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In the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, the plaintiff Helget sued the city of Hays, Kansas for the allegedly wrongful termination of her employment on May 15, 2013. Helget claims that she was fired after she submitted an affidavit in a lawsuit brought by a former Hays, Kansas Police Department Officer. In anticipation of her own lawsuit, on June 26, 2012, Helget’s counsel sent defense counsel a letter requesting the preservation of certain information, including “internet usage, including e-mail usage, by each employee in the Hays Police Department.” Helget subsequently filed her complaint once she was terminated, allegedly in retaliation for her participation in the first lawsuit. The city denied Helget’s claims, stating that she was terminated because she “misused city computers” among other reasons. Helget soon filed a motion to compel defendants to “initiate a litigation hold, for preliminary sanctions for spoliation of evidence and for leave to conduct supplementary discovery on spoliation.” She believes that the city failed to put a litigation hold in place and spoliated evidence by destroying a service containing certain internet usage logs and allegedly overwrote or deleted other electronic documents and electronically stored information. Helget also served a subpoena for the deposition of a corporate representative of the defendant city on issues relating to spoliation. The defendant city responded by claiming they were only under a duty to preserve evidence relevant to this litigation, and not to preserve everything as is. The court began by discussing the issue of spoliation and explicitly noted that “[s]uch preservation may not be ‘selective.’” Additionally, “the duty to preserve commences with the filing of a lawsuit, but the duty may arise even before a lawsuit is filed if a party has notice that future litigation is likely.” The court found that defendant city had a duty to preserve “at least a portion of the electronically stored evidence at issue” since the defendant itself put electronically stored information at issue by alleging Helget was fired, in part, for improper personal use of city computers. The court further supported this duty to preserve by citing Helget’s letter which requested preservation and thus put the city on notice of potential litigation. While the court openly acknowledged that the defendant city did not have the obligation to preserve all documents within the scope of Helget’s notice letter, the defendant city did have an obligation to do more than “simply ignore the letter, which was apparently their response.” The court then ordered that the defendant city to put a litigation hold in place immediately. However, the court chiseled away at this obligation by noting that there “is no justification…for the defendant city to have entered into a city-wide litigation hold of such information, as advanced by Plaintiff.” The relevant scope, defined by the court, was computer usage of the plaintiff’s immediate coworkers, the key players, and those who held substantially similar positions for the city. The analysis then shifted toward whether Helget had established that any such electronically stored information evidence was in fact destroyed. The court looked at three categories of information individually. The first was the city’s “Websense serve”/internet usage history. While the court agreed that this server was more a firewall than a data log of employee internet usage, the court did find that “there are potential spoliation issues relating to the internet usage and email usage of the identified ‘key players,’ the plaintiff’s immediate coworkers, and all individuals holding substantially similar position for the defendant city, regardless of department.” the defendant city was instructed to submit to the plaintiff a proposal for “compiling, reconstructing, and/or producing to Plaintiff” such documents of relevant parties. Next, the court examined the spoliation of documents and electronically stored information in regard to the computer Helget used during her employment. Because this computer is relevant to one of the reasons for the plaintiff’s termination, the court finds that Helget is “entitled to a forensic image of the hard drive of the computer she most recently used while employed by the defendant.” The court went so far as to chastise the defendant city by stating that “[t]his computer should have been better protected by a litigation hold” and ordered that the parties shall split the cost of imaging the hard drive. In conclusion, the court finds that “the defendant city had an obligation to preserve this information. Regardless of whether it was destroyed intentionally or negligently, the plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence that the information is no longer readily available for production.” Because the the defendant had a duty to maintain this information, the court ordered the defendant city to bear the cost for a forensic restoration as a sanction for the defendant city’s breach of responsibility. Nicole was a 2010 magna cum laude graduate of Northeastern University located in Boston, Massachusetts where she earned her B.A. in English and Political Science. She will receive her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. After graduation, Nicole will serve as a clerk to a trial judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey in the Morris-Sussex Vicinage. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
