisiana, Cammarata and Bell sought a declaratory judgment that the forum-selection, choice-of-law, noncompetition, and nonsolicitation provisions in agreements they had signed with Rimkus were unenforceable. In response, Rimkus brought two actions in 2007 against these ex-employees in Texas; one in January and one in February. Rimkus alleged breach of the noncompetition and nonsolicitation covenants in their written employment agreements and that they used Rimkus’s trade secrets and proprietary information in setting up and operating a competitive enterprise (U.S. Forensic). The Texas cases were consolidated in this court.

Procedural Posture: The court convened to hear motions by Rimkus alleging that the Cammarata and Bell and their counsel “conspiratorially engaged” in “wholesale discovery abuse” by destroying evidence, failing to preserve evidence after a duty to do so had arisen, lying under oath, failing to comply with court orders, and significantly delaying or failing to produce requested discovery. Defendants responded by acknowledging that they did not preserve “some arguably relevant emails” but argue that Rimkus cannot show prejudice because the missing emails “would be merely cumulative of the evidence already produced.” Rimkus asked the court to strike the defendants’ pleadings,enter a default judgment against them or give an adverse inference jury instruction, and hold both defendants and their counsel in contempt.

Discussion: The court began its analysis by acknowledging the framework recently set out by Judge Scheindlin in Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, No. 05 Civ. 9016, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4546, 2010 WL 184312 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010) (see our case summary here). Unlike Montreal Pension Plan, this case involve allegations of intentional destruction of ESI, but common analytical issues existed, nevertheless.

In the fifth circuit, Federal Courts apply federal rules in diversity cases. The court stated that allegations of spoliation are addressed by courts by an applicable statute that adequately addresses the conduct with its attendant limits, and if no such statute exists, by the more flexible inherent power of the court. When inherent power does apply, it is interpreted narrowly, and its reach is limited by its ultimate source–the court’s need to orderly and expeditiously perform its duties. In this case, the court’s inherent power and Rule 37 both apply.

Electronically stored information is routinely deleted or altered and affirmative steps are often required to preserve it. Such deletions, alterations, and losses cannot be spoliation unless there is a duty to preserve the information, a culpable breach of that duty, and resulting prejudice. Generally, the duty to preserve arises when a party has notice that the evidence is relevant to litigation or . . . should have known that the evidence may be relevant to future litigation. Generally, the duty to preserve extends to documents or tangible things (defined by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34) by or to individuals likely to have discoverable information that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses.

The court stated that bright-line rules were difficult to draw with respect to acceptable and unacceptable behavior in e-discovery matters, and explained that acceptable conduct turned on the concepts of reasonableness and proportionality with respect to the case.

Analysis depends heavily on the facts and circumstances of each case and cannot be reduced to a generalized checklist of what is acceptable or unacceptable. 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.

The court explained that the general rule for the 5th Circuit is that severe sanctions of granting default judgment, striking pleadings, or giving adverse inference instructions may not be imposed unless there is evidence of “bad faith.” This is different from the 2d Circuit’s rule allowing for such rulings in instances of gross negligence, under which the court in Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan was operating. The court went on to list the general rule of other circuits, as summarized in the table below.

Circuit Standards for Severe Sanctions

The court then contrasted case law between the 5th and 2d circuits, noting that the Supreme Court’s decision in Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32 (U.S. 1991) might limit the ability of a court to impose sanctions when acting under the authority of its inherent powers.

The court then turned to the issue of burden of proof. 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.” Like the court in Pension Committee, the court here acknowledged the difficulty and potential unfairness in requiring an innocent party seeking discovery to show that information lost through spoliation is relevant and prejudicial. Fortunately in this case (and many others), 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.

The court also stated its belief that such requirements act as an important check on spoliation allegations and sanctions motions. Unlike the 2d circuit, case law in the Fifth Circuit indicates that an adverse inference instruction is not proper unless there is a showing that the spoliated evidence would have been relevant. Also unlike the 2d circuit, the 5th circuit has no case law allowing for the presumption that destroyed evidence was relevant or its loss prejudicial, even in the event that bad-faith is established. Before an adverse inference may be drawn, there must be some showing that there is in fact a nexus between the proposed inference and the information contained in the lost evidence and that “some extrinsic evidence of the content of the emails is necessary for the trier of fact to be able to determine in what respect and to what extent the emails would have been detrimental.

