eDiscovery Daily Blog

Florida Appeals Court Upholds Ruling that Non-Party Had No Duty to Preserve Evidence: eDiscovery Case Law

In Shamrock-Shamrock, Inc. v. Remark, No. 5D18-1987 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Apr. 26, 2019), the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District affirmed the summary final judgment in favor of the Appellee, holding that Florida law does not impose a duty on nonparties to litigation to preserve evidence based solely on the foreseeability of litigation.

Case Background

In the case originally involving the Appellant’s suit against the City of Daytona Beach over zoning, the Appellee was never a party to the Appellant’s action against the City, but the Appellant’s operative complaint contained two references to the Appellee in its general allegations.  During the case, the Appellant sought to take the Appellee’s deposition and served several notices of deposition and subpoenas on the Appellee, beginning in May 2011 and ending ten months later with a sixth amended notice of taking deposition in March 2012, which was the only one that included a duces tecum request for documents to be produced at the deposition.

The Appellee’s deposition was taken in April 2012, where she testified that she had obtained a new desktop computer and had destroyed her old computer in December 2011. She did not preserve any records, documents, or emails from her old computer and did not inform anybody, including the City Attorney, that she was destroying it. Her testimony established that she destroyed her old computer after receiving the first deposition notice but before receiving the sixth amended deposition notice that for the first time included a duces tecum request.

The Appellant then filed a two-count complaint against the Appellee, alleging that she either intentionally destroyed her old computer or “negligently destroyed [it] in bad faith.” In that case, the Appellee and the Appellant filed competing motions for summary judgment regarding whether the Appellee had a duty to preserve her computer or its contents.  The Appellant argued, citing League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner, 172 So. 3d 363 (Fla. 2015), that the Appellee therefore had a duty to preserve evidence based on the foreseeability of litigation, but the trial court denied the Appellant’s summary judgment motion and granted the Appellee’s. It found that there was no genuine issue of fact that the Appellee had no statutory or contractual duty to preserve evidence; thus, the Appellant had to rely on a duty imposed by a discovery request.

Judge’s Ruling

In the opinion authored by J. Sasso, the court, after considering several cases cited by the Appellant, concluded that “no Florida court has yet recognized a common law duty for third-party preservation of evidence based on the knowledge or foreseeability of litigation”.  As a result, the court stated:

“In this case, there was no statute, contract, or discovery request that would impose a clearly defined duty on Remark to preserve any potentially relevant evidence. Thus, a duty would arise only through Remark’s purported knowledge of Shamrock’s pending litigation and her anticipation that something in her control could potentially be of use to that litigation. As such, Shamrock would like us to announce that Remark owed a duty to it based on the foreseeability of litigation. Considering the traditional approach to defining legal duty, we decline to do so. Indeed, such a broad pronouncement would be tantamount to declaring a general legal duty on any nonparty witness to anticipate the needs of others’ lawsuits. There are innumerable circumstances in which a nonparty to litigation may have evidence relevant to a case and may know of its relevance. But that knowledge, by itself, should not give rise to a duty to safeguard the evidence in anticipation of litigation…While we do not speculate as to every circumstance under which a third party to litigation may have a legal duty to preserve evidence, we hold that the trial court properly determined here that Remark did not owe a legal duty to Shamrock. The summary judgment in favor of Remark is affirmed.”

So, what do you think?  Would the decision be different in other jurisdictions?  Should it be different?  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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