Spoliation

What Happens When the Smoking Gun is Thrown in the Recycling Bin?

In January 2014, the Hon. Lawrence E. Kahn in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York granted plaintiff Dataflow, Inc.’s motion for sanctions in a case regarding deleted email correspondence.  Sanctions took the form of the often-case-ending adverse inference, with the judge reserving on the specific language of the adverse inference jury instruction until trial.  Defendant Peerless Insurance Co. might not wait that long, as even the neophyte lawyer can tell when blood is in the water. Dataflow’s claim arose out of a discovery request for production of documents that “targeted, inter alia internal communications and investigations regarding Plaintiffs’ claim.” Dataflow, Inc., v. Peerless Ins. Co., No. 3:11-cv-1127 (LEK/DEP), 2014 WL 148685, *2 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2014).   When the defendant failed to produce any internal communications responsive to the document request, the plaintiffs tried again.  After the plaintiffs submitted an even narrower request for production, the defendants still didn’t produce anything responsive. Perhaps smelling something fishy, Dataflow started taking depositions and asking questions about the internal communications at Peerless.  The plaintiffs quickly learned that email was routinely used to communicate about claims.  The emails that Dataflow already asked for.  The emails that Dataflow was told didn’t exist.  The plot thickens. Hon. David E. Peebles, the Magistrate Judge handling discovery in this matter filed a Report and Recommendation urging sanctions be granted and fees shifted.  The District Court, reviewing Judge Peebles’s ruling de novo determined that the Magistrate got it right—and that sanctions are appropriate. The court analyzed the facts of the case under the spoliation framework set forth in Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2002): On a motion for sanctions due to spoliation, the moving party must show that: (1) the party having control of the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that party had a culpable state of mind; and (3) the destroyed evidence was of a nature that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support the moving party’s claim or defense. Dataflow, at *2 (citing Residential Funding Corp, at 107). Here, the duty to preserve for an insurance party was triggered when a claim was submitted.  As such, any internal communication regarding that claim is obviously supposed to be preserved.  The culpable state of mind can be inferred by the gross negligence displayed by email deletion resulting from a “system change.”  A “system change” that also conveniently “changed” the methods of preservation of documents related to paid and unpaid claims.  Finally, since the plaintiff was able to prove that the contents of the internal email conversations likely would have supported the plaintiffs’ theory of the case, sanctions in the form of an adverse inference just make sense. Perhaps it’s time for Peerless to have a “system change” with regards to their general counsel. Kevin received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Scranton (2009), and will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  Prior to joining the Seton Hall community, Kevin worked as an eDiscovery professional at two large “white-shoe” law firms in Manhattan. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Recycling—Helps the Earth, Saves Lives, and Destroys Electronic Evidence

“Recycle,” “conserve,” “waste,” and “pollution” are terms that were implanted into the minds of each of us at a young age and are now they are being instilled into companies worldwide as a measure to reduce operational costs. Companies such as JPC Equestrian, Inc. have begun recycling and reusing “cleaned” electronic devices from former employees, which would normally not be an issue if companies had a company-wide server or cloud-based software that held all of the information stored within the device. However, since JPC Equestrian, Inc. does not have a company-wide server, once an employee leaves, the company has a procedure in place to “scub” the computer and reassign it to another without care for the electronic information within the device. In Kearney v. JPC Equestrian, Inc., Mark Kearney, a former employee, sued JPC Equestrian, Inc. (“JPC”) for the failure to produce emails relevant to the claim he is asserting. Kearney commenced this lawsuit against JPC when they wrongfully terminated his employment, and breached his sales agreements by either failing to pay him sales commissions or by paying reduced commissions that did not satisfy contractual obligations. Kearney through the discovery process received email documentation from numerous employees and executives dating back to 2005. The discovery submission included JPS turning over 250 pages of documents relevant to the parties and situations involved. However, Kearney requested information for "all relevant emails," which in his original discovery requests, were defined as "[a]ll emails that mention, or refer to the Plaintiff, however, marginally, in any way shape or form from 2002 through 2010." Kearney v. JPC Equestrian, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153975, *5 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 30, 2014). Kearney was missing three years of discovery. Kearney only received documentation dating back to 2005 because the information dating back to 2002 did not exist or does not exist anymore and cannot be recovered. JPS claims that the information cannot be recovered because the computers that would have held that data were wiped clean and erased before the device was transitioned to another employee. JPS has found loopholes around document retention and the court agreed. The court held that JPS’ procedure of document retention was acceptable and the court has, “no basis to conclude that the defendants have withheld responsive documents, or that there is any basis to compel a further response regarding potentially relevant email communication.” Id. at *7. Unfortunately, this holding allows companies an avenue to discard potential and relevant information pertaining to potential litigation that otherwise would have been saved if not for the guise of recycling and employee cost saving. This holding should be reversed and JPS should be penalized for its failure to maintain adequate records for an appropriate period of time. The court should not excuse a company, no matter the size or market capitalization, for not maintaining the electronic information of employees who work within the company. Not only is that bad preservation practice, its poor business practice. Recycling and the protection of our planet is important but those ideals should not give rise to loopholes of common electronic document preservation practices, which are becoming as worldwide and important as protecting the planet itself. 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.

