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Judge Recommends Default Judgment Sanctions Against Defendants, Even Though Some Deleted Files Were Recoverable: eDiscovery Case Law

In Malibu Media, LLC v. Tashiro, Case No. 13-cv-00205 -WTL-MJD (S.D. Ind. May 18, 2015), Indiana Magistrate Judge Mark J. Dinsmore issued a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions, recommending that the Court grant the plaintiff’s motion against the defendants for spoliation of evidence and perjury and enter default judgment against the defendants.

Case Background

In 2013, the plaintiff retained a German company to investigate whether certain internet users were infringing plaintiff’s copyrights by uploading and/or downloading its copyrighted adult movies via a BitTorrent client and, after monitoring the BitTorrent file distribution network, the provider identified certain IP addresses that were being used to distribute Plaintiff’s copyrighted movies.  The plaintiff initially filed suit against an unidentified defendant, but amended the complaint to name the defendants after the plaintiff subpoenaed the alleged infringer’s ISP.

During discovery, one of the defendants agreed to provide her computer hard drives for forensic imaging.  The plaintiff’s expert examined each of the images of the hard drives for evidence of BitTorrent use, finding evidence on one drive that the “hard drive was repeatedly used to download BitTorrent files and also had BitTorrent software installed on the hard drive.”  He also determined that numerous files and folders associated with BitTorrent use had been deleted the night before the drive was turned over for imaging.  In addition, the expert determined that three additional drives had been connected to the defendant’s laptop computer, but had not been turned over for imaging.  As a result, the plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions alleging spoliation of evidence and perjury in the form of misrepresentations by defendants at their depositions and in their responses to various discovery requests.  The defendants argued that because the files were recoverable, spoliation had not occurred, but the contention that all the deleted files were recoverable was disputed by the plaintiff.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the recoverability of the files, Judge Dinsmore stated “Based on the relative credentials of the parties’ experts, the Court concludes that Patrick Paige’s testimony is more accurate and more credible. As such, the Court finds it highly likely that thousands of files were deleted and were unrecoverable. This confirms that Defendant Charles did not temporarily delete relevant evidence; instead, he permanently destroyed that evidence. As a result, Charles is liable for spoliation.”  He also noted that “even if the files that Charles deleted had been recoverable, this would not absolve Charles of liability” as the metadata associated with those recovered files would have been altered, which “would impede Plaintiff’s use of those files in proving its underlying claim of copyright infringement”.

As for the perjury claim, while finding some of the defendants’ answers not to constitute perjury, Judge Dinsmore failed to reach that conclusion regarding at least one of the drives that the defendant failed to disclose.  He stated that “At best, her omission of the XPS 600 from her discovery responses resulted from an egregious failure to reasonably investigate whether her interrogatory answers were complete. At worst, her failure to include the XPS 600 was a knowing and intentional omission that indicates that she did in fact commit perjury.”

Finding that “a sanction short of default would not appropriately address the goals of deterrence and punishment”, Judge Dinsmore recommended that the Court grant the plaintiff’s motion against the defendants for spoliation of evidence and perjury and enter default judgment against the defendants.

So, what do you think?  Was the recommendation of severe sanctions appropriate in this case?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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