In the present case, the party seeking sanctions for deleting emails after a duty to preserve had arisen presented evidence of their contents. The evidence included some recovered deleted emails and circumstantial evidence and deposition testimony relating to the unrecovered records. There was no need to rely on a presumption of relevance or prejudice.

In determining an appropriate penalty, the court stated that the severity of a sanction for failing to preserve when a duty to do so has arisen must be proportionate to the culpability involved and the prejudice that results. A sanction should be no harsher than necessary to respond to the need to punish or deter and to address the impact on discovery. Adverse inference instructions can take varying forms that range in harshness, and are properly viewed as among the most severe sanctions a court can administer.

The court made the findings necessary to submit the spoliation evidence and an adverse inference instruction to the jury. The court noted, however, that the record also presented conflicting evidence about the reasons the defendants deleted the emails and attachments; evidence that some of the deleted emails and attachments were favorable to the defendants; and an extensive amount of other evidence for the plaintiff to use.

The instruction formulated by the court will ask the jury to decide whether the defendants intentionally deleted emails and attachments to prevent their use in litigation. If the jury finds such misconduct, the jury must then decide, considering all the evidence, whether to infer that the lost information would have been unfavorable to the defendants. Rather than instruct the jury on the rebuttable presumption steps, it is sufficient to present the ultimate issue: whether, if the jury has found bad-faith destruction, the jury will then decide to draw the inference that the lost information would have been unfavorable to the defendants

Posted in 5th Circuit, Adverse Inference, Burden of Proof, Case Summary, Duty to Preserve, Inherent Power of Fed. Courts, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, Litigation Hold, S.D. Tex., Sanctions, Spoliation | 7 Comments »

Case Blurb: Pension Comm. of the Univ. of Montreal Pension Plan; New Burden Shifting Test Articulated

Posted by rjbiii on March 1, 2010

To ensure that no party’s task is too onerous or too lenient, I am employing the following burden shifting test: When the spoliating party’s conduct is sufficiently egregious to justify a court’s imposition of a presumption of relevance and prejudice, or when the spoliating party’s conduct warrants permitting the jury to make such a presumption, the burden then shifts to the spoliating party to rebut that presumption. The spoliating party can do so, for example, by demonstrating that the innocent party had access to the evidence alleged to have been destroyed or that the evidence would not support the innocent party’s claims or defenses. If the spoliating party demonstrates to a court’s satisfaction that there could not have been any prejudice to the innocent party, then no jury instruction will be warranted, although a lesser sanction might still be required.

Pension Comm. of the Univ. of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of Am. Secs, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4546, at *23-24 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010)

The case summary is here.

Posted in 2nd Circuit, Burden of Proof, Case Blurbs, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, Relevance, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

Case Summary: Pension Comm. of the Univ. of Montreal; Importance of Litigation Hold Notices

Posted by rjbiii on March 1, 2010

Pension Comm. of the Univ. of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of Am. Secs, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4546 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010)

Background: Action brought by investors to recover funds lost upon the liquidation of two hedge funds based in the British Virgin Islands. The court examines the litigation holds practice of the plaintiffs.

Basic Points:

  • Spoliation sanctions imposed despite no “egregious behavior.”
  • Lit Hold for Plaintiffs often (usually?) occur earlier than or Defendants.
  • New Balancing Test for Burden of Proof
  • Inefficiencies greatly increased legal fees
  • Defendant’s attack mode was effective
  • Collection methods placing “total reliance” on the custodian criticized.
  • Zubulake a watershed for this case’s participants.

The court begins by noting that we live in an era where there are vast amounts of ESI available for review, causing the discovery process to be complex and expensive. The opinion expresses the consoling thought that courts do not hold parties to a standard of perfection, but follows that with the warning that parties must preserve relevant records once litigation is reasonably anticipated, and must collect, review and produce those records to the other side. Failing to do so damages the integrity of the judicial system.

The Court continues by setting up the basic framework:

From the outset, it is important to recognize what this case involves and what it does not. This case does not present any egregious examples of litigants purposefully destroying evidence. This is a case where plaintiffs failed to timely institute written litigation holds and engaged in careless and indifferent collection efforts after the duty to preserve arose. As a result, there can be little doubt that some documents were lost or destroyed.