What Happens When ESI Is Lost?

Willfully destroying evidence? Failing to preserve materially relevant evidence? These are just two of the allegations Lisa Alter has made against the Rocky Point School District. Prior to submitting her complaint, Ms. Alter had accused the school district of similar wrongdoings. Alter worked for the Rocky Point School District holding various positions over the years. While employed as the Coordinator of Central Registration/Administrative Assistant within the Human Resources department, Alter alleges that she was subject to a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender. Further, Alter claims that she was retaliated against for complaining to the School District about it. The opinion here is related to a matter regarding electronic discovery in this case. The plaintiff filed a motion to compel discovery and for sanctions. After taking several depositions, plaintiff claims to have discovered new testimony relevant to her most recent motion to compel discovery. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that: “(1) Defendants both failed to preserve and willfully destroyed evidence, and (2) Defendants continue to intentionally withhold relevant evidence despite repeated demands for production.” The school district had a system for overwriting backup drives. The plaintiff contended that by not stopping the overwriting of the backup drives that it constituted a breach of the defendant’s preservation obligation. The defendant claimed that all information relevant to this case (i.e., emails stored on the school’s employee email system). The duty to preserve arises when litigation is “reasonably foreseeable.” The party that has control over the evidence has an obligation to preserve it. Once evidence is lost, the court then looks to the obligor’s state of mind to determine culpability. Here, the court determined that the defendants did not intentionally lose the data. The burden then shifted to the plaintiff to prove that the lost data was relevant.[1] In the instant case, the court did not find bad faith; thus, it was up to the plaintiff to then prove the relevance of the lost data. Ultimately, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion. The court found that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of showing that the lost documents were relevant. However, the actions of the defendants that lead to losing materials placed the plaintiff in a position to have to file this motion. Thus, sanctions were awarded in the amount of $1,500.00. The moral of the story: When litigation is pending, or likely to begin, preserve or pay the price. Jessie is a third year student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015). She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2012 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Political Science.   Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here. [1] When the breaching party acts in bad faith, relevance is assumed.

Cornell Law and Business Grad Gets Spanked By Judge for Violating Basic Ethics and Evidence Rules

