When can the court impose sanctions for turning over computers that reflect a suspiciously low level of activity?

What Should a Party Not Do When Compelled to Turn Over Computers after Having Already Admitted How Much Activity Took Place on Those Computers? Turn Over Computers That Show No Record of Activity

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.

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