No Spoliation Where Documents Destroyed Per Document Retention Policy Before Litigation Hold
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania considered Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant had spoliated documents in Giuliani v. Springfield Township, et al., Civil Action No. 10-7518 (E.D.Penn. June 9, 2015).
Plaintiff owned land within the Defendant township and alleged that Defendant’s zoning decisions violated Plaintiff’s civil rights violations. The zoning dispute concluded in 2009, and Plaintiff filed the complaint in January 2011.
Defendants only produced 24 relevant emails from the requested 17 year scope of Plaintiff ESI requests. Defendants admitted that they no longer had any other records regarding the properties at issue, and stated that they had destroyed all documents in accordance with their document retention policy before Plaintiff had filed the complaint.
The court first determined when a duty to preserve evidence began. The court found the duty to preserve evidence in this case arose on January 7, 2011, when Plaintiff filed the complaint. In so concluding, the court accepted Defendants’ argument that because the zoning case closed in 2009, Defendants could not reasonably foresee that civil rights litigation out of a land development issue would arise.
The court then turned to whether the lack of emails and relevant documents after January 2011 would constitute spoliation. Under the Third Circuit, a party must establish bad faith in loss or destruction of evidence to constitute spoliation. The court held that Plaintiffs had not established any proof that Defendants failed to preserve emails or other documents relating to the properties, including board minutes. At most, the court held that Defendants’ actions could constitute negligence, but stated that mere negligence does not support a finding of spoliation of evidence in the Third Circuit.