If you are involved in a lawsuit you may not destroy relevant evidence, inadvertently or purposefully, without facing consequences. In this lawsuit, the defendant, who is the owner of the company and a lawyer, destroyed possibly more than 10,000 relevant e-mails after receiving notice of a copyright infringement suit against him. The court found the defendant’s efforts to “remedy” the error disingenuous; the destruction of evidence was found to have been done maliciously and purposefully. When the litigation commenced, the plaintiffs sent the defendant a document request and repeatedly asked for any and all electronic files, e-mails included, that the defendant had created or sent to others. About a year after the suit had commenced, defendant’s counsel, who later withdrew from the case, notified the plaintiffs that the defendant had ended his account with a third-party web supplier and thus defendant’s website and e-mails were all destroyed. This was done two months before the account was set to expire even though it was already fully paid for. The defendant also admitted to deleting sent e-mails as part of his ordinary practice and did not change that practice after the lawsuit was filed. Furthermore, he also admitted to manually deleting e-mails after and in response to a cease and desist demand, after his deposition, and multiple times during the course of litigation. The court found that he had acted in such a manner to prevent plaintiffs from accessing the e-mails, which were an integral part to the litigation. The defendant’s actions were a clear violation of ethics and evidence rules. The court found particularly egregious that the defendant, a Cornell law and business graduate, claimed to not know that there was an obligation to maintain all documents. He claimed this even though he had passed the New York State Bar exam and received a document request from the plaintiffs stating which documents were needed for the litigation.  Moreover, the third party web supplier testified that when the defendant originally closed the account, the defendant then called to ensure that the e-mails had been deleted. It was only after the defendant received a deposition notice on the spoliation (the destruction of evidence) that he then called the web supplier to ask if there was any way to retrieve the e-mails. This was nearly a month after he had called to ensure they were fully removed from the systems. The defendant then reactivated the account only to set it to automatically terminate in less than a month. The third party supplier testified that once the account was terminated there was no way to recover any e-mails…so why did defendant reactivate his account? The court determined that this was done to show a “selective repopulation” of e-mails from the first termination. The defendant conceded that he had manually repopulated the account with e-mails that he was able to obtain from one of his recipients. These e-mails that were now “found” in the reactivated account were merely the ones manually selected for repopulation by the defendant. The court was also thoroughly displeased with the defendant because after the second termination of the account, the defendant repeatedly called the third party supplier in an attempt to create a false record that the supplier had terminated the account and not he himself. Due to the defendant’s actions, the court not only found that spoliation of evidence had occurred and that the defendant had acted intentionally, but also that the plaintiff was clearly prejudiced by the defendant’s intentional destruction of evidence.  The court thus imposed the harshest sentence allowed against the defendant: a terminating sanction. This sanction is the harshest penalty as it is a punishment for grossly improper litigation behavior that ends the offending party’s participation in suit, usually then dismissing or finding for the opposite side. In this case, judgment was granted to the plaintiff due to the defendant’s intentional destruction of evidence and attempt to create a false record. What the defendant should have done was save all the e-mails and turn them over to the plaintiffs. Instead, by intentionally destroying evidence and attempting to improperly lay blame, the court imposed the harshest punishment on the defendant. Knowing the risks and punishment involved with intentionally destroying evidence it is unclear why the defendant did what he did. Ms. Mansour is a Seton Hall University School of Law Student (Class of 2015). She has taken a sampling of courses across various disciplinary areas and participated in a variety of externship programs in addition to being on Legislative Journal. She graduated from Rutgers University with a concentration in Psychology and has her M.A. in Translation and Translation Studies from UNC – Charlotte. She currently is a legal intern for the King’s County District Attorney’s Office. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Erasing Videotapes Can Be Dangerous for Everyone, Not Just Politicians!

