Tagged: Data Preservation

A Poor Substitute: The Eastern District of Texas Holds That Facebook Screenshots Are Not Sufficient to Avoid Sanctions Under Rule 37

In Edwards v. Junior State of America Foundation, the Eastern District of Texas determined that screenshots of social media messages are not sufficient evidentiary substitutes for spoliated native files. As a result of the plaintiffs’ discovery misconduct and spoliation of relevant electronically stored information (ESI), the court imposed sanctions under Rule 37(c) and (e) against the plaintiffs for failing to preserve Facebook messages in native format, including its metadata, which prevented the defendant from authenticating the messages. The plaintiffs filed a complaint against the defendant alleging that a student member of the defendant, a youth organization, sent “racist and homophobic Facebook messages” to one of the plaintiffs (the “Messages”). After the alleged Messages were sent, the student’s father filed a complaint with the youth organization which included .jpeg “snapshot” images of the Messages. During the litigation, the defendant served written discovery requests on the plaintiffs, seeking production of ESI from the plaintiff’s Facebook Messenger account to authenticate the alleged Messages, including the production of the Messages in HTML or JSON format. The native format of Facebook messages can typically be retrieved and produced in HTML or JSON format and contain metadata that can be used for authenticity purposes. The defendant’s request for native format would have allowed the defendant to authenticate the Messages. The plaintiffs never...

Inviting Scrutiny: “Obstructionist” Conduct Leads to District Court Ordering Forensic Examination of Defendant’s Cell Phone

Courts have been authorizing forensic experts to conduct examinations of electronic devices for decades. However, we have noticed a recent uptick of district courts ordering the appointment of an independent forensic expert to create images of and forensically examine cell phones to ensure the preservation and production of relevant electronic data particularly where the party in control of the evidence has been less than forthcoming in their discovery obligations. The District Court for the Southern District of Florida is one of the latest courts to order such a remedy, granting plaintiff’s motion to compel a forensic examination and ordering that an independent expert “mirror image and/or acquire all data present on Defendant’s cell phone.”

“The Death Penalty Lives”: Magistrate Judge Recommends Entry of Default Judgment After Defendants Manipulate and Permanently Delete Electronic Data

This blog has previously discussed cases in which district courts considered and sometimes ultimately entered the so-called sanctions “death penalty” – a default judgment order of terminating sanctions, pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2), as a result of a party’s destruction of evidence. Recently, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas magistrate judge recommended granting terminating sanctions, i.e., default judgment, after finding that the defendants “delayed discovery, manipulated electronic data, and permanently deleted a significant amount of electronic data.” The magistrate judge noted that the deletions that occurred required the user to “go into the bowels of the system, requiring advanced knowledge,” and the electronic data was deleted “within days” of an agreed upon preliminary injunction. In Calsep Inc. v. Intelligent Petroleum Software Solutions, LLC, the plaintiffs alleged misappropriation of trade secrets after their employee, one of the defendants, left their employment and allegedly downloaded the plaintiffs’ trade secret information to a personal device. According to the plaintiffs, the former employee then used the trade secret information with the other defendants to develop oil and gas industry software to compete with the plaintiffs’ software. The plaintiffs attempted to obtain discovery, including specifically the defendants’ “source code control system, which ordinarily contains the complete, auditable, and accurate history of the creation and evolution of software...

“It Wasn’t My Fault”: Court Rejects Attempts by Client and Attorney to Duck Responsibility and Sanctions Both Jointly

This blog has previously discussed the importance of cooperation among parties in a litigation to effectuate a comprehensive discovery framework; however, a recent decision from the District Court for the Northern District of California exemplifies the importance of joint responsibility and collaboration between attorneys and their clients when dealing with e-discovery matters, including preservation, collection, and production of electronically stored information (ESI). In a case that ultimately settled and involved both foreign and domestic parties, the court granted a motion for monetary sanctions pursuant to its inherent authority and Rule 37, after finding that the plaintiff’s discovery misconduct “not only forced [defendant] to incur additional attorneys’ fees but … also forced the court to expend considerable resources beyond what was necessary.” Because both the plaintiff and its former counsel “failed in their responsibilities,” the court imposed sanctions jointly and severally against them. In Optrics Inc. v. Barracuda Networks Inc., the plaintiff, a Canadian engineering firm, filed suit in August 2017 against the defendant, an American company, “bringing trademark, contract, and other claims stemming from allegedly unfair and deceptive business practices by [defendant] during the parties’ thirteen-year business relationship.” Beginning in June 2019, discovery disputes and “discovery violations” by the plaintiff plagued the litigation. In February 2020, “with discovery still mired in disputes,” the parties stipulated...

“Accidentally” Destroying Years of Text Messages Is No Defense to Spoliation Sanctions

The New York Supreme Court recently granted a defendant spoliation sanctions, in the form of an adverse inference instruction, against the plaintiff for the “accidental” destruction of years’ worth of text messages from the plaintiff’s cellphones. In Iacovacci v. Brevet Holdings, LLC, the plaintiff was terminated from his employment with the defendants in October 2016, through a letter that referred to “possible litigation” and requested that the plaintiff “preserve … electronically stored information (‘ESI’) relating” to the defendant’s business, “includ[ing] all emails, text messages, … and the like, … [including] material on a phone.” Several days after receiving the termination letter, the plaintiff filed a wrongful termination and breach of contract action, and the defendants filed an answer with counterclaims alleging misappropriation of the defendants’ documents, breach of fiduciary duty, and self-dealing. Thereafter, a years-long discovery dispute ensued. The defendants served several requests for documents, including text messages, but the plaintiff objected to the demands as irrelevant and overbroad, and in March 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for a protective order. In May 2018, the court ordered the plaintiff to produce cellphone and electronic calendar records as requested by the defendants, and at a status conference in December 2018, the court, again, directed the plaintiff to produce the text messages within 30 days. Finally,...

