eDiscovery Daily Blog

Duty to Preserve Triggered When Litigation is "Imminent", Not "Reasonably Foreseeable" – eDiscovery Case Law


In the case In re Pradaxa (Dabigatran Etexilate) Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2385,3:12-md-02385-DRH-SCW (S.D. Ill. Sept. 25, 2013), Chief District Judge David R. Herndon ruled that at least in the Seventh Circuit, the duty to preserve is triggered not when litigation is “reasonably foreseeable” but when “a litigant knew or should have known that litigation was imminent.”

In this multidistrict pharmaceutical litigation, the plaintiffs’ steering committee (PSC) sought the production of documents from a drug company’s former employee. The company claimed it deleted the documents under its records retention policy no later than November 2011, before the first lawsuit was filed in this matter. It claimed its duty to preserve did not arise until it knew that litigation was “imminent” in February 2012, when it received the first demand letter from a plaintiff.

The PSC contended that the company’s duty to preserve arose earlier and filed a motion for sanctions. After the court held a hearing on the motion, the drug company’s counsel worked with the custodian and located 40 personal e-mails from his personal e-mail account sent after he left the company that mentioned Pradaxa, the drug in question. The PSC complained that the company’s production was deficient: it wanted the company to produce more than documents that just “referenced” Pradaxa and also complained that the production was inconsistent with the custodian’s declaration that he did not have any Pradaxa-related documents in his possession. The company then asked an outside vendor to review 200 disaster recovery tapes to determine whether it could recover the custodian’s documents.

The PSC filed a motion to compel the custodial file and asked the court for “other relief that the Court deems appropriate” if it found that the file had been destroyed. It claimed the company’s “duty to preserve arose as soon as [it] had reason to anticipate pending litigation and that imminence is not required.” Here, the PSC argued that the company’s duty was triggered because of other litigation stemming from the Pradaxa clinical trials, adverse event reports, and “internet chatter” on the websites of plaintiffs’ law firms.

Judge Herndon agreed with the company and found its duty to preserve did not arise until February 2012 when it received the demand letter and “knew or should have known that litigation was imminent.” Because there was no duty, sanctions were not appropriate. Moreover, even if the duty had arisen before the file was destroyed, the PSC had not shown the company destroyed the file in bad faith and was thus not entitled to a spoliation inference. Instead, it had followed its records retention policy.

So, what do you think?  Should the request for sanctions have been granted?   Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Summary Source: Applied Discovery (free subscription required).  For eDiscovery news and best practices, check out the Applied Discovery Blog here.

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