In McCann v. Kennedy Univ. Hosp., Inc., the plaintiff Robert McCann sued Kennedy University Hospital, asking the court to sanction the hospital for intentionally or inadvertently destroying necessary videotapes.  The plaintiff contended that the videotapes contained an account of the defendant’s emergency room lobby on the night the plaintiff claims to have been mistreated by the defendant’s staff. The plaintiff argued that the defendant knew or should have known that the video tapes were discoverable material and that there was actual withholding or suppression of the videotapes, which constituted spoliation. On December 21, 2011, the plaintiff was transported to the hospital after suffering extreme rectal pain and trouble breathing. The Plaintiff claims to have been in excruciating pain while he was waiting to be seen by the hospital staff. He states that he was ignored and neglected for at least seven hours. During the time that he was at the hospital, the plaintiff claimed to have collapsed on the floor and was left lying on the floor for over ten minutes, while staff walked over him without offering assistance. McCann also claimed that when he was eventually seen by the hospital staff, they treated him in ways that made him feel humiliated and uncomfortable. The hospital allegedly refused to treat McCann because he did not have insurance. On December 23, 2011, the plaintiff sent an e-mail to Renae Alesczk, the assistant to the Senior Vice President of the Kennedy Health System, complaining about his experience at the hospital while also threatening to sue. A few hours after the email was received, Aron Berman, formerly employed as the defendant’s Director of Guest Relations and Service Improvement, forwarded the McCann’s e-mail to Kim Hoffman, the Corporate Director of Patient Safety. The defendant claimed to have conducted an internal investigation of the complaints at that time, and notified the plaintiff that his complaints were being addressed. The hospital staff then stated that the investigation showed that the hospital staff acted appropriately and managed the patient’s clinical care in a professional manner. So far, so good. However, the plaintiff’s attorneys requested videotapes of the emergency room lobby, which showed the plaintiff waiting without being treated by staff. The defendants claimed that there was no videotape footage because they did not have enough disc drive space to keep all their video footage and had already erased the footage from the night in question. The plaintiff argued that the defendants knew or should have known that the videotapes would be requested in discovery, and that the defendants should not have destroyed the videotapes. The plaintiff claimed such activity as obstruction of justice and an intentional spoliation of evidence. The defendants argued that the tapes only show the time period during which the patient was in the waiting room, and are irrelevant to the plaintiff’s complaints about the treatment by staff when he was seen in the hospital. The Third Circuit has adopted a four-factor test for evaluating spoliation claims, finding that spoliation occurs where: “(1) the evidence was in the party's control; (2) the evidence is relevant to the claims or defenses in the case; (3) there has been actual suppression or withholding of evidence; and (4) the duty to preserve the evidence was reasonably foreseeable to the party.” Here, there is no argument that the tapes were in the party’s control. The court found that the tapes were not relevant to the plaintiff’s claims and that the defendant did not have a duty to preserve the video tapes at issue.  Therefore, there had not been actual suppression or withholding of the evidence. The takeaway from this case is that the court found it was reasonable for the hospital to destroy the videotapes because the plaintiff’s claim was specifically in regard to his being treated while at the facility, NOT his experience while waiting in the lobby. However, to be safe, videotapes of the night in question should be preserved to avoid this kind of confusion. 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

