Can a Court Sanction a Pro Se Party for Deleting Evidence? The Third Circuit Will, So Do Not Delete Your Data!

Whenever sanctions are involved, you can expect to see questionable behavior from one or more parties.  In this particular case, a pro se litigant tried to be cute and the court called him out for it.  The Appellant here used to own a company which provided consulting services to the Appellee.  Since the company became defunct, the owner became the only remaining party being sued. The district court had entered a discovery preservation order in which the parties agreed the appellant would return a laptop computer along with all of its data.  However, the appellant deleted data off the laptop minutes before signing the agreement.  Then the appellee initiated post-settlement litigation to obtain sanctions.  The appellant’s attorney then withdrew and the appellant continued pro se.  The judge found the appellant to be in civil contempt and awarded sanctions of over $50,000. The appellant raised three contentions on appeal.  First he argued sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 could only be awarded against attorneys, not pro se individuals.  Circuits are split on this issue.  The Third Circuit navigated around the issue, asserting that the district court judge could have justified its sanction under other grounds. Second, the appellant argues that monetary sanctions should not have been awarded because the information was deleted before the discovery agreement was signed.  The Third Circuit called out the argument as being a bit too clever and was not persuaded.  It all but accused the appellant of deliberately misleading the district court.  More damning was the actual language of the agreement.  It exposed the appellant to liability arising from the agreement itself, which governed the return of the laptop. Third, the appellant challenges the award for all attorneys' fees.  On this issue the Third Circuit remanded for a determination of what fees fairly reflect compensation for the appellant's contumacious conduct.  What is more vital here is the punishment for deleting data off the computer.  Those who try to outsmart the court will get their just deserts and acting pro se does not provide any sort of loophole.

New Jersey Passes Social Media Privacy Bill

Everyone enjoys their privacy, even legislators! Privacy bills are becoming ubiquitous in state legislatures across the country. With the increased use of social media in and around the workplace, states are legislating to protect the dueling interests of employers and employees. Ten states, including New Jersey, passed laws that restrict employers from accessing the social media accounts of employees.

Continue Reading

When deactivating your Facebook account becomes the intentional destruction of evidence

Deactivating your Facebook account and passively allowing it to be permanently deleted can be considered the intentional destruction of evidence. The Plaintiff in Gatto is now facing a potentially damaging adverse jury instruction if he takes his case to trial. In Gatto, a ground operations supervisor at JFK Airport was injured in his course of employment when one of the United Airline’s planes bumped into a set of fueler stairs, causing them to run into the plaintiff. In his suit, Plaintiff alleges that due to the crash he has suffered various serious injuries, is permanently disabled, hasn’t been able to work since July of 2008, and his physical and social activities have been limited. Defendants sought access to Plantiff’s Facebook account in relation to these claims.

Continue Reading

Court’s Broad Definition of “Control” Requires That Litigation Hold Include Independent Agents

For discovery purposes, “control” over documents does not necessarily require actual physical possession.  In fact, certain agency contracts can designate that a company has “control” over documents held by its independent agents.  In Haskins v. First American Title Insurance Company, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey held that First American Title Insurance (defendant) had to assert a litigation hold on its present and former independent title agents.

Continue Reading

There’s No Sneaking Around FRCP Rule 30: Surreptitious Text Messages to Communicate with a Client During a Deposition Are Not Privileged

As text messages have become an increasingly common way for people to casually communicate, they are also being used as a method for attorneys to communicate legal advice to their clients.  However, the line must be drawn when attorneys try to use text messaging to communicate to their clients in secret during a court proceeding or deposition.

Continue Reading

Court Orders Sanctions Against The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey for Failing to Preserve Text Messages From an FBI Investigation

In United States v. Suarez, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey held that the government violated its duty to preserve relevant data during an ongoing investigation aimed at prosecution of certain individuals.

Continue Reading

EXCLUSIVE: eLessons Learned’s Exclusive Interview with the Honorable Ronald J. Hedges.

Interviewed by Catherine Kiernan, Co-Editor in Chief, eLLblog.com Thank you, Judge Hedges, for taking the time to provide eLLblog’s readers with some of your valuable insights about electronic discovery.

Continue Reading

Timing is Everything: A Stale Order in Trustees of the Local 464A United Food and Commercial Workers Union Pension Fund v. Wachovia Bank

Trs. of the Local 464A UFCW Pension Fund  was an ERISA action brought by union pension funds against a number of investment managers.  The parties submitted a joint discovery plain with a scheduling order and a deadline for amending pleadings.  The judge accepted this deadline, and, at first, all was well.  However, nearly eight months later, the plaintiffs asked to file an amended complaint.

Continue Reading

Past Website Content Is Discoverable and Can Come Back to Haunt You in Later Litigation

Anything you post on your website can be used against you in later litigation.  Deleting content is not a solution.  Like other electronic files, snapshots or copies of a website as it existed on a certain date are discoverable in litigation.  And for all types of documents, trying to cover tracks by denying their existence after previously disclosing possession of them gives a judge good reason for ordering spoliation sanctions like an adverse inference instruction.

Continue Reading

Spoliation Inference Is Appropriate Sanction in Fraud and Breach of Contract Case

A N.J. District Court Judge ordered that a spoliation inference being given in response to a motion by plaintiff that the individual defendants were erasing information from the company’s computers.

Continue Reading