The question, then, is whether plaintiffs’ conduct requires this Court to impose a sanction for the spoliation of evidence. To answer this question, there are several concepts that must be carefully reviewed and analyzed. The first is plaintiffs’ level of culpability — that is, was their conduct of discovery acceptable or was it negligent, grossly negligent, or willful. The second is the interplay between the duty to preserve evidence and the spoliation of evidence. The third is which party should bear the burden of proving that evidence has been lost or destroyed and the consequences resulting from that loss. And the fourth is the appropriate remedy for the harm caused by the spoliation.

First, the court provided basic definitions for negligence and gross negligence. The court then discussed culpability (willfulness, gross negligence, and negligence) in the context of electronic discovery. The chart below summarizes the analysis.

Degree of Culpability for Specific Acts

The court qualified its judgments by stating that each case will turn on its own facts.

The court continued by noting that the common law duty to preserve evidence was well-recognized, that the breach of this duty invited sanctions from the court, and that the duty attached at the time a party reasonably anticipates litigation. Because Plaintiff’s control the timing of the litigation, their duty is often triggered before litigation commences. In this case, the court reasoned that by April of 2003, Lancer (one defendant hedge fund) had already filed for bankruptcy; Plaintiff UM had filed a complaint; at least two other plaintiffs (Hunicutt & Chagnon) had retained counsel, and plaintiff Chagnon had been in contact with other plaintiffs. With these facts listed, the court decided that by April 2003, therefore, plaintiffs, all sophisticated investors, should have been aware of pending collapse and litigation. Below, is a table that shows the steps plaintiffs took to preserve data, and the court’s analysis of those steps:

Court Analyzes Plaintiffs' Collections Methods

Interesting, the court describes two attacks on Plaintiffs’ process by Defendants that proved to be successful. By cross-referencing productions from other plaintiffs, former co-defendants, and the receiver in a related SEC action, Defendants identified 311 documents unaccountably absent from production. This, in turn, led to the discovery that almost all declarations were false and misleading or executed by declarants without personal knowledge of its contents.

Next, Defendants were able to convince the court that certain records had to missing, via logic, over plaintiffs’ objection. Defendants argued that:

  • All plaintiffs had a fiduciary duty to conduct due diligence before making significant investments in the funds.
  • Records must have existed documenting the due diligence, investments and subsequent monitoring of these investments.
  • The paucity of records produced by some plaintiffs and the admitted failure to preserve some records or search at all for others by all plaintiffs leads inexorably to the conclusion that relevant records have been lost or destroyed.

Here, then, the attack for defendants worked on two fronts: the technical and the legal.

The court then analyzed sanctions and their relative magnitudes of The discussion of sanctions and severity is summarized below.

Sanctions in Order of Severity

For less severe sanctions, the inquiry focuses more on the conduct of the spoliating party than on whether documents were lost, and, if so, whether those documents were relevant and resulted in prejudice to the innocent party. For severe sanctions, the innocent party must prove the following three elements: that the spoliating party:
(1) had control over the evidence and an obligation to preserve it at the time of destruction or loss;
(2) acted with a culpable state of mind upon destroying or losing the evidence; and that
(3) the missing evidence is relevant to the innocent party’s claim or defense.

Relevance and prejudice may be presumed when the spoliating party acts in bad faith or in a grossly negligent manner. The application of this presumption is at the discretion of the court. Typically, the innocent party must present intrinsic evidence that tends to show that the destroyed evidence was favorable to its case. No matter what level of culpability is found, any presumption is rebuttable. In order to strike a balance, the court crafted a new test:

When the spoliating party’s conduct is sufficiently egregious to justify a court’s imposition of a presumption of relevance and prejudice, or when the spoliating party’s conduct warrants permitting the jury to make such a presumption, the burden then shifts to the spoliating party to rebut that presumption. The spoliating party can do so, for example, by demonstrating that the innocent party had access to the evidence alleged to have been destroyed or that the evidence would not support the innocent party’s claims or defenses. If the spoliating party demonstrates to a court’s satisfaction that there could not have been any prejudice to the innocent party, then no jury instruction will be warranted, although a lesser sanction might still be required.