Rule 37(e) and a Court’s Inherent Authority to Sanction Parties for Spoliation of ESI; The District of Arizona Reminds Litigants that When Rule 37(e) is Up to the Task, It is the Controlling Source of Sanctions

The United States District Court for the District of Arizona recently addressed the issue of whether the court’s inherent authority can be used to analyze the failure to preserve ESI after amended Rule 37(e) became effective on December 6, 2015. Following the well-publicized amendments to Rule 37(e), the question of whether the court’s “inherent authority” to sanction a party for the spoliation of ESI survived the amendments has received disparate treatment from courts despite what many opine to be unambiguous language in the amended rule. In Alsadi v. Intel Corporation, District Judge David Campbell, who chaired the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure from 2011 to 2015, weighed in on this controversy, in pronouncing that a court cannot impose negative (adverse) inference sanctions pursuant to inherent authority when Rule 37(e) is up to the task of addressing ESI spoliation and the intent requirement of that rule is not satisfied. In this case involving claims for negligence and loss of consortium related to the emission of hazardous gases from an industrial wastewater system, plaintiffs (a plant employee and his wife) alleged that defendant’s negligence caused the plant employee to become permanently disabled after being exposed to hydrogen sulfide and possibly other toxic gases. Plaintiffs sought data from defendant regarding measurements of ambient gas...

Disappearing Act: Northern District of California Issues Rare Terminating Sanctions for Spoliation on a Massive Scale

In WeRide Corp. v. Kun Huang, the Northern District of California addressed an egregious case of discovery abuses and spoliation by defendants in a business litigation involving the alleged theft of autonomous vehicle technology. Applying Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(b) and 37(e), the court issued rare terminating sanctions against several defendants who willfully and intentionally deleted various forms of ESI, including relevant emails, status reports, and source code, well after the commencement of litigation and after a preservation order issued by the court requiring the preservation of such information. Defendants compounded these abuses by adopting the use of “DingTalk,” an ephemeral communication technology, after the court had issued the preservation order. WeRide, a technology company engaged in the business of developing autonomous cars, employed defendant Jing Wang as CEO in January 2018. WeRide alleged that Wang went on to form his own company, AllRide, as a direct competitor. WeRide also alleged that former employee defendant Kun Huang was recruited by Wang to work for AllRide while still employed by WeRide. WeRide alleged that Huang downloaded various forms of data during this time period and transferred this data onto several USB devices from two WeRide-issued computers, then proceeded to delete files from the devices. WeRide further alleged that AllRide and Huang stole WeRide’s source code,...

In It for the Long Haul: The Duty to Preserve Social Media Accounts Is Not Terminated Upon an Initial Production

In a recent decision by a federal district court in Ohio, the court admonished a plaintiff in a gender-based pay discrimination for deactivating her LinkedIn account during the pendency of the litigation after making an initial production. The court concluded that plaintiff had violated her duty to preserve pursuant to Rule 37(e), as the conduct resulted in the deletion of relevant and discoverable information that was the subject of a previous court order. The court declined to impose sanctions because plaintiff had in fact produced data from her LinkedIn account and because defendant could not demonstrate prejudice. However, the court did not let plaintiff’s offense go lightly; the court stated that plaintiff’s action was serious and inappropriate. In Faulkner v. Aero Fulfillment Services, plaintiffs alleged gender-based pay discrimination during their employment with defendant. Pursuant to a court order, plaintiffs had to produce, among other things, the “last three years of social media information.” Plaintiff Faulkner’s counsel followed the directions on the LinkedIn website to download a full data archive in Microsoft Excel format and produced the Excel file to defendant. Subsequently, defense counsel requested the social media information in a different format, a “screenshot” format. But plaintiff’s counsel was unable to produce Ms. Faulkner’s LinkedIn information in the “screenshot” format because the account had already...

Defendant Acting With “A Pure Heart But Empty Head” Not Subject to Spoliation Sanctions Under Amended Rule 37(e)

A recent decision denying a motion for spoliation sanctions highlights that a moving party must show that even clearly spoliated ESI is not available from other sources to qualify for an award of any form of sanction under Rule 37(e). In Snider v. Danfoss, LLC, the Northern District of Illinois held that a defendant’s admitted and erroneous destruction of duplicative ESI did not prejudice the plaintiff and therefore sanctions were not warranted. In other words, “no harm, no foul.” Plaintiff Snider worked for Danfoss for a number of years, during which time she was sexually harassed by another employee. Plaintiff informed her acting supervisor of the harassment, and was later transferred to a different position, which she viewed as a demotion and retaliation for her complaint. Approximately one week after the transfer, Plaintiff’s counsel sent a generalized, “preserve all evidence” letter to Danfoss. She then quit, and, pursuant to Danfoss’s policy, her emails were deleted 90 days after her employment ended. Plaintiff’s acting supervisor also later left Danfoss’s employment, and her emails were deleted in accordance with Danfoss’s auto-deletion policy. After the case was filed, Plaintiff deposed her acting supervisor, who suffered from a case of “testimonial amnesia” and was unable to recall a variety of facts, even benign, irrelevant facts. Plaintiff thereafter sought production...