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Defendant Sanctioned for Loss of Emails During Provider Switch, But No Sanction For Wiped Hard Drive: eDiscovery Case Law

In Core Laboratories LP v. Spectrum Tracer Services, LLC et. al., No. 11-1157 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 7, 2016), Oklahoma District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange granted the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for emails that were not preserved during an email provider switch via an adverse inference instruction, but denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for deleting files and for wiping the computer of one of its employees.

Case Background

The plaintiff contended that the defendants had a duty to preserve evidence in the wake of and after this litigation commenced, and identified three instances where it contended that defendants intentionally destroyed relevant evidence in this matter, including (1) lost emails relating to correspondence between the defendant and a third party (2) deleting computer files from one defendant employee’s hard drive; and (3) wiping files from another employee’s computer. The defendants contended that the plaintiff had not identified any relevant evidence that has been lost nor could it identify any prejudice it suffered by defendants’ actions.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Miles-LaGrange began by looking at the recently amended FRCP 37, noting that, in Rule 37(e), spoliation sanctions are only proper when the accused party had a duty to preserve because it knew or should have known that litigation was imminent and if the adverse party was prejudiced.

With regard to the loss of emails between the defendant and a third party, Judge Miles-LaGrange ruled that “Core has shown it was prejudiced by not having access to Spectrum’s emails prior to June 2011. Specifically, the Court finds that this litigation was initiated on March 11, 2011, and Brown testified that relatively quickly after this lawsuit was filed, Spectrum took steps to change its email service provider to ensure every Spectrum email was captured to comply with the requirements of this lawsuit. While Brown testified that Spectrum’s previous email service provider did not have the capability to capture archive emails, the Court finds it was not unreasonable for Spectrum to have taken steps to ensure that any emails prior to switching over to its new email service provider were saved. The Court infers that because all emails prior to June 2011 were lost, emails regarding the formation of Spectrum and the manufacturing of its tracing systems would have been lost too. Since Faurot has confirmed that TPM used one of Core’s pumps as a prototype to produce Spectrum’s pumps, the Court finds that the lack of information available because of Spectrum’s email loss is prejudicial to Core.”

Judge Miles-LaGrange determined that an appropriate sanction would be an adverse inference jury instruction presuming any potential communications that were lost due to the defendant changing its email service provider would have been unfavorable to the defendant.

With regard to the deleted files from one employee’s computer, Judge Miles-LaGrange found “that defendants admitted that Morrison’s personal files were deleted from the hard drive and, further, the hard drive was turned over to Core and has been the subject of an ongoing forensic analysis, during this litigation, to recover all of Core’s proprietary software from the hard drive”.  With regard to the wiped hard drive of another employee, because the defendant testified that anything needed to be kept from his computer was exported to an external hard drive prior to the computer being wiped, Judge Miles LaGrange found the plaintiff suffered no prejudice as a result of this action ether and denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for the deleted files and wiped drive.

So, what do you think?  Should the defendants have been sanctioned for the deleted files and the wiped drive?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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