The court next reviewed the calculus used for the imposition of sanctions. First, it noted that a court has broad discretion to determine the approprate sanction in the event of a breach of a discovery obligation. Sanctions should:

  1. deter parties from engaging in spoliation
  2. place the risk of an erroneous judgment on the arty who wrongfully created the risk; and
  3. restore the prejudiced party to the same position in which it would have been absent the wrongful destruction of evidence

A court should always impose the least harsh sanction that can provide an adequate remedy. Therefore, terminating sanctions are justified only in the most egregious cases, such as:

  1. Perjury;
  2. Tampering with evidence;
  3. Intentional destruction-burning, shredding or “wiping out” computer hard drives;

The court then articulated the standards for various jury instruction types, and this analysis is re-produced in the chart below:

Adverse Instruction Types

The court ultimately imposed monetary fines and the following instruction to the jury:

The Citco Defendants have argued that 2M, Hunnicutt, Coronation, the Chagnon Plaintiffs, Bombardier Trusts, and the Bombardier Foundation destroyed relevant evidence, or failed to prevent the destruction of relevant evidence. This is known as the “spoliation of evidence.”

Spoliation is the destruction of evidence or the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation. To demonstrate that spoliation occurred, the Citco Defendants bear the burden of proving the following two elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

First, that relevant evidence was destroyed after the duty to preserve arose. Evidence is relevant if it would have clarified a fact at issue in the trial and otherwise would naturally have been introduced into evidence; and

Second, that if relevant evidence was destroyed after the duty to preserve arose, the loss of such evidence would have been favorable to the Citco Defendants.

I instruct you, as a matter of law, that each of these plaintiffs failed to preserve evidence after its duty to preserve arose. This failure resulted from their gross negligence in performing their discovery obligations. As a result, you may presume, if you so choose, that such lost evidence was relevant, and that it would have been favorable to the Citco Defendants. In deciding whether to adopt this presumption, you may take into account the egregiousness of the plaintiffs’ conduct in failing to preserve the evidence.

However, each of these plaintiffs has offered evidence that (1) no evidence was lost; (2) if evidence was lost, it was not relevant; and (3) if evidence was lost and it was relevant, it would not have been favorable to the Citco Defendants.

If you decline to presume that the lost evidence was relevant or would have been favorable to the Citco Defendants, then your consideration of the lost evidence is at an end, and you will not draw any inference arising from the lost evidence.

However, if you decide to presume that the lost evidence was relevant and would have been unfavorable to the Citco Defendants, you must next decide whether any of the following plaintiffs have rebutted that presumption: 2M, Hunnicutt, Coronation, the Chagnon Plaintiffs, Bombardier Trusts, or the Bombardier Foundation. If you determine that a plaintiff has rebutted the presumption that the lost evidence was either relevant or favorable to the Citco Defendants, you will not draw any inference arising from the lost evidence against that plaintiff. If, on the other hand, you determine that a plaintiff has not rebutted the presumption that the lost evidence was both relevant and favorable to the Citco Defendants, you may draw an inference against that plaintiff and in favor of the Citco Defendants — namely that the lost evidence would have been favorable to the Citco Defendants.

Each plaintiff is entitled to your separate consideration. The question as to whether the Citco Defendants have proven spoliation is personal to each plaintiff and must be decided by you as to each plaintiff individually.

Posted in 2nd Circuit, Case Summary, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, Litigation Hold, S.D.N.Y, Sanctions, Spoliation | 6 Comments »

Case Summary: Bensel; Tests for Spoliation and Imposition of Sanctions

Posted by rjbiii on January 24, 2010

Bensel v. Allied Pilots Assoc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118342 (D.N.J. Dec. 17, 2009)

Background: Plaintiffs, former members of the Allied Pilots Association (ALPA), sued the association, alleging breach of duty of representation of its members.

Procedural History: Plaintiffs accuse Defendant Association of intentionally or recklessly destroyed documents, emails and other communication well into the discovery period for this lawsuit.