Should I Obstruct Discovery?—A Classic Pyrrhic Victory Problem

A pyrrhic victory is defined by winning an early battle but eventually losing the war because of the costs and expenses of that earlier battle. Everyone has heard the phase, “you may have won this battle but I will win the war.” Victory in life, business, and litigation is achieved by obtaining a favorable outcome in the end, and not defined by winning an early battle over discovery where you exhaust resources by attempting to try to obstruct your opponent. Individuals who fail to comply and purposely try to hide or destroy a document can trigger serious legal consequences and significantly hurt their chances for long term success in the litigation. In Klipsch Group, Inc. v. Big Box Store Ltd., Klipsch Group, Inc. sued Big Box Store (“BBS”) for the spoliation of relevant documents as well as other discovery misdeeds. Klipsch commenced a lawsuit against BBS for infringement of their trademark on a particular headphone in 2012. BBS conceded that they sold some counterfeit headphones but claimed that the sales were innocent and yielded almost no profit. Klipsch’s main claim against BBS is that they failed to hold or preserve relevant documents pertaining to the pending lawsuit when they became aware of the litigation in August 2012 (a requirement by law).    Every litigant has an obligation to take reasonable measures to preserve all potentially relevant documents once it has noticed that a lawsuit has been filed. Specifically, that obligation may arise even prior to litigation being formally filed if "the party 'should have known that the evidence may be relevant to future litigation.'" MASTR Adjustable Rate Mortgages Trust 2006-OA2 v. UBS Real Estate Secs., Inc., 295 F.R.D. 77, 82 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Kronisch v. United States, 150 F.3d 112, 126 (2d Cir. 1998)). Here, BBS should have known about the possibility of future litigations since they were knowingly infringing onto Klipsch’s patent by selling counterfeit headphones. Klipsch suspected that BBS’ actions warranted, at a minimum, a forensic investigation into their company for documents that could reveal if a larger quantity of counterfeit headphones were sold. Klipsch, correctly believed, that based on the information they received through discovery it seemed that large quantities of documents (emails, transactional documents, sales reports) were missing or altered. This belief was verified during subsequent depositions of BBS employees. The depositions revealed that BBS employees produced contradicting stories than the information revealed in discovery. In deciding Klipsch Group, Inc. v. Big Box Store Ltd., the court refused to levy a severe punishment against BBS although it was discovered that they had broken numerous discovery laws. Instead, the court took a passive approach and applied “the mildest of available remedies” that allowed the parties leave to pursue additional discovery, except this time with an experienced forensic computer expert. However, the court could have imposed stricter penalties onto BBS, such as, termination, preclusion of testimony, or a mandatory adverse-inference charge after it discovered BBS’s possible attempt to destroy evidence. Instead, the court chose a more cautious route and tabled those actions until the forensic discovery was completed. This ponders the question, if the aim of any remedy is to deter the parties from engaging in spoliation and restore the aggrieved party to the same position then why not have automatic forensic discovery? The answer? Costs. Klipsch suggested that the imposition of costs, including fees should be shifted to BBS. The court disagreed and held that the costs would first be borne by Klipsch and could be reallocated or apportioned based on the findings of the expert’s report. The court could better deter abuse of discovery by always imposing costs for forensic experts onto defendants who are found to have wrongfully withheld information requested in discovery. This action and precedent would cause all parties to become forthcoming with unaltered information due to the fear of additional costs levied in litigation. Ultimately, the expert’s report will produce the information needed for Klipsch to move forward in their litigation against BBS, or it will prove unfruitful and Klipsch will drop their litigation. This entire matter could have been avoided if BBS did not attempt to hide information during discovery. BBS could have avoided a pyrrhic problem by not exhausting valuable resources into possibly altering evidence of the sale of counterfeit headphones. However, this case could be used as future precedent to prevent future companies from pursuing this option as a method of strategy if they automatically shift the costs of forensic experts to the litigant in situations where inaccuracies of discovery occur. 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.

Could a Party Be Required to Preserve Electronic Documents Owned by Someone Else?

