eDiscovery Daily Blog

Judge Recommends Sanctions for Defendant Under FRCP 37(e)(1): eDiscovery Case Law

In Franklin v. Howard Brown Health Ctr., No. 17 C 8376 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 4, 2018), the Illinois Magistrate Judge, stating that “the defendant has had to concede that, at the very least, it bollixed its litigation hold – and it has done so to a staggering degree and at every turn”, recommended that the plaintiff’s motion for discovery sanctions be granted to the extent that the “parties be allowed to present evidence and argument to the jury regarding the defendant’s destruction/failure to preserve electronic evidence in this case”.

Case Background

In this case for workplace harassment and discrimination, this particular dispute began with the plaintiff’s document request, which required the defendant to produce emails and text messages exchanged between certain key parties involving the plaintiff.  The defendant referred plaintiff to a number of “emails” already produced, but the plaintiff was looking for “instant messages,” as this was the method the plaintiff alleged the individuals used to harass him, but the defendant produced only two of those, despite the fact that deposition testimony indicated that was the standard way employees communicated with one another and one of the key parties said he saved “instant messages” to his Outlook email folder (despite the defendant’s claims that they weren’t as a matter of course).

According to the plaintiff’s supervisor, the plaintiff specifically promised a lawsuit based on “racism, transphobia and sexism” among the staff as early as July 24, 2015, but the defendant’s attorney categorized that as a “vague threat”.  One of the plaintiff’s alleged harassers left the company a mere two days after that, but his computer was wiped within 7 days of his last day at work.  According to the defendant’s general counsel, the litigation hold was not instituted until August 28, 2015.  In the GC’s affidavit, she indicated that he instructed an IT administrator to remove the plaintiff’s computer from the wiping process, but apparently never followed up or looked at the computer (that IT administrator had also left the company and was also now suing the defendant) and that data was lost as well.  The defendant’s GC also never instructed anyone in the IT department to stop the auto-delete of any saved instant messages – as a result, “barely a handful” of them were produced.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that the “failure to preserve electronic evidence is covered by Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(e)”, the Magistrate Judge said that “In the end, given at least what appears to be the defendant’s gross negligence – and that’s viewing things favorably to the defendant – the best route is that proposed by the Advisory Committee in its notes to the 2015 amendment to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(e)(1), specifically, allowing the parties to present evidence to the jury regarding the situation that was caused by defendant’s faulty and failed litigation hold… Accordingly, it is recommended that parties be allowed to present evidence and argument to the jury regarding the defendant’s destruction/failure to preserve electronic evidence in this case, and that the jury be instructed as the trial judge deems appropriate.”

So, what do you think?  Is the recommendation an appropriate application of FRCP 37(e)(1)?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Also, it’s time for the Fall 2018 eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey on Rob Robinson’s Complex Discovery site.  This quarter’s survey is unique in the fact that it asks three additional questions beyond the standard nine business confidence questions asked during the previous eleven surveys. These new questions are focused on understanding operational business trajectories around the areas of days sales outstanding (DSO), monthly recurring revenue (MRR), and revenue distribution across customer bases.  The response period is between today and achievement of 66 responses or November 30, 2018 (whichever comes first).  66 is not a lot of responses, so you’ll want to get your response in quickly!  We’ll cover the results once they’re published.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.