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No Spoliation Sanctions Where Moving Party Offered No Proof of Intent

Posted on March 5th, 2018

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In Wooden v. Barringer, et al., No. 3:16-cv-446-MCR-GRJ, (N.D. Fla. Nov. 6, 2017), Gregory Wooden (“Plaintiff”) filed a grievance over excessive force against Officer Clyde Barringer (“Defendant”). Plaintiff filed a notice of intent to litigate on April 12, 2016.

Defendants produced three video recordings. Plaintiff claimed spoliation, saying the videos had been altered in such a way that they failed to show the alleged choking of the Plaintiff. Plaintiff also claimed that Defendant acted in bad faith to destroy the video recordings from other areas of the jail by not making certain the evidence was preserved in spite of a duty to do so. Plaintiff alleges that he is prejudiced by Defendant’s failure to preserve these recordings because the videos would have shown Plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiff seeks spoliation sanctions in the form of a default judgment against Defendant, and damages. Defendant denies all of Plaintiff’s claims regarding alteration or destruction of evidence.

Spoliation is the intentional destruction of evidence or the alteration of a document. There are steps to determine if spoliation sanctions are warranted.  First, was there was a duty to preserve the data? If so, were reasonable steps taken to avoid the loss of the data? If not, can the lost data can be restored or replaced through additional discovery? If not, was the other party prejudiced by the loss of the data?

The duty to preserve relevant evidence must be viewed from the perspective of the party with control of the evidence. Here, the Defendant did not have a duty to preserve the evidence at issue. There is no question that Defendant never physically possessed or owned the video evidence. The question, then, is whether Defendant had control of the evidence. The Court concludes that Defendant Barringer had no control over the video recordings at issue. The Defendant’s rank at the Sheriff’s office was not high enough to be in control of any surveillance videos. The Sheriff’s office is not a party to the suit. Plaintiff specifically sued Defendant in his individual capacity—not his official capacity.

Were reasonable steps taken to avoid the loss? Yes, assuming a duty existed, the recording could have been preserved. Can the lost data be restored or replaced through additional discovery? No, as the videos were overwritten by routine practice every thirty days. Was the Plaintiff prejudiced? The Court found no prejudice by the loss of the data. The Court says nothing suggests that the videos were lost with intent to deprive the Plaintiff of use of the evidence. Accordingly, the court denied the motion for spoliation.

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