Discussion: The court begins by defining spoliation as: “the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” The court noted that when relevant documents are lost or destroyed “the trier of fact generally may receive the fact of the document’s nonproduction or destruction as evidence that the party that has prevented production did so out of the well-founded fear that the contents would harm him.” The court qualified that statement by adding that there must be a finding that the spoliation was intentional and that there was fraud and a desire to suppress the truth before the Court will make a finding of spoliation. The court then articulated the following test for a finding of spoliation.

Generally, to determine spoliation of evidence, four factors must be found:
(1) the evidence in question must be within the party’s control;
(2) it must appear that there has been actual suppression or withholding of the evidence;
(3) the evidence destroyed or withheld was relevant to claims or defenses; and
(4) it was reasonably foreseeable that the evidence would later be discoverable.

The court added that the duty to preserve relevant documents could attach even prior to litigation, although a party is certainly not required to retain every document in its possession. The court then stated the Third Circuit’s test for the imposition of sanctions for spoliation:

(1) the degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence;
(2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; and
(3) whether there is a lesser sanction that will avoid substantial unfairness to the opposing party and, where the offending party is seriously at fault, will serve to deter such conduct by others in the future.

The court then opined that in the first standard, that for finding spoliation, the second the element appeared to require bad faith. It then decided that the first prong of the test for sanction required bad faith as well.

The court noted that Defendant had only grudgingly complied with its discovery obligations, and recited examples suggesting that there was strong evidence that Defendants had failed to preserve evidence. However, the court also stated that Plaintiffs had not pointed to any evidence of bad faith, and relied only on speculation to explain the deletion of email by Defendants.

The court also wrote that Plaintiffs made vague statements, such as: “ALPA’s spoliation was so widespread and covered such a long period of time it can only be concluded that substantial evidence was destroyed which would have been favorable to Plaintiffs.” Such a catch-all statement, along with vague speculation as to whether evidence has been destroyed or even whether evidence was relevant does not rise to the specificity level required by the Third Circuit to impose sanctions or even make a finding of spoliation. While Defendants should have moved more quickly to place litigation holds on the routine destruction of certain documents and electronic data, the Court saw no evidence of bad faith. The court, therefore, denied the motion for sanctions at this time.

Posted in 3d Circuit, Bad Faith, Case Summary, D.N.J., Judge Joseph E. Irenas, Sanctions, Spoliation | Leave a Comment »

FL Case Blurb: Elec. Mach. Enters.; Spoliation as a Cause of Action in Fed/Fl. Courts

Posted by rjbiii on December 17, 2009

Spoliation encompasses two related but distinct concepts–an independent cause of action and evidentiary sanctions. The first form of remedy for spoliation is an independent cause of action at common law, arising under state tort or negligence law. There is no federal cause of action for spoliation. See, e.g., Sterbenz v. Attina, 205 F. Supp. 2d 65, 74 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (holding that the inherent power of a federal court to sanction litigants “does not effectively afford a federal cause of action for spoliation where a state law claim does not exist”). At one time, Florida law recognized both a first-party cause of action brought by a party to the underlying lawsuit and a third-party cause of action brought against a non-party for either negligent or intentional spoliation of evidence. See Gayer v. Fine Line Constr. & Electric, Inc., 970 So. 2d 424, 426 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). However, after the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Martino, there is no longer a first-party cause of action for spoliation against the same defendant as in the underlying litigation. Martino v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 908 So. 2d 342, 346 n.2 (Fla. 2005); Gayer,970 So. 2d at 426. In Martino, the Florida Supreme Court held that the availability of sanctions, including the imposition of evidentiary presumptions and inferences, provides sufficient protection to the plaintiff where the defendant in the litigation commits negligent or intentional spoliation of evidence. 908 So. 2d at 346-47. As noted, Martino specifically did not displace the independent cause of action for spoliation against a third party. Id.; Jimenez v. Cmty. Asphalt Corp., 968 So. 2d 668, 671 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007).

Elec. Mach. Enters. v. Hunt Constr. Group, Inc. (In re Elec. Mach. Enters.), 2009 Bankr. LEXIS 2374 at *183-84 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 2009)(emphasis added).

Case Summary may be viewed here.

Posted in 11th Circuit, Bankruptcy Court, Bankruptcy Judge Michael G. Williamson, Case Blurbs, Case Blurbs-FL, Spoliation, State Courts | Leave a Comment »