District Judge Overturns Part of Victor Stanley II Ordering Immediate Jail Time to a Defendant Based on a Possible Future Failure to Pay Spoliation Sanctions

As previously reported, in Magistrate Judge Grimm’s September 9, 2010, decision and order, often referred to as Victor Stanley II, defendant Creative Pipe, Inc. and its principal, defendant Mark T. Pappas, were sanctioned for intentionally violating the court’s preservation and production orders. Among other things, Magistrate Judge Grimm ordered defendants to pay plaintiff’s costs and attorneys’ fees allocable to their spoliation. Judge Grimm further ordered that Mr. Pappas be imprisoned for no more than two years, “unless and until” he pays the fee award. Judge Grimm regarded this sanction as “absolutely essential” in light of his conviction that, “[w]ithout the threat of jail time, … Plaintiff will receive a paper judgment that does not enable it to recover its considerable out-of-pocket losses caused by Pappas’s spoliation.” By Order dated September 30, 2010, the Honorable Marvin J. Garbis, U.S.D.J., entered Magistrate Judge Grimm’s September 9 order essentially verbatim, including that, “[p]ursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(vii), Defendant Pappas’s acts of spoliation shall be treated as contempt of this Court, and as a sanction, he shall be imprisoned for a period not to exceed two (2) years, unless and until he pays to Plaintiff the attorney’s fees and costs that will be awarded ….” (Emphasis added.)

Pursuant to Magistrate Judge Grimm’s September 9 decision and order and the relevant local rule, however, defendants were allowed to object to the same order. In that briefing, Mr. Pappas’ counsel argued that “[t]his Court’s power to impose a coercive civil contempt sanction … is limited by a party’s ability to comply with the order,” and further that, “[i]f the fee awarded is so large that Mr. Pappas is unable to pay it, the ordered confinement would not be coercive, but punitive, and could not be imposed without criminal due process protections.” Defendants thus requested that Magistrate Judge Grimm’s order be modified such that, following the quantification of the fee award, Mr. Pappas be permitted to demonstrate his inability to pay it, and further to provide that Mr. Pappas would only be confined if he is able to pay but refuses to do so. The District Court agreed with Mr. Pappas’ counsel and, on November 1, 2010, issued a Memorandum and Order holding as follows: “[T]he Court does not find it appropriate to Order Defendant Pappas incarcerated for a future possible failure to comply with his obligation to make payment of an amount to be determined in the course of further proceedings. Certainly, if Defendant Pappas should fail to comply with a specific payment order, the Court may issue an order requiring him to show cause why he should not be held in civil contempt for failure to comply with that payment order. Also, under appropriate circumstances, criminal contempt proceedings might be considered.” (Emphasis added.)

That same day, the Court further ordered that defendants must pay plaintiff the amount of $337,796.37 by November 5 and, if such payment is not made, defendants must appear on November 8 for a civil contempt hearing. Moreover, if defendants failed to pay and Mr. Pappas failed to appear at the civil contempt hearing, “a warrant may be issued for his arrest so that he shall be brought before the Court as soon as may be practicable.” From the docket it appears that ultimately the parties resolved the issue between them without the need for a further contempt proceeding.

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