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Denial of Motion for Spoliation Sanctions Leaves Plaintiff Less Than Glad: eDiscovery Case Law

In Gladue v. Saint Francis Medical Center, 1:13-CV-186-CEJ (E.D. Mo. Mar. 24, 2015), Missouri District Judge Carol E. Jackson denied the plaintiff’s motion for evidentiary and monetary sanctions due to spoliation of evidence, finding that the defendant did not have a duty to preserve emails deleted as part of routine IT operations, had diligently attempted to recover deleted emails and that the plaintiff failed to show that any of the unrecovered emails were relevant to her claims.

Case Background

In this employment case, the plaintiff’s employment was terminated in December 2011. As part of the defendant’s routine IT operations, the plaintiff’s email account was purged in March 2012. At that time, plaintiff had not filed either a lawsuit against the defendant or a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – the defendant was first contacted by the plaintiff’s then-attorney in June 2012 regarding the plaintiff’s employment discrimination claims.

On June 16, 2014, after this lawsuit was filed, the plaintiff submitted a request for production of all of her work emails and her calendar. Because her account had been purged, the defendant undertook several efforts to retrieve the emails, including conducting a search for all emails sent to or received from plaintiff in the accounts of every employee identified in the parties’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 disclosures. The defendant ultimately produced over 24,600 pages of emails and related documents to the plaintiff in two productions (nearly three months before the close of discovery), but acknowledged that there were no guarantees that every lost item was retrieved. The plaintiff filed a motion for evidentiary and monetary sanctions due to spoliation of evidence.

Judge’s Opinion

Finding that a “litigation hold was not required at the time plaintiff’s e-mails were deleted”, Judge Jackson ruled that the defendant “has shown that plaintiff’s e-mails were deleted as part of a routine maintenance procedure, rather than in bad faith. Moreover, defendant has diligently attempted to recover the missing documents.”

Judge Jackson also noted that the defendant produced documents to the plaintiff “nearly three months before the close of discovery and almost four months before the deadline for filing dispositive motions. Thus, as to the timing of the productions, no exceptional circumstances justify sanctions.” She also found that “plaintiff has failed to show that any of the unrecovered e-mails are relevant to her claims” and noted that “plaintiff is incorrect in her contention that defendant is at an advantage because it can use the undisclosed e-mails in this litigation” as “Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1) forbids defendant from using any document that has not been produced to plaintiff at summary judgment or trial.”

As a result, Judge Jackson ruled that “plaintiff is not prejudiced and no exceptional circumstances exist to justify sanctions” and denied her motion for sanctions.

So, what do you think? Did the plaintiff’s motion really ever stand a chance? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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