The plaintiff and the defendants both sold Belly Bands, the plaintiff alleged that both Belly Bands were maternity band used to hold up pants. The plaintiff previously filed cases against the defendants for trademark infringement, patent infringement and unfair competition in 2006 and 2008, but those cases were later resolved by settlement agreements. In 2013, the plaintiff filed the recent action alleging that the defendants breached both settlement agreements by selling and advertising Belly Bands. During discovery, the defendants produced some electronically stored information (ESI). The parties contested the sufficiency of the defendants’ ESI production. On December 20, 2013, the court ordered the the defendant to produce all documents referring to customer comments or complaints regarding the defendants’ Belly Band and disclose its search methods within thirty days. On January 21, 2014, the defendants issued a declaration stating that they were in Europe when the court issued this order, and could not immediately comply. They also stated that they would need a computer expert to help them retrieve deleted customer e-mails. On January 3, 2014, the defendants retained a computer expert. On February 4, 2014, the defendant told the plaintiff that they found additional ESI, but did not produce the ESI at that time. The plaintiff filed a motion on February 10, 2014, for sanctions against the defendants for failure to comply with the court order within the thirty day timeframe, seeking: attorneys fees and costs associated with the defendants failure to comply; an order that the defendants disclose all hard drives and provide the plaintiff with access to all email accounts; and an order precluding the defendants “from opposing the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants’ Belly Bands were used to hold up [pants,] from opposing the plaintiff’s damage calculations, and from introducing any opposing evidence wit respect to the damages calculation.” At the time the motion was filed, the defendants still had not produced any additional ESI. Within two weeks after the motion was filed, the defendants produced over 1,000 new electronic documents. The court began its analysis by noting that courts may sanction a party for discovery abuses pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court’s inherent powers. Rule 37(b)(2)(C) states a court must order a party who failed to comply with a discovery order to pay the opposing party’s reasonable expenses associated with failure to comply, including attorney’s fees, “unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.” Sanctions are permissible regardless of the reason for the party’s noncompliance. Moreover, willfulness, fault, or bad faith are not required to impose Rule 37 sanctions, unless the sanction is dismissal. “However, in order for the sanction to comport with due process, the sanction imposed under Rule 37 must be specifically related to the particular claim which was at issue in the order to provide discovery.” Rule 37 sanctions should only be imposed when the party’s failure to comply prejudiced the nonoffending party. Furthermore, the court may impose three types of sanctions pursuant to its inherent powers specifically when there has been spoliation of evidence, including: “1) the court may instruct the jury that it may infer that evidence made unavailable by a party was unfavorable to that party; 2) a court can exclude witness testimony based on the spoliated evidence; and 3) the court can dismiss the claim of the party responsible for the spoliation.” “In determining what sanctions are appropriate in cases of spoliation, courts consider: 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.” The chosen sanction should be “determined on a case-by-case- basis, and . . .commensurate to the spoliating party’s motive or degree of fault in destroying the evidence. First, the court held that the plaintiff was entitled to an award of monetary sanctions under Rule 37. the defendants failed to substantially justify why they couldn’t produce all responsive documents within the court ordered thirty day timeframe. The fact that the defendants were in Europe when the court issued the Order did constitute substantial justification to excuse their noncompliance. the defendant did not alert the court of their travel plans, request an extension, instruct their office manager to comply with the Order, or offer a reason as to why they did not immediately retain a computer expert to assist them in complying with the Order. Further, even once additional ESI was discovered, the defendants failed to produce said ESI for almost a month. Thus, the defendants’ actions prejudiced the plaintiff by forcing the plaintiffs to subpoena third parties for responsive documents, by preventing the completion of necessary depositions, and by having to file the instant motion. Moreover, the court held that the defendant must disclose its hard drives and provide the plaintiff with access to all its email accounts, subject to the defendants’ privileges or privacy interests. The court found that there was real danger that evidence on the the defendants’ hard drive had been destroyed. Further, the defendants made an array of false statements, such as claiming they produced all responsive documents when they in fact had not, and claiming that no documents had been deleted during the time of litigation when overwhelming evidence indicated otherwise. The court found that the plaintiff needed access to the defendants hard drive to prevent any more documents from being destroyed and ensure all responsive documents were produced. Additionally, based upon the same reasoning, the court granted the plaintiff access to all of the