eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Denies Request for Sanctions for Routine Deletion of Files of Departed Employees: eDiscovery Case Law

In Charvat et. al. v. Valente et. al., 12-5746 (N.D. Ill. July 1, 2015), Illinois Magistrate Judge Mary M. Rowland denied the plaintiff’s request for spoliation sanctions for the defendant’s admitted destruction of computer files belonging to two departed employees, finding that the plaintiff did not provide any evidence that the defendant acted in bad faith.

Case Background

In this case about consumer complaints regarding alleged improper telemarketing activities by a company affiliated with Carnival Corporation, the defendant investigated the allegations and produced most of the documents relating to its investigation.  However, the defendant withheld 14 documents as privileged, because they “relate specifically to legal advice sought by Carnival from outside counsel”.  Judge Rowland conducted an in camera review of the documents described on the Privilege Log and ruled that the defendant must produce two of the documents, but determined that “[a]ll other documents on the Privilege Log are protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine.”

The plaintiff also requested spoliation sanctions or instructions given the defendant’s admitted destruction of computer files belonging to two departed employees.  The defendant acknowledged deleting the computer files belonging to the two departed employees consistent with its routine business practices of deleting files 30 days following termination of employment. The two employees left in September and October 2011 and the defendant’s investigation into the consumer complaints concluded in July 2011, so the defendant asserted that “at the time of their respective departures from the company, Carnival had completed its investigation of RMG and did not anticipate any imminent litigation against the travel agency.”  The plaintiff countered by arguing that the defendant could not contend that certain documents authored by the two departed employees were “work product” created in “anticipation of litigation” while also asserting that it routinely deleted their computer files because it did not “anticipate any imminent litigation.”

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that “work product is exempt from mandatory disclosure regardless of the status of the anticipated litigation” and “work-product protection continues even after the prospect of anticipated litigation disappears”, Judge Rowland stated that “although Carnival was free to delete Morales’s and Hernandez’s files in September and October 2011 because there was no reasonably foreseeable litigation at that time, their emails prepared as part of the RMG investigation remain privileged.”  She also then stated that “[i]n any event, Plaintiff has not provided any evidence that Carnival acted in bad faith”, determining that “[t]here is no evidence that Carnival’s routine deletion of former employees’ files in accordance with an established document retention policy was done for the purpose of hiding adverse information.”  As a result, the plaintiff’s request for sanctions was denied.

So, what do you think?  Should the defendant have been able to delete the files of the departed employees?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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