eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Court Orders Sanctions in Response to "Callous and Careless Attitude" of Defendant in Discovery

A Special Master determined that multiple discovery failures on the part of the defendant in an indemnity action were due to discovery procedures “wholly devoid of competence, yet only once motivated by guile”. Accordingly, the court ordered sanctions against the defendant and also ordered the defendant to pay all costs associated with its discovery failures, including plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs.

The defendant’s discovery efforts in PIC Group, Inc. v. LandCoast Insulation, Inc., No. 1:09-CV-662-KS-MTP, 2011 WL 2669144 (S.D. Miss. July 7, 2011) resulted in several discovery failures, including spoliation of data, mostly through carelessness and incompetence:

  • After consideration of the computer forensics experts recommended by the parties in this case, the court rejected all seven recommendations and appointed its own Special Master (Craig Ball, a previous thought leader interviewee on eDiscovery Daily) to conduct an investigation into the indemnity case, which would revolve around the collapse of scaffolding erected by the defendant.
  • The defendant’s efforts resulted in multiple discovery failures, including: 1) failure to impose “any corporate policy, procedure, or concerted effort [to] preserve electronic data”; 2) no effort to preserve or collect ESI until it was too late to protect the relevant data; 3) the theft of an employee’s laptop and subsequent loss of the backup of that hard drive; and 4) the erasure of another computer containing relevant ESI sometime two or three months after the collapse of the scaffolding at issue in this lawsuit.
  • As a result, the Special Master recommended sanctions against the defendant for its “callous and careless attitude” and sloppy measures taken in the course of discovery.
  • In response to these proposed sanctions, the defendant argued that none of its failures in the course of discovery were due to bad faith, and demonstrated that the plaintiff suffered only minimal prejudice.
  • Although the Special Master determined that the discovery failures were caused by a lack of caution while collecting and preserving evidence, rather than willful intent to alter discovery, he still recommended, and the court ordered, sanctions against the defendant.
  • Accordingly, the defendant was ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees and expenses accrued as a result of the defendant’s discovery failures, as well as pay the Special Master’s fees and expenses.  The defendant was also compelled to produce an image of the laptop that had been erased (from imaging conducted after the erasure) and the court reopened discovery in this case.  The court declined the Special Master’s recommendation for additional monetary sanctions ($50,000), though it did adopt his recommendation that the defendant “shall not seek indemnification or reimbursement from their insurance company” to pay the assessed fees.

So, what do you think? Were these sanctions merited, or should there be clear intent to deceive for such sanctions to be awarded? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.