defendants’ email accounts, including Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay accounts. However, the court held that the plaintiff failed to prove that the court should prohibit the defendants “from opposing the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants’ Belly Bands were used to hold up [pants,] from opposing the plaintiff’s damage calculations, and from introducing any opposing evidence wit respect to the damages calculation.” The court stated “preclusion remedies are a harsh remedy that should be imposed only in extreme circumstances.” Here, given that the plaintiff obtained documents from third parties and that the plaintiff may recover additional responsive ESI from the defendants’ harddrives and email accounts, the plaintiff cannot—at this time—demonstrate that the defendants’ conduct “impaired the plaintiff’s ability to go to trial or threatened to interfere with the rightful decision of the case.” However, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for preclusion sanctions without prejudice, thereby allowing the plaintiff to request preclusion sanctions should the plaintiff’s search of the defendants’ harddrives and email accounts reveal that the defendants knowingly destroyed evidence and that destruction threatened the plaintiff’s ability to secure a just outcome. Thus, when a court orders ESI production, parties would be wise to immediately comply with the order, or immediately inform the court of substantial reasons as to why compliance will be delayed. Aaron Cohen, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focused his studies in the area of Family Law. He participated in the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice’s Family Law Clinic. After graduation, he will clerk for a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division. Prior to law school, he was a 2011 cum laude graduate of The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, where he earned a B.A. in Psychology. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
The court first directed the defendant to produce the file of the plaintiff’s insurance claim in 2007, and needless to say, even in 2014 the defendant still had not produced everything. Over one year later, the court granted the plaintiff’s first motion to compel. When a flood of documents appeared at a deposition in 2011, discovery was reopened and the defendant was sanctioned. Another motion to compel was granted in 2012, and this time it was for the deposition of a representative of the defendant who could testify about the efforts the defendant had taken to respond to discovery requests. Yet another flood of documents appeared, and the representative deposed was unable to describe any of the defendant’s discovery efforts. The plaintiff moved again for sanctions, which were granted in 2013. At that time, the court also granted the plaintiff the costs and legal fees due to the late production of documents. As relevant here, before the court in this motion was the assessment of legal fees and another production request. The defendant did not want to produce more documents because by this time the defendant said the emails were on backup tapes that were purportedly not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. Can you guess what the court thought of that argument? We’ll get to that in a moment. Without delving into specifics, the court painstakingly analyzed the plaintiff’s legal bill for the various motions, filings, etc. and awarded $81,997.60 in attorney’s fees. Some of these costs were attributable to an IT specialist hired by the plaintiff that was to help the attorneys ask proper questions at the defendant’s representative’s deposition so they could ensure protocols were followed during discovery and that sufficient documentation was recovered (and if discovery was delayed because of an honest mistake, the explanation for that could be ascertained). Even though the individual deposed actually had no knowledge of the defendant’s discovery practices, the defendants couldn’t escape paying for the IT specialist’s and attorney preparation time. On top of the nearly $82,000 awarded in legal fees, the defendant said it would cost $200,000 to recover the backup tapes containing emails. While the actual cost is unclear, the defendant was ordered to turn over eight weeks of tapes, at its expense, of the thirteen individuals the plaintiff identified. The judge even left the door open for the the plaintiff to get additional discovery if further exploration is necessary. However, this isn’t the end. Sometimes, a single well-placed footnote can be unbelievably powerful. This case illustrates just that, as the judge cleverly observed the defendant’s conduct as such: [c]onsistent with Hartford’s approach to discovery in this case, it has spent more time and resources challenging two entries totaling 1 hour than the amount requested by the plaintiff for those entries. The court trusts that Hartford’s attorneys will notify their client how much they incurred in attorneys fees on these two entries. So please, take discovery seriously. Samuel is in the Seton Hall University School of Law Class of 2015 pursuing the Intellectual Property concentration. He received his master’s from the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and became a registered patent agent prior to entering law school. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
