eDiscovery Daily Blog
No Proof of Intent to Deprive Means No Adverse Inference Sanction: eDiscovery Case Law
We’re catching up on a few cases from earlier this year in preparation for our Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for First Half of 2019 webcast next Wednesday. Here is an interesting case ruling from April.
In DriveTime Car Sales Company, LLC v. Pettigrew, No.: 2:17-cv-371 (S.D. Ohio Apr. 18, 2019), Judge George C. Smith granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions against defendant Pauley Motor, denying the plaintiff’s request for an adverse inference sanction by ruling that “DriveTime has not sufficiently demonstrated that Pauley Motor acted with the requisite intent” when Bruce Pauley failed to take reasonable steps to preserve text messages when he switched to a different phone. Judge Smith did “order curative measures under Rule 37(e)(1)”, allowing the plaintiff to “introduce evidence at trial, if it wishes, of the litigation hold letter and Pauley Motor’s subsequent failure to preserve the text messages.”
In this case where the plaintiff alleged the defendants were conspiring to purchase vehicles at above market rates from Pauley Motor, the plaintiff filed a motion for spoliation sanctions against Pauley Motor. During discovery, Pauley Motor first stated in its interrogatory responses that no text messages between Pauley Motor representatives and defendant Pettigrew existed. However, in his 30(b)(6) deposition, Bruce Pauley stated that he had exchanged text messages with Pettigrew, but he was ultimately unable to produce the content of the text messages because he had obtained a new phone and had not preserved the contents of his previous phone, despite being put on notice to do so in November of 2016 by a litigation hold letter issued by the plaintiff’s counsel. As a result, the plaintiff requested that the Court impose a mandatory adverse inference that the content of the text messages was unfavorable to Pauley Motor.
In considering the motion, Judge Smith stated that “Pauley Motor does not dispute that it had an obligation to preserve text messages between its representatives and Pettigrew or that it failed to take reasonable steps to preserve them…DriveTime has also established that the text messages cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, because neither Pettigrew nor the wireless carriers for Pauley Motor’s representatives have access to them either…Thus, in order to obtain the mandatory adverse inference it seeks under Rule 37(e)(2), the only additional requirement under the Rule is that Pauley Motor acted with the intent to deprive DriveTime of the text messages’ use in the litigation when it failed to preserve them.”
However, Judge Smith also said: “Although Bruce Pauley failed to take reasonable steps to preserve the text messages when he switched to a different phone, there is no evidence that he did so intentionally beyond DriveTime’s speculation. This is not sufficient to impose a mandatory adverse inference under Rule 37(e)(2).” As a result, Judge Smith found that “DriveTime has not sufficiently demonstrated that Pauley Motor acted with the requisite intent.”
But, Judge Smith noted that “less severe sanctions are available to DriveTime under Rule 37(e)(1) upon a finding of prejudice.” As a result, he stated that “the Court will order curative measures under Rule 37(e)(1)… In this case, the Court finds it appropriate to order that DriveTime will be permitted to introduce evidence at trial, if it wishes, of the litigation hold letter and Pauley Motor’s subsequent failure to preserve the text messages. DriveTime may argue for whatever inference it hopes the jury will draw. Pauley Motor may present its own admissible evidence and argue to the jury that they should not draw any inference from Pauley Motor’s conduct.”
So, what do you think? Did the judge go far enough or should the failure to preserve the evidence have been considered intent to deprive? 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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