eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Finds Plaintiffs’ Sanction Request To Be Too Late and Too Little: eDiscovery Case Law

Tom O’Connor and I had a great webcast yesterday regarding Important eDiscovery Case Law Decisions of 2019 and Their Impact on 2020, with plenty of interaction from the audience in the form of great questions and additional information!  So, how do we follow that up?  By continuing to build on this year’s case law collection.  :o)

In Nguyen v. Costco Wholesale Corp., No. 9:19-cv-80393 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 27, 2020), Florida Magistrate Judge William Matthewman denied the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions for alleged spoliation of a video that the plaintiffs claimed showed an alleged slip-and-fall by plaintiff Chi Nguyen, finding that the defendant “did not have an affirmative duty to preserve the allegedly spoliated video” for a nearly two year period from the date of the fall to the date of the filing of the lawsuit and that the plaintiffs “fail to cite to a shred of evidence in support” in support of the claim that the video showed the slip and fall.

Case Background

In this case, the plaintiffs had previously filed a motion to compel the defendant to produce two photos taken by one of its employees as well as in-store surveillance videos that the defendant had claimed work-product privilege over and listed on its privilege log.  The defendant failed to timely respond to the plaintiffs’ motion, and the Court ordered the defendant to show cause as to why the motion should not be granted, to which the defendant responded that it had inadvertently failed to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion and that its “intent was always” to produce the video and photographs that the plaintiffs requested. Ultimately, the plaintiffs decided their Motion to Compel was moot and the Court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to compel accordingly.

However, the plaintiffs contended that the defendant never produced the “video showing the area” where plaintiff Chi Nguyen allegedly slipped and fell, arguing that the defendant improperly erased the video, resulting in “extreme irreversible prejudice” to the plaintiffs.  The defendant maintained that “there is no such video because no cameras in the store show this area” and that the plaintiffs never made a written request to preserve video information and thus it “had no duty to preserve any videos at all, much less video from a distant camera that did not capture the accident[.]”  The defendant produced affidavits in support of its position, but the plaintiffs produced no such affidavit or other evidence.

Judge’s Ruling

In considering the plaintiffs’ motion, Judge Matthewman observed: “Plaintiff Chi Nguyen originally brought her suit against Defendant in Florida state court on January 17, 2019…Her alleged slip-and-fall occurred on January 25, 2017, nearly two years prior to the filing of the Complaint.”  As a result, he ruled that “Defendant did not have an affirmative duty to preserve the allegedly spoliated video from the date of the fall (January 25, 2017) to the date of the filing of this lawsuit (January 17, 2019), a period of nearly two years after Plaintiff Chi Nguyen’s alleged slip-and-fall. Plaintiffs have provided no evidence that Defendant was given notice prior to the filing of this suit that Plaintiffs intended to file an action against it related to the alleged slip-and-fall. Moreover, merely because Plaintiff Chi Nguyen fell at Defendant’s store, absent additional facts, does not mean that Defendant reasonably anticipated litigation on the date of the alleged fall. No duty to preserve arose until after this lawsuit was served on Defendant. Without a duty to preserve the allegedly spoliated video, Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions necessarily fails.”

Judge Matthewman also stated in denying the plaintiffs’ motion: “Even assuming Defendant did have a duty to preserve the allegedly spoliated video (which it did not), sanctions would still not be warranted unless the allegedly spoliated ESI was lost because Defendant failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it”, finding that “Defendant did not fail to take reasonable steps to preserve the allegedly spoliated evidence because the video was not ‘unique, relevant evidence that might be useful to’ Plaintiffs.”

So, what do you think?  What should constitute “reasonable anticipation of litigation” in a slip and fall case?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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