It is never a good idea to raise the suspicions of the court. If a party is going to try to cover its tracks, it has to do so subtly and discretely. It certainly has to do a better job than Dr. O did in the above case. She revealed too much information about herself in the early stages of the case, and it came back to hurt her when it was time to produce discovery. MetLife has brought suit against Dr. O, after the doctor tried to make an insurance claim based on an alleged disability. First of all, Dr. O delayed her responses to initial discovery requests, which is just never a good idea! But not only that, it was subsequently discovered that she had email accounts containing relevant documents that she had not even previously disclosed! Needless to say, Dr. O has already lost all benefit of the doubt in this case. Dr. O was ordered to turn over the computers she used during the relevant period so that MetLife could perform a key word search. Instead of turning over all computers that she used, she turned over only the two computers that she owned. She claimed that she did not have access to all the computers she used anymore, because some were in Internet cafes she used while traveling. OK, fine, but even still, the computers she did turn over, the two computers she owned and presumably used most often, reflected very little activity! Her hard drives showed no evidence of her sending or receiving any emails during a five-year period. In addition, the hard drives reflected a minimal amount of Web browsing. Well that certainly piques the Court’s interest, especially in light of Dr. O’s earlier testimony in which she admitted to searching the Internet on a daily basis! So she searches the Web every single day, and yet there is no record of it on either of her personal computers? Suspicions have been officially raised! But it does not end there. Dr. O specifically testified at her deposition that she used her personal computer (one of the two she handed over) to type up a twenty two-page letter complaining about MetLife. Well, lo and behold, there is no record of this letter reflected in the personal documents on the computers she turned over. So now Dr. O has been caught in a direct lie! But wait, there’s more! Dr. O testified that she engaged in online banking…but the computers show no record of that, either. She also admitted to doing a lot of online shopping as a symptom of her depression and PTSD. And yet, there is nothing on her computers that is consistent with even a single purchase! Dr. O was not subtle and discrete in covering her tracks, and the court saw right through it. It explained that in light of earlier testimony that the doctor is an avid computer user, the lack of use on the computers she turned over demonstrates that she did not provide all of her principal computers. The court found that Dr. O willfully failed to comply with the court’s orders compelling production, and that this refusal was done in bad faith, prejudicing MetLife’s ability to present its case. Therefore, due to the extent and continued nature of non-compliance on the part of Dr. O, the court imposed an adverse inference instruction against the doctor. Again, this just goes to show that a party has to be more careful than Dr. O was in this case. It cannot claim to use computers all day, every day, and then respond to an order of production of these computers by turning over computers that reflect very little, if any, use. Dr. O was too obvious about what she was doing, and the court sanctioned her for it. Do not be like Dr. O! Logan Teisch received his B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. He is now a student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015), focusing his studies in the area of criminal law. Logan’s prior experiences include interning with the Honorable Verna G. Leath in Essex County Superior Court as well as interning with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
In this case, a non-profit corporation, National Jewish Health, is suing WebMD. A very important sub-issue arose in this case regarding electronically stored information requested by the plaintiff during discovery. The plaintiff issued very broad discovery and interrogatory requests regarding emails between employees of the defendant. Because of the complexity of the electronic discovery at issue, the presiding judge, Daniel Y. Wiley, appointed Ronald J. Hedges as a special master to give a recommendation regarding electronic discovery. WebMD uses Enterprise Vault to maintain its email. This system is very useful because it preserves all emails sent by employees to prevent the emails from being altered or destroyed. This system also allowed the IT department of WebMD to search and sort the emails received and sent by specific employees. Using an eDiscovery tool in Enterprise Vault, the IT department of WebMD produced emails generated by the search criteria provided by WebMD’s legal team. WebMD’s counsel produced the emails in one of the following formats: Individual native files with attachments extracted; .DAT file using standard concordance delimiters and containing metadata (standard fields) for the above mentioned native files; and Text files/OCR for each native file provided as individual text files with a text path provided in the .DAT file. Additionally, all the emails produced are fully text searchable, sortable, and paired with all metadata. National Jewish Health (NJH) submitted a motion for sanctions against WebMD because they received roughly 280,000 documents as a result of their document request. NJH viewed this as a data dump and claimed there were over 100,000 duplicate files produced. But as it turned out, WebMD had already filtered the documents for duplicates and NJH could not prove that it had even conducted searches of the documents. Additionally, all documents