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No New Trial in Case Where Court Imposed $5 Million Fine for Defendant’s Spoliation

Posted on February 26th, 2018

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In G.N. Netcom, Inc. v. Plantronics, Inc., No. 12-1318-LPS, (Dist. Ct. Del. 2017), Plaintiff, GN Netcom, Inc. (“GN”) moved for a new trial based on the court’s handling of issues relating to Defendant Plantronics’ spoliation of evidence.  At trial, the court had ordered a permissive adverse inference, imposed financial sanctions of $5 million dollars, instructed the jury that Plantronics had committed spoliation, began the evidentiary portion of the trial with a detailed recitation of facts relating to Plantronics’ spoliation, and permitted GN throughout trial to present evidence and argument about Plantronics’ spoliation. Despite the spoliation evidence, GN lost at trial.

The decision to grant or deny a new trial is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. GN seeks a new trial based on its contention that the Court committed a prejudicial error of law. GN contends the court erred, and prejudiced GN’s substantial rights, with respect to spoliation, by providing the jury a permissive adverse instruction, rather than a dispositive sanction, and presenting a sanitized version of facts regarding Plantronics’ spoliation that (according to GN) ignored how egregious its misconduct was and how detrimental the consequences were on GN’s case.

GN faults the court for not entering a dispositive sanction, prohibiting GN from presenting to the jury core facts relating to the spoliation, and including and omitting evidence from the facts the Court read to the jury. The Court does not believe it committed legal error with respect to its handling of spoliation and sanctions.

Even if the Court had committed legal error, there is no basis to find that any such error substantially prejudiced GN. Bearing in mind the totality of the evidence that was admitted (both with regard to the substantive dispute and the spoliation issue), and comparing that to the relatively limited additional spoliation-related evidence GN contends the jury should have heard, any error in how the Court handled the spoliation issue at trial was harmless.  GN’s motion for a new trial is therefore denied.


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