Plaintiff’s Claims Alleging Conspiracy To Spoliate ESI Insufficient To Give Rise To Cause Of Action For Violation of Constitutional Rights
Van Buren v. Crawford County et. al., Case No. 13-14565 (E.D. Mich., Apr. 13, 2017) is a lawsuit alleging excessive force lawsuit filed by Plaintiff, the personal representative for the estate of William Reddie against Defendants Crawford County Sheriff’s Department, the City of Grayling, the City of Grayling Police Department, and police officers involved in the subject incident. In connection with a Child Protection Services Order, Grayling Police Department officers shot and killed Reddie while trying to remove his child from the home. Although summary judgment was conditionally granted in favor of Defendants, it was not entered pending the outcome of Plaintiff’s spoliation sanctions motion (discussed previously in this blog). The spoliation sanctions motion was granted prior to trial, at which time the court ordered an adverse inference instruction against some of the Defendants for deliberate destruction of the dash cam recording from one of the officers’ cars. Therefore, the police department and one of the officers had the burden of proving to the jury that the missing recordings would not have favored Plaintiff’s decedent. Based upon legal insufficiency related to the excessive force cause of action, the court dismissed the City of Grayling and the County of Crawford. Both parties filed appeals to the Sixth Circuit. In connection therewith, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint to add new individual parties, and Defendants filed a motion to stay trial pending the appeals.
Plaintiff’s Motion sought to add as defendants the City of Grayling Police Department Police Chief as well as the Crawford County Sheriff, alleging conspiracy and violation of constitutional rights based upon the spoliation claims. Specifically, the proposed amended complaint added allegations related to the spoliation of the dash cam recordings, stating that the individual defendants destroyed the SD card and computer files to defeat potential future lawsuits. Regarding the conspiracy claims, Plaintiff contended that there existed a plan to destroy the evidence, and that the overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy was the destruction of the SD card, computer files, recording systems and police vehicles.
The court held that Plaintiff did not adequately plead conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, because she did not specify which constitutional rights were violated as a civil litigant. The court could not find any law providing that spoliation of evidence in a civil case implicates a constitutional right. The court denied the Motion to Amend and also denied Defendants’ motion and set a trial date.