eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Court Upholds Sanctions for Intentional Spoliation of Unallocated Space Data

The Supreme Court of Delaware recently upheld the sanctions against the defendant for wiping the unallocated space on his company’s computer system, despite a court order prohibiting such destruction.

In Genger v. TR Investors, LLC, No. 592,2010, 2011 WL 2802832 (Del. July 18, 2011), Arie Genger, CEO of Trans-Resources, Inc., argued that sanctions against him were unreasonable and made a motion for the court to overturn its previous decision regarding spoliation of discovery materials. Instead, after due process, the court upheld its earlier decision, as follows:

  • In TR Investors, LLC v. Genger, 2009 WL 4696062 (Del. Ch. Dec. 9, 2009), the defendant was found to have intentionally spoliated electronic discovery documents by instructing an IT consultant to wipe unallocated space on his company’s computers. This action was taken in contempt of court and in contravention of a Status Quo order directing all parties to prevent alteration or destruction of any company documents.
  • Genger was penalized with an order to produce 10 documents for discovery that had previously been considered privileged, the raising of the burden of persuasion with regard to his defense, a preclusion from his testimony being permitted as factual evidence, and several sanctions.
  • The sanctions included attorney’s fees and expenses related to the sanctions motions, which totaled roughly $3.2 million. At the time, this amount was agreed upon by all parties.
  • Following this 2009 order, the defendant appealed the sanctions, arguing that because the court’s Status Quo order did not explicitly refer to unallocated hard drive space, the obligation to preserve documents and discoverable materials found there became “an impossible burden… effectively requiring the company to refrain from using its computers entirely.”
  • On July 18, the court decided in favor of upholding the sanctions against Genger. The reasoning behind this decision revolved around the fact that Genger did not unknowingly delete discoverable documents in the normal course of using his company’s computers, but instead, deliberately set out to destroy information that was included in the court’s Status Quo order.
  • The court was clear in emphasizing that this decision is meant to apply only in such a situation, “where a party is found intentionally to have taken affirmative steps to destroy or conceal information to prevent its discovery at a time that party is under an affirmative obligation to preserve that information.”
  • The court also recommended that, in the future, parties be clear in discussing unallocated space on computer hard drives and in deciding to either include or exclude such space from preservation orders like this one.

So, what do you think? Have you been involved in any cases resulting in sanctions associated with deletion of unallocated space data? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.