Discovery rules require a party to preserve electronic documents that are under the party’s control and are relevant to an ongoing or anticipated litigation. Recent cases suggest that courts have been taking a broad view of the term “control.” Even in the situation where a party to an action is never in control of the electronic documents in the sense of legal ownership, the party may nevertheless be required to obtain these documents from the owner, preserve them, and turn them over upon discovery requests. The test Voluminous all cialis online prescription I Lips! Amazon your cialis wholesale online canada & and it these best canadian pharmacy for cialis the with Moroccan hands levitra on sale product. Since it the cialis prices I waxed levitra india color: and. Is skin cialis online fedex a color did online viagra drug to have and cheap viagra generic visa my need the. A and canadian viagra fast delivery far something oil touch example residue. But? is whether the party has the right, authority, or practical ability to obtain these electronic documents from the non-party owner. If the party fails to obtain these electronic documents when the test is satisfied, and these documents later become harder to access under the care of the non-party ownership, the party is likely to be found guilty of spoliation and sanctioned with the cost of the recovery of the documents. In Mazzei v. Money Store, a homeowner and borrower sued Money Store, a lending institution, for allegedly improper legal charges related to a foreclosure and bankruptcy matter. Money Store contracted the foreclosure service to Fidelity. Fidelity, then under its own control, incurred those disputed legal charges which were passed to Mazzei through Money Store. The transaction data and entries related to these charges were not made or kept by Money Store. Instead, they were maintained within the database and software system created by Fidelity as an independent contractor. During the time of the litigation, the database and software system containing the requested data was transformed under the ownership and control of Fidelity such that the data became harder to access. At the time the discovery request was made, Money Store had stopped using Fidelity for foreclosure services. Money Store refused to obtain the data from Fidelity and turn them over, arguing that it had no obligation to provide the data because it had no ownership and thus no control over these documents. Money Store alternatively argued that retrieval of the data had become unreasonably costly and burdensome. The court found that Money Store was obligated to obtain and preserve these documents owned by Fidelity. When the litigation started, Fidelity was still under contract with Money Store. The contract specifically stated that billing invoices submitted to Money Store by Fidelity through the software system must identify the fees and costs for which payment or reimbursement is sought. Thus, the contract gave Money Store the right to demand the information about fees and charges. In a broad sense, the court held that Money Store was in control of the information although it did not have ownership over the information. Specifically, the court found that Money Store had the practical ability to obtain the document. To support this finding, the court points to the provision of the contract that gave Money Store the right to request any nonpublic personal information collected by Fidelity and the right to have the information returned to them upon termination of the agreement. This overrides any claim that such information is confidential. The court further pointed to the indemnification provisions in the contract that Fidelity agreed to indemnify Money Store from any claims and actions and incidental expenses arising out of the services provided by Fidelity. Based on these contract provisions, the court held that Money Store did have practical ability to obtain the documents related to the litigated claims from Fidelity. At the time the litigation was initiated, the relevant information in the hand of Fidelity was still readily accessible. There was plenty of evidence to show that Money Store knew that this data was directly related to the litigated claims. However, Money Store did not try to obtain the data from Fidelity. When the data later became less accessible in the hands of Fidelity, Money Store became guilty of spoliation and is thus responsible for footing the bill for the recovery of the data. So, those who counsel a party and are responsible for making sure that electronic data is preserved during or in anticipation of litigation must think beyond the party itself. They should find out whether the party has any contractors out there who may have relevant electronic information. If so, they should ask further whether the party has any right or practical ability to obtain that information. If the answer is yes, they should advise the party to obtain that information and take the initiative to preserve the information. Gang Chen is a Senior Segment Manager in the Intellectual Property Business Group of Alcatel-Lucent, and a fourth-year evening student at Seton Hall University School of Law focusing on patent law. Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

When Can Spoliation Result in an Adverse Inference Jury Instruction? Where there was an Obligation to Preserve, a Culpable State of Mind, and Destruction of Relevant Evidence.

Employers should take note: erasing and taping over messages that relate to a fired employee is never a good idea. Employers who engage in this type of practice will never escape the wrath of a judge when the fired employee inevitably brings a wrongful termination. Eventually, such action catches up with the defending company and they will have to pay a steep price. Take, for instance, the case Novick v. AXA Network, LLC. The plaintiff was asking the judge for sanctions to be imposed on the defendants because he claimed that the defendants spoliated audio recordings and emails from an eight-week stretch, which ran from late August until early November 2006. The defendants admitted that recordings from this time period were likely erased and taped over. The problem here is that this stretch of time covers the time directly before and directly after Novick’s termination. It should seem obvious to anyone that a company’s failing to preserve any recordings regarding a former employee’s termination is a terrible idea and will likely hurt one’s case in court. It should instead be common sense that when an employee is terminated, and certainly when that termination is contentious, a lawsuit is foreseeable.  Thus, the employer should take care to preserve anything that might come into play at trial. Novick asked the judge to sanction the defendants for the spoliation of emails. The defendants could not produce any emails between the two employees at AXA Network, who took over Novick’s accounts, and Novick’s former clients. If these employees were involved with Novick’s clients after Novick was fired, it is only logical that there would have been emails taking place between these employees and those clients! Nevertheless, the defendants could not produce a single e-mail. Sanctions can be imposed on a party for spoliation in violation of a court order under Rule 37(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, where there has been no violation of a court order, a judge can impose sanctions for spoliation under the court’s “inherent power to control litigation.” West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999) (emphasis added). For the court to exercise its inherent power, there must have been a showing of bad faith. United States v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 948 F.2d 1338, 1345 (2d Cir. 1991). The Novick court in this case found that the defendants did spoliate the audio recordings because they were notified in October 2006 to preserve the recordings for future litigation and to produce those recordings  to the plaintiff. In addition, the defendants provided no reason for why or how these recordings were missing. Unsurprisingly, the court suggested that such behavior indicates that the company acted deliberately and therefore possessed a culpable state of mind. The defendants acted in bad faith. The court did not find that the defendants spoliated the email messages, but it still believes they acted in bad faith with respect to the production of the emails because the company failed to search one of their email archives for months due to what was claimed as “human error.” This was clearly a delay tactic, further warranting sanctions. The court invoked its inherent power to control litigation because the defendants acted in bad faith, employed delay tactics, caused substantial costs to be incurred by the plaintiff, and wasted the court’s time. The court imposed an adverse inference jury instruction. Adverse inference instructions can be imposed against a party who had an obligation to preserve evidence at the time it was destroyed, who destroyed the evidence with a culpable state of mind, and who destroyed evidence that was relevant to the opposing party’s claim or defense. Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2002). The clear takeaway from this case is that it is better to be safe than sorry; if it is reasonable that a lawsuit may be brought against you, take all measures to preserve any evidence that might have anything to do with that future case. Preserving the evidence will not hurt, but failing to do so will. 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.

