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Court Declines to Answer Spoliation Question from Parties, Instead Discloses Instructions to Jury Regarding Spoliation

Posted on November 17th, 2017

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Learn more about ESI from reading our blog postsIn GN Netcom, Inc. v. Plantronics, Inc., C.A. No.1201318-LPS, (Dist. Ct. D. Del., 2017), the Court states that rather than respond to spoliation-related questions posed by Plaintiff GN Netcom, Inc. (“GN” or “Plaintiff”) and Defendant Plantronics, Inc. (“Plantronics” or “Defendant”), the Court has determined the jury instructions it will give regarding spoliation at the start of trial. The Court responded this way in part because Plantronics had previously admitted to intentional deletion of emails.

The jury instructions regarding spoliation at the start of the trial will include:

“The law requires that parties preserve relevant documents, including emails, when litigation is pending or contemplated. This is because, when one party sues another, each side has the right under the law to inspect or obtain production of internal documents and other evidence from the other party.

The destruction or material alteration of evidence or the failure to preserve documents or emails for another party’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation is referred to as “spoliation.”

In this case, it has been determined that Plantronics committed spoliation. It has also been determined that Plantronics’ spoliation was not accidental and that evidence relevant to this case may have been destroyed by Plantronics. As such, during this trial, you may hear questions and answers from the parties referencing missing or destroyed emails and Plantronics’ spoliation of evidence. While the exact contents of the spoliated evidence are unknown, you, the jury, will be permitted, but not required, to infer that the lost documents were relevant and favorable to GN’s case and/or harmful to Plantronics’ case.”

At the end of the trial, the jury instructions regarding the spoliation of evidence will include:

”Plantronics failed to preserve evidence after its duty to preserve arose. This failure to preserve is known as ‘spoliation of evidence.’ In other words, spoliation is the destruction or material alteration of evidence or the failure to preserve evidence for another’s use in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.

Based on Plantronics’ spoliation, you may, but are not required, to presume that the lost evidence would have been relevant and helpful to GN’s case and/or would have been harmful to Plantronics’ case. Alternatively, you may infer that the evidence not produced would merely have been duplicative of the evidence before you. In other words, your role is to determine whether Plantronics’ spoliation tilted the playing field against GN. If so, the permission given to you by the Court to infer that the missing documents would have been relevant and helpful to GN and/or harmful to Plantronics is designed to allow you to balance that playing field, should you feel it is necessary. It is up to you to decide the extent to which the lost evidence was relevant and helpful to GN and/or harmful to Plantronics. You must then decide how much weight and effect to give to your belief about spoliation in reaching your verdict.

The Court then outlined a sixteen-item list of stipulated facts, including the explanation of when Plantronics’ obligation to preserve evidence began, as well as when the intentional email deletion occurred. One stipulated fact is, “At least part of the motivation for the email deletion was to deprive GN of evidence to use in this litigation.”

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