eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Defendant Sanctioned for Abandonment and Sale of Server; Defendants' Counsel Unaware of Spoliation

An Illinois District Court ordered heavy sanctions against the defense for spoliation “willfully and in bad faith” of documents stored on a server, in a case revolving around damages sought for breach of loan agreements.

In United Cent. Bank v. Kanan Fashions, Inc., No. 10 C 331, 2011 WL 4396856 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2011), the defendants were found to have hidden and sold (or fabricated the sale of) a server which was subject to discovery. The defendants also misled their own counsel about their discovery procedures with regard to its preservation obligations and the sale of this crucial server. Accordingly, a magistrate judge ruled in favor of sanctions against the defendants based almost entirely on recommendations made in United Cent. Bank v. Kanan Fashions, Inc., No. 10 CV 331, 2011 WL 4396912 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 31, 2011):

  • Although the defendants’ counsel reminded them several times of their obligation to preserve evidence, and the defendants claimed at all times that they were taking the necessary steps to ensure a smooth and correct discovery process, they misled their own attorneys. In fact, the defendants proceeded to sell a server that contained information relevant to the suit.
  • The circumstances associated with the sale were extensive, involving the defendants defaulting on a loan on the warehouse in which the server was stored. When they made plans for foreclosure on the warehouse, they also made arrangements that the bank would purchase the lease on the server, originally held by a different lender, without informing their defense lawyers.
  • When defense counsel learned of the foreclosure and these arrangements, the defendants maintained that they could get access to the server as needed for discovery.
  • Several months later, the court ordered the defendants to retrieve either the server or a forensic copy of its contents for discovery. It was only a few days later that the defendants informed their counsel and the court that the server had been sold by the bank to a business in Dubai.
  • All of the above took place after the defendants had been repeatedly informed of the need to preserve evidence for discovery, and of their obligations with regard to ESI.
  • The circumstances of the sale of the server were so unusual that the court concluded that the defendants had, themselves, had a hand in the sale of the server to Dubai and the removal of the server from the court’s reach.
  • The magistrate judge found that defendants were solely responsible for the spoliation, having deliberately misled the court, the plaintiffs, and the defendant’s own counsel.
  • Defendants were ordered to pay sanctions that include reimbursement of the plaintiff for all costs related to the Motion for Sanctions. Defendants are also “barred from introducing any evidence regarding the data on the warehouse server”. The jury is to be “informed of the Defendants’ abandoning of the server” and instructed that the spoliation of the server “may be considered evidence that the server contained evidence unfavorable to Defendants’ position.”
  • The plaintiff’s request for sanctions against the defense counsel was dismissed by the magistrate judge.

So, what do you think? Have you ever been involved in a case where a similar instance of spoliation took place? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.