produced by WebMD were in their native format, or an otherwise usable format. As a result, NJH’s motion for sanctions was denied. Another notable issue in this case is regarding WebMD’s storage of employee emails because an individual must serve as the custodian of the emails. Judge Wiley stated that, “a company, through its IT department, can serve as the custodian of electric files stored on company servers.” Since WebMD saved its emails on the Enterprise Vault, NJH has no argument as to custodianship. The final issue raised in this case is regarding NJH interrogatories. WebMD objected to the interrogatories as being overbroad and burdensome because the interrogatories requested the sorting and labeling of documents. Instead of answering the interrogatories, WebMD instead turned over their business records, which is acceptable under the rules. The purpose of this option to produce documents in the usual course of business is to place the burden of research on the party seeking the information, instead of requiring the responding party to conduct a burdensome or expensive search of its own records. Judge Wiley stated that the interrogatory requests were in fact overly burdensome as WebMD is not required to sort and label documents. Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently Daniel is serving as a legal intern in Seton Hall’s Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here
In this case, the plaintiff Nicole Baker sued Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceutical Inc., complaining that the Bayer product Mirena was not adequately accompanied by warnings of its side effects. Baker asked Bayer to produce databases that contains sales calls made by the marketing and sales department to physician’s offices. The sales calls notes also contained conversations between sales representatives and healthcare providers. Bayer argued that only the sales calls notes concerning Baker’s treating physician are relevant. Bayer also argued that producing all the sales calls notes are unduly burdensome and excessive in light of the needs of the case. Ultimately, the court found in favor of the plaintiff, and finds that the databases containing all sales calls must be produced due to their relevance to the current case. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits “discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” The information sought “need not be admissible at the trial” so long as it “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The crux of the plaintiff’s argument is that all the sales call notes, not just limited to those related to her physician, are relevant to her case because they would ascertain whether the pharmaceutical company is overpromoting the product Mirena. Overproduction would mean that there could be dilution or nullification of any warnings, thereby rendering the warnings inadequate. The plaintiff argued that the volume and substance of the sales calls notes establish whether there was a vigorous, aggressive sales campaign to the medical profession, leading to failure to heed written warnings. While this argument appears to be attenuated, it does fall under the standard of being reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The court thought although it was a burden to the defendant, all of the sales calls notes are relevant to establishing if Bayer’s Mirena campaign was so pervasive that any doctor, including the plaintiff’s, would fail to pay attention to warnings about the product’s side effects. Rebecca Hsu, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focuses her studies in the area of patent law, with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She is also certified in Healthcare Compliance, and has worked in Compliance at Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Prior to law school, she graduated cum laude from UCLA and completed graduate work in biomedical science. She has co-authored two medical science research articles, as well as completed fellowships through UCLA Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In addition to awards for her academic achievements, Rebecca has been honored by awards for her community service with disadvantaged communities. In her spare time, Rebecca regularly practices outdoor rock climbing, and can be found camping in the Adirondacks. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here
In this technological age, people have gotten very lazy. Jobs once done by hand evolved to being done with tools. Jobs once done with tools evolved to being done by machines. Jobs once done by machines evolved to being automatically done by machine. The same is true with electronic discovery. It is no longer sufficient for me to present you with the files you requested and the entire database from which they are derived. Now, I must present them to you in a manner in which you deem acceptable or I must present them to you again. Sorry, I forgot I was supposed to do your job for you too. In FDIC v. Appleton, defendants moved to compel the FDIC to respond to their requests for production of documents claiming that the FDIC did not produce documents in conformity with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34, stating that FDIC failed to produce documents organized and labeled to conform with defendants' discovery requests or as they are kept in the ordinary course of business. The FDIC, in response to this motion, claims that it gathered the documents in Relativity from a larger database of ESI based upon search terms mutually agreed to by the defendants and also made the larger database available to search. Here, the