Tagged: Spoliation

Disappearing Act: Court Provides Reminder that Counsel Must Investigate and Understand Client’s Use of Ephemeral Messaging Services to Prevent Sanctions

A decision earlier this year from the Northern District of Indiana illustrates the importance of counsel thoroughly investigating and understanding all data sources their clients may be using to create and store potentially relevant Electronically Stored Information (ESI). With the increased use of messaging applications – including ephemeral ones – counsel must understand the intricacies of each application (and its retention and preservation policies) used by their clients to prevent the destruction of relevant ESI. In this case involving civil rights claims, the defendants sought evidence regarding the plaintiff’s activities and character to disprove claims that the defendants deprived the plaintiff of his honor and reputation – a “protected liberty interest” – without due process. Through one of their requests, the defendants sought all data related to the plaintiff’s Snapchat account. For background, Snapchat is a messaging service where users record photos and videos (called “Snaps”) to send to other users. These Snaps appear on the receiver’s screen only for a limited period of time (generally, seconds). In addition, Snapchat users can send chat messages to other users, create “Stories” that remain visible to all users for 24 hours, and save Snaps indefinitely by storing them in the user’s “Memories.” Data within the user’s “Memories” is saved by Snapchat until a user deletes it, at...

Establishing “Intent to Deprive” Under Rule 37(e): District Court Imposes Adverse Inference Instruction Based on Timing of Spoliation

This blog has previously discussed the challenges a litigant faces in moving for the so-called “severe sanctions” pursuant to amended Rule 37(e). With the 2015 amendment to Rule 37(e), a moving party seeking severe spoliation sanctions must establish that the opposing party “acted with the intent to deprive” the requesting party of the electronically-stored information (ESI) in the litigation at issue. In the absence of an explicit admission that a responding party deleted ESI with the subjective intent to deprive the requesting party of the same, a requesting party often faces an uphill battle establishing the “intent to deprive” requirement. A recent decision from the District Court for the District of Arizona provides an example of the type of circumstantial evidence – including the timing of the spoliation at issue – a moving party can rely on to potentially support the imposition of severe sanctions. In Federal Trade Commission v. Noland, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was investigating defendant Noland and his business, Success By Health (“SBH”), for allegedly “operat[ing] as an illegal pyramid scheme” and making false statements to SBH’s affiliates. In May 2019, Noland inadvertently discovered the FTC’s investigation and, when the FTC realized Noland found out about the investigation, the FTC advised SBH and Noland to preserve relevant documents. The day after...

Buckle Up: Facebook and Instagram Seek Extreme Sanctions in Trademark Litigation Following Extensive Spoliation

In a recently filed motion in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, plaintiffs Facebook, Inc. and Instagram, LLC (collectively, “the plaintiffs”) requested terminating sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 in a trademark infringement and cybersquatting litigation against a domain registrar, based on the registrar’s destruction of over 11 million records. The motion relies heavily on a Special Master’s detailed report, which outlines egregious discovery abuses, including “ample evidence that Defendants failed to preserve responsive ESI, deleted ESI and withheld ESI.” In the motion, the plaintiffs requested a default judgment in the amount of $3.5 million ($100,000 for each of the 35 infringing domain names registered by defendant ID Shield), attorneys’ fees in the amount of $2,057,782.17, costs of the action, costs of the Special Master in the amount of $88,937, and a permanent injunction. As background, the plaintiffs sued the defendants for cybersquatting pursuant to the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and dilution. Numerous discovery disputes arose in the litigation, including motion practice after the defendants: (1) failed to produce documents with proper metadata; (2) designated public documents as “confidential”; and (3) did not deduplicate hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. The plaintiffs subsequently requested the appointment of a Special Master...

Clearing the Bar: SDNY Reminds Litigants of High Standard for Imposing Sanctions Under Rule 37(e)(2)

A recent decision out of the Southern District of New York once again illustrates the risk of sanctions under several sections of Fed. R. Civ. P. (“Rule”) 37 for spoliation of evidence and discovery misconduct, as well as the high burden a party must satisfy when seeking sanctions under Rule 37(e)(2). In Bursztein v. Best Buy Stores, L.P., despite finding that defendant flouted discovery obligations, failed to communicate promptly with its adversary, and raised baseless objections throughout discovery, the Court declined to impose sanctions under Rule 37(e)(2), though it did award sanctions – both monetary and in the form of evidence submission to the jury – under Rule 37(e)(1).

“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...