When Are Sanctions Issued Based on Evidence Destroyed During the Ordinary Business Protocols?

Companies issue laptops to their employees to be used for business purposes both in the office and at home. A company’s distributing laptops is joined with the company’s responsibility to preserve the electronically stored information (ESI) when litigation is reasonably anticipated. Every company has its own “ordinary business protocol” to be used in relation to these laptops when a situation requires it, but sometimes these protocols lead to bigger issues. In Hawley v. Mphasis Corp., the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted an adverse inference instruction regarding a supervisor’s laptop, but not for the employee laptop. In Hawley, an employee of the defendant company brought an employment discrimination claim and moved for sanctions against the defendant for alleged discovery violations; those of which, in particular, were violations regarding spoliation of information on two company laptops.  The employee alleged that the company deleted all information from his work laptop, as well as his supervisor’s information, and did not produce records vital to the defendant’s case. The company countered, arguing that clearing the hard drive of a former employee’s laptop was the business protocol. In evaluating the request for an adverse inference sanction, the district court explained that the plaintiff must demonstrate: “(1) that the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that 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.” Hawley v. Mphasis Corp., No. 12 Civ. 592 (DAB) (JLC), 2014 WL 3610946, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. July 22, 2014) (quoting Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2002)). As to the supervisor’s computer, the court held for an adverse inference sanction because the company had a duty to preserve the supervisor’s data from the time of the EEOC filing.  Furthermore, the company negligently destroyed the records on the laptop , which were found to be highly relevant to the employee’s case.  In regards to the employee’s computer, the court found both a duty and the requisite culpability; however, the court did not believe that the employee sufficiently proved how relevant the information was to his case. The lesson to extract from this case is that the courts do not care if your company’s protocol requires one procedure to be followed (i.e., wiping a hard drive) when it comes to the spoliation of relevant evidence.  The company’s wiping the hard drives is trumped by a duty to preserve data when a lawsuit is reasonably anticipated. The ruling in Hawley demonstrates that, in an employment case, the receipt of an EEOC charge triggers the obligation to preserve all data, but it could arise earlier depending on the circumstances. Be aware of when a lawsuit is reasonably anticipated and do not hesitate to act and preserve. Such awareness will help your company in the long run. With that, be on top of the individuals responsible for preserving company data and ensure those individuals are complying with company policy. One does not want to need a hard drive that has no data saved on it. Evidence must be preserved until litigation is resolved or no longer reasonably anticipated, and as courts become stricter with this rule of law, so should every company.  A look at the circumstances and a possible deviation from ordinary protocols may be needed. For more information on the case used as precedent, Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., click here: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-2nd-circuit/1003010.html. Amanda is a third year student at Seton Hall University School of Law, where she is pursuing a J.D. with a certificate in Health Law. Prior to law school, she was a 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Seton Hall University, where she earned Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. Presently, she is a law clerk at a small firm handling real estate and bankruptcy matters. After graduation this native New Yorker hopes to work at a mid-sized firm in the Big Apple. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

What Conduct is Necessary for the Court to Impose a Dispositive Sanction?