defendants have all of the information they requested, both the specific files and the database from which the files were pulled. However, the court held that this was not sufficient. The FDIC believed that it produced the necessary documentation as required by the discovery requests and is not required to organize them according to the defenses specific wishes due to the Relativity software and how it sorts documents. Ultimately, the court granted defendants' Motion to Compel as to the ESI in Relativity requiring the FDIC to search for all documents in its possession responsive to defendants requests, to create a file in Relativity for each of defendants' discovery requests and then to put each document of each request in the corresponding file. This California case creates horrible precedent and should be overruled. The ruling itself creates latent and infinite costs that shift upon the person receiving the discovery request. This ruling also forces any plaintiff, here the FDIC, to neatly wrap the defendant’s requests into a box with Christmas wrapping paper and present the information to the defense with a little bow on top. Long gone are the days and legal strategy of “burying someone in documents” (a strategy used to often pursue a settlement instead of a costly and lengthy trial). Now, a quick search of a hard drive through a folders search bar specified to the defendants’ requests instead of the software’s default settings can determine exactly where the leverage to be used against you in litigation can be found, if there is any at all. Furthermore, the FDIC did completely comply with the discovery requests but not sufficiently enough for the defendants. The defendants filed a motion to compel because they were not happy in which the documentation that they requested was presented by Relativity so they went to a court of law to force the FDIC to present the information in another form. The cost associated with having to comply with a discovery request can be massive but the cost associated with having to do a discovery request over because the first discovery request was unorganized is absurd. Sorry, I forgot I am supposed to do your job for you as well as comply with the discovery request. FDIC gave you the information and it gave you the database upon which the data was derived, FDIC fulfilled its duty per discovery request. Timothy received his B.A. from Rutgers University in 2011. He began his post-college life working in Trenton, New Jersey at a lobbying and non-profit management organization before attending law school in the fall of 2012. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Timothy has had a diverse set of experiences during his time in law school and has found his calling in Tax Law. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
This case provides an important lesson for any person involved in a lawsuit involving text messages as evidence. Here, a group of employees was suing their employer for discrimination under Title VII. When the discovery process began, the defendants requested a number of text messages relating to the conduct of the employees during the relevant time period of the discrimination. These text messages were permitted to be discoverable by the defendant and the plaintiff was ordered to turn over the relevant text messages. The plaintiffs’ lawyer then gave the plaintiffs instructions to preserve all data relevant to the case; otherwise they could face sanctions by the court, which could negatively impact their suit. Spoliation is the legal term for deleting or destroying information sought by the opposing party. This is precisely what occurred here. Apparently the plaintiffs felt that if they simply deleted a portion of the requested text messages that the defendant would have no way to access that information and thus the problem would be solved; if there even was a problem to begin with. When the defendant discovered that these texts had not been turned over with the rest of the discovery they inquired about their whereabouts. The plaintiffs responded that the texts had been deleted. Obviously perturbed, the defendant then subpoenaed the mobile carrier, T-Mobile, and recovered the deleted texts. However, now the plaintiffs had a problem; they had deliberately attempted to conceal and destroy relevant information. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss based on the actions of the plaintiff. The court granted the motion in part but denied the dismissal of all charges. Though, the court did impose sanctions upon the plaintiff, which carried the potential to seriously harm their case even if everything else went well. The simple lesson here is that you should never conceal, delete, or destroy any relevant information sought by the opposing party. Ultimately the content of the text messages remains unimportant in light of the plaintiffs’ spoliation. The plaintiffs should have followed their lawyer’s instruction to preserve the information. Had they turned over the information, their lawyer would have been able to combat the text messages in court in front of the jury. However, due to their actions, they were sanctioned and essentially handcuffed their counselor from undercutting any information contained within the text messages. Spoliation is never the answer even if you are required to turn over information that does not weigh in your favor. These plaintiffs learned the hard way; do not make the same mistake and follow your lawyer’s instructions. A.S. Mitchell received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Central Florida (2008). He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.
