eDiscovery Daily Blog

Not Preserving Texts Results in Adverse Inference Sanctions for Plaintiff: eDiscovery Case Law

In NuVasive, Inc. v. Madsen Med., Inc., No. 13cv2077 BTM(RBB) (S.D. Cal. July 22, 2015), California Chief District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz granted the defendants’ motion for adverse inference sanctions for failure to preserve text messages from four custodial employees that were key to the case.

Case Background

In this contractual dispute, the defendants sought sanctions in the form of an adverse inference jury instruction for the plaintiff’s failure to preserve evidence, specifically, text messages from four employees.  The defendants contended that these text messages could have been evidence of secret coordination between the plaintiff and former employees of the defendants to effect the termination of the defendants’ contractual relationship with the plaintiff and then have the plaintiff hire the defendants’ sales personnel as its own employees.

With regard to the four employees, each had a different level of failure to preserve the text messages.  One former employee turned over his current phone for imaging instead of the phone used during the relevant time period, which he wiped clean before turning it over to his son. A second employee was not asked to turn in his phone until 2014 (after being notified of a litigation hold in August 2012 and again in September 2013) and when he did, all text messages prior to September 20, 2012 were missing (which the plaintiff attributed to an iPhone iOS 6 software update released on September 19, 2012). The third employee had his phone wiped when he turned it in for an upgrade on two separate occasions, pursuant to company policy.  The fourth employee did not provide the phone he used in 2012 until sometime in 2013 and testified that he may have deleted some relevant messages.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Moskowitz stated that “In light of all of the text messages that were lost or deleted, the Court concludes that NuVasive was at fault for not enforcing compliance with the litigation hold. Although it is true that Defendants should have taken steps to preserve the text messages of Orlando and Kordonowy while they were still working for MMI, NuVasive still had a duty to preserve the evidence and failed to do so.”

Rejecting the plaintiff’s claims that the defendants had obtained most of the deleted/lost text messages through other individuals, Judge Moskowitz also found that “Defendants have made a sufficient showing of prejudice”, noting from other texts that the defendants provided that it could “reasonably be inferred from these texts, viewed together with other evidence, that the MMI sales representatives were talking to NuVasive about plans to terminate MMI and have the sales representatives work directly for NuVasive. Accordingly, texts during the relevant time period to or from Moore, Kordonowy, Graubart, and Orlando might have furthered MMI’s claims.”

As a result, Judge Moskowitz found that “a properly tailored adverse inference instruction is appropriate and will not cause ‘substantial unfairness’ to NuVasive” and decided to give the following instruction:

“NuVasive has failed to prevent the destruction of evidence for MMI’s and Ms. Madsen’s use in this litigation after its duty to preserve the evidence arose. After considering all of the pertinent facts and circumstances, you may, but are not obligated to, infer that the evidence destroyed was favorable to MMI and unfavorable to NuVasive.”

Judge Moskowitz denied the defendants’ request for attorney’s fees and costs “because Defendants were also partially at fault for not taking steps to preserve text messages of Kordonowy and Orlando while they were still working for MMI.”

So, what do you think?  Was the sanction appropriate for 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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