eDiscovery Daily Blog

Company Should Have Preserved Personal eMails, But No Sanctions (Yet) – eDiscovery Case Law


In Puerto Rico Telephone Co. v. San Juan Cable LLC, No. 11-2135 (GAG/BJM), 2013 U.S. Dist. (D.P.R. Oct. 7, 2013), Puerto Rico Magistrate Judge Bruce J. McGiverin found that “plaintiff has proffered sufficient evidence to establish that [the defendant] OneLink failed to preserve relevant emails within its control”, but denied the plaintiff’s request for sanctions at this time because of the “absence of bad faith” on the defendant's part and the plaintiff's failure to demonstrate prejudice.

In this antitrust lawsuit, the plaintiff sued several defendants, including OneLink Communications, for attempting to block its entry into the cable television market.  The plaintiff contended that OneLink engaged in sanctionable spoliation of evidence by failing to preserve relevant emails from the personal email accounts of three former OneLink officers. Because of this failure, the plaintiff sought an adverse inference instruction at the summary judgment stage and at trial.

Judge McGiverin stated that “when seeking an adverse inference instruction, the proponent of the inference must provide sufficient evidence to ‘show that the party who destroyed the document `knew of (a) the claim (that is, the litigation or the potential for litigation), and (b) the document's potential relevance to that claim.’…Such an instruction usually is appropriate "only where the evidence permits a finding of bad faith destruction,"…but bad faith is not required where circumstances indicate an adverse inference instruction is otherwise warranted”.

Continuing, Judge McGiverin noted “Here, plaintiff has proffered sufficient evidence to establish that OneLink failed to preserve relevant emails within its control. While the emails at issue come from the personal email accounts of OneLink's former officers, these officers had used their personal email accounts to manage the company for as long as seven years…OneLink presumably knew its managing officers used their personal email accounts to engage in company business, and thus its duty to preserve extended to those personal email accounts.”

However, Judge McGiverin found the “plaintiff's request for sanctions problematic on multiple fronts”.  First, he found that OneLink had not acted in bad faith because it had issued a litigation hold notice to employees within one month of the filing of the lawsuit. He also found that any “prejudice suffered by PRTC is currently speculative” since only three email chains could not be located, these three chains were not potentially damaging to OneLink, and the plaintiff had been able to acquire those chains from other sources.

He noted that the “plaintiff may renew its motion for sanctions if circumstances so warrant” if “more information regarding the extent of spoliation” was discovered, but, at least for now, denied the plaintiff’s motion for adverse inference instruction.

So, what do you think?  Should sanctions be issued when a party fails to preserve personal email?   Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

eDiscovery Daily will take a break for the holidays and will return on Thursday, January 2, 2013. Happy Holidays from all of us at CloudNine Discovery and eDiscovery Daily!

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