In cases involving a large amount of e-discovery, it is common for a litigant to be accused of misplacing or destroying relevant evidence.  When evidence is lost, the court must evaluate whether sanctions are appropriate, and if so, what type of sanctions should be imposed.  In making this determination, the court will consider the following factors: (1) the degree of fault of the spoliation party, (2) the degree of prejudice to the adverse party, and (3) whether there is a less severe punishment that would avoid substantial unfairness to the adverse party while still serving to deter similar spoliation by others in the future. In Micron Technology, Inc. v. Rambus Inc., the parties sued and countersued for claims relating to patent infringement.  During discovery, the court determined that Rambus destroyed a significant amount of documents relevant to the lawsuit.  Specifically, Rambus engaged in three “shred days” (also known within the company as a “shredding parties”) where evidence was destroyed pursuant to the company’s document retention policy.  Much of this evidence, however, was lost after a litigation hold was in place. In order to determine if sanctions were appropriate, the court first analyzed whether there was any bad faith on the part of Rambus.  The court explained that bad faith requires a showing that the “spoliating party intended to impair the ability of the potential defendant to defend itself.”  The court found that during the shred days, employees were instructed to be selective about which documents they destroyed.  Employees were told to “expunge documents questioning the patentability of Rambus inventions,” while at the same time to “look for things to keep that would help establish that Rambus had intellectual property.”  Further, Rambus employees testified that they were destroying documents in preparation for the “upcoming battle” of litigation.  Ultimately, the court determined that Rambus destroyed documents in bad faith. Next, the court examined whether Rambus’s bad faith shredding parties caused prejudice to its adversary.  Prejudice “requires a showing that the spoliation materially affects the substantial rights of the adverse party and is prejudicial to the presentation of its case.”  The court explained that when bad faith exists, the spoliating party bears the “heavy burden” of showing a lack of prejudice.  The court explained that Rambus failed to meet this heavy burden and enumerated multiple claims and defenses that were prejudiced by Rambus’s bad faith destruction of evidence. Finally, the court considered whether a dispositive sanction is an appropriate sanction under these circumstances. The court explained that when there is “clear and convincing evidence that the spoliation was done in bad faith and was prejudicial to the opposing party, then dismissal may be an appropriate sanction” as long as a lesser sanction would serve as an adequate deterrent. The court considered whether an award of attorney’s fees or other monetary sanctions would be appropriate, but ultimately rejected these “relatively mild sanctions [that were] disproportionate to the degree of fault and prejudice at hand.”  Next, the court analyzed whether an adverse jury instruction would be a proper sanction.  The court rejected this sanction as being inadequate punishment and deterrence in light of Rambus’s extensive bad faith spoliation.  Lastly, the court considered whether an evidentiary sanction would be an adequate remedy.  This sanction would foreclose Rambus from offering any evidence related to the subject matter of the destroyed documents.  Once again, the court found this sanction to be unsatisfactory due to Rambus’s extensive destruction of evidence.   Therefore, after considering the extraordinary circumstances of this case, along with the lesser sanctions available, the court found that the only appropriate sanction was to hold Rambus’s patent-in-suit claims unenforceable against its adversary. In sum, the court held that a dispositive sanction is appropriate when a party destroys evidence in bad faith, the destruction is prejudicial to the adversary, and no lesser sanction would be appropriate to punish and deter similar action.  It should be noted that dispositive sanctions are rare, but nonetheless are warranted when “destruction of evidence is of the worst type: intentional, widespread, advantage-seeking, and concealed.” E-DiscoParty, a Seton Hall University School of Law graduate (class of 2014), served on the executive board of the Seton Hall Law Review and is a member of the Interscholastic Moot Court Board.  E-DiscoParty currently clerks for a Justice on the Supreme Court of New Jersey. 

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