In this case, the Plaintiff Nicole Baker sues Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceutical Inc., complaining that the Bayer product Mirena was not adequately accompanied by warnings of its side effects. She asks Bayer to produce databases that contains sales calls made by the marketing and sales department to physician’s offices. The sales calls notes also contain conversations between sales representatives and healthcare providers. Bayer argues that only the sales calls notes concerning Baker’s treating physician are relevant. Bayer also argues that producing all the sales calls notes are unduly burdensome and excessive in light of the needs of the case. Ultimately, the court finds in favor of the Plaintiff, and finds that the databases containing all sales calls must be produced due to their relevance to the current case. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits “discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” The information sought “need not be admissible at the trial” so long as it “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The crux of the Plaintiff’s argument is that all the sales call notes, not just limited to those related to her physician, are relevant to her case because they would ascertain whether the pharmaceutical company is overpromoting the product Mirena. Overproduction would mean that there could be dilution or nullification of any warnings, thereby rendering the warnings inadequate. The Plaintiff argues that the volume and substance of the sales calls notes can establish whether there was a vigorous, aggressive sales campaign to the medical profession, leading to failure to heed written warnings. While this argument appears to be attenuated, it does fall under the standard of being reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The takeaway message is that the court thought although it was a burden to the Defendant, all of the sales calls notes are relevant to establishing if Bayer’s Mirena campaign was so pervasive that any doctor, including the Plaintiff’s, would fail to pay attention to warnings about the product’s side effects. Rebecca Hsu, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focuses her studies in the area of Patent Law, with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She is also certified in Healthcare Compliance, and has worked in Compliance at Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Prior to law school, she graduated cum laude from UCLA and completed graduate work in biomedical science. She has co-authored two medical science research articles, as well as completed fellowships through UCLA Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In addition to awards for her academic achievements, Rebecca has been honored by awards for her community service with disadvantaged communities. In her spare time, Rebecca regularly practices outdoor rock climbing, and can be found camping in the Adirondacks. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here
It cannot be said enough: preservation of vital, relevant evidence should be handled with due care and diligence. This is not an obligation to take lightly or to be messed around with. When a party becomes aware of the relevance of certain evidence, it shall take all reasonable precautions to make sure nothing happens to it! In Clemons v. Correction Corporation of America, Inc., a pregnant prisoner in a private prison was complaining one night of severe pain. She was told by prison officials that she would be fine. Later the next day, Clemons’s symptoms only continued to grow worse, while the other prisoners desperately tried to get prison officials to help her, but to no avail. Finally, after a day of severe pain, bleeding, and vomiting, Clemons was transported to a hospital. While Clemons came out of this incident just fine, the same cannot be said of her baby, who did not survive premature labor. Clemons then brought a suit against the prison officials for failing to act promptly when she complained of severe pain the first time, leading to the death of her child. Being as this took place in a prison, there was surveillance video footage that would have shown the various movements of prison personnel and would have helped to establish a timeline of events. It should be obvious to everyone how relevant this video would be, and yet it was not preserved for trial! Now, prison officials did take steps to attempt to copy the footage before it was automatically overwritten. The assistant warden assigned a part-time maintenance worker the task of copying the video. When he was completed with this task, this maintenance worker reported to the assistant warden that he had successfully made the copies. However, no one checked the copy the maintenance worker had made until the original footage had already been destroyed. And, as luck would have it, the maintenance worker copied footage from the wrong day! Well now it was too late to get the original footage back, and the parties in this case were without the benefit of seeing what actually happened in the prison during the time in question. The judge remarked that sanctions would be warranted in this case if the prison officials who were responsible for spoliation acted with a culpable state of mind. Proof of intent to breach a duty to preserve is not necessary to satisfy this requirement, so while the prison officials did not intentionally destroy the video footage, they are not off the hook. The judge determined that there was an undisputed duty to preserve, Clemons did not delay in requesting that the video be preserved, the assistant warden knew how important the video was, and the prison officials exercised significantly less care than is required when tasked with preserving such important evidence. The judge ultimately imposed the sanction of an adverse inference jury instruction against the prison officials, because they had a duty to preserve the video, the video was clearly relevant to Clemons’s claims, and the failure to preserve the video was done with gross negligence. The prison officials argued that if any sanction must be imposed, it should be a permissive adverse inference jury instruction, rather than a mandatory one. Nevertheless, they lost this argument as well, because when a judge decides whether an adverse inference is permissive or mandatory, he must take account of the party’s degree of fault. Obviously, the prison officials’ degree of fault here was through the roof, so the inference was deemed mandatory. Let this serve as a lesson to all: do not place important legal obligations in the hands of part-time maintenance workers without even checking their work. This whole ordeal could have been avoided had the assistant warden taken a few minutes out of his day to make sure the correct footage was copied. Do not slack on the duty to preserve, or else sanctions will be waiting! Logan Teisch received his B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012. He is now a student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015), focusing his studies in the area of criminal law. Logan’s prior experiences include interning with the Honorable Verna G. Leath in Essex County Superior Court as well as interning with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.