Getting Your Ducks in a Row: Court Stresses High Evidentiary Threshold for Rule 37 Sanctions and Cautions Against Precipitous Motions

A recent case out of the Middle District of Florida illustrates the importance for parties contemplating motions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 to first understand the high threshold required for the court to grant their motions and impose sanctions. Examining a barrage of sanction motions, the court highlighted that a party needs to present a strong factual record when seeking charges of spoliation, as it takes more than simple allegations of destruction or non-retention of evidence to find sanctions appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37. Further, the decision provides a clear-cut example of unnecessary costs incurred and wasted judicial resources resulting from the failure of the parties to cooperate throughout the discovery process. As discussed below, while a number of the parties in the litigation entered into an electronically stored information (ESI) protocol, it appears that many of the discovery disputes could have been avoided if certain key areas, including the temporal scope of the documents to be produced, were addressed in that protocol. In Centennial Bank v. ServisFirst Bank, Inc., several former employees allegedly violated non-compete provisions of their employment agreements with the plaintiff, Centennial Bank (“Centennial”), when they left to work for the defendant, ServisFirst Bank. Beginning in 2016, the protracted discovery in this litigation involved countless disputes ranging from the...

Motion for Sanctions Sunk: The Southern District of Florida Refuses to Impose Rule 37(e) Sanctions Where Carnival Was Not on Notice of Potential Relevance of CCTV Footage From Passenger’s Slip and Fall

In Easterwood v. Carnival Corporation, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant, Carnival Corporation, for personal injuries she sustained after she slipped and fell while onboard the defendant’s cruise ship. The plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions, arguing that the defendant spoliated critical evidence – closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of another passenger on the defendant’s cruise ship who had fallen an hour before in the same spot as the plaintiff did. The plaintiff requested that an adverse inference be drawn against the defendant. The defendant submitted the declaration of a company representative stating that, because the other passenger’s incident involved a minor injury, the defendant did not preserve the CCTV footage of the incident, as it had no reason to anticipate litigation would ensue from that incident and such footage was automatically overwritten after 14 days. In determining whether to impose spoliation sanctions pursuant to Rule 37(e), the Southern District Court of Florida analyzed whether the CCTV footage (1) constitutes electronically stored information (ESI); (2) should have been preserved in anticipation of litigation; (3) was lost because the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it; and (4) cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery. While we have previously blogged on the question of whether a court may impose sanctions pursuant to the...

“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,...

Opening Pandora’s Box: A Preliminary Showing of Spoliation May Result in the Compelled Production of a Litigation Hold Notice

In Radiation Oncology Servs. of Cent. N.Y., P.C. v. Our Lady of Lourdes Mem’l Hosp., Inc., the New York Supreme Court reminded litigants that while litigation holds are generally protected by the attorney-client privilege or under the attorney work product doctrine, a preliminary showing of spoliation of evidence may compel the production of an offending party’s litigation hold documentation. In this litigation involving clinical privileges related to an exclusive radiation oncology services agreement, the plaintiffs identified seven specific instances of spoliation by the defendants. These included certain emails that the defendants produced in hard copy form, but for which they were unable to produce the corresponding electronic version and the related metadata – which the court seemed to globally refer to as the “electronically stored information,” or ESI, relating to the emails – because they had been deleted. The plaintiffs successfully argued that the failure to produce the ESI constituted spoliation because it deprived them of the ability to understand whether there were follow-up discussions with other individuals about the content of the communications, including those who may have been copied on the communications or follow-up emails. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to compel the production of the defendants’ litigation hold notice because it found that the permanent deletion of the ESI “potentially deprived...

The Destruction of a “Startling Amount of Discovery”: District Court Imposes Severe, Case-Ending Sanctions Pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2)

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington recently entered a default judgment order of terminating sanctions against defendants pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2), as a result of defendants’ wholesale destruction of a “startling amount of discovery” as part of defendants’ adoption of a document disposition program during the course of the litigation. The district court found that the defendants “purposefully destroyed” relevant electronically stored information (ESI) “to avoid their litigation obligations.” This decision highlights the importance of extreme caution in the adoption of a document disposition or information governance program, which necessarily eliminates typically large quantities of ESI, during the time period when the duty to preserve relevant ESI has been triggered. In Moreno v. Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc., plaintiffs filed constitutional claims against defendants–providers of healthcare services to inmates–after plaintiffs’ eighteen-year-old son died while in defendants’ custody. In January 2018, prior to filing the lawsuit, plaintiffs sent a letter to defendants notifying defendants of their plan to file a lawsuit and advising defendants to “preserve all paper and electronic records that may be relevant to our clients’ claims” including “all e-mails and other electronic and paper records regardless of where they are maintained.” Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in October 2018 and, in December 2018, served discovery requests on defendants, seeking certain categories...