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Court Sanctions Plaintiff for Missing Emails and Destroyed Laptop

Posted on July 8th, 2016

In Learning Care Group, Inc. v. Armetta, Case No. 13-1540 (D. Conn., June 17, 2016), Plaintiff hired Defendants to provide marketing services. During their business relationship, Plaintiff’s chief marketing officer, DeWalt, served as the key point of contact between the parties. Defendants claim DeWalt approved a business arrangement between the parties despite a potential conflict of interest. The parties eventually sued each other over the dissolution of their business arrangement.

When DeWalt left Plaintiff’s employ before filing of the lawsuit, Plaintiff slated her laptop for recycling per company policy, and the company destroyed it in October 2013. Destroying the laptop would not ordinarily result in the destruction of all emails because they would typically be backed up to a server.  But DeWalt deleted a number of emails from her laptop that had not been backed up to the server and thus could not be recovered. Defendants served a request for production upon Plaintiff during discovery asking for all communications from DeWalt relevant to marketing and creative strategy. Plaintiff gathered responsive emails from the server but DeWalt’s deleted emails no longer existed on the server.

When one of the Defendants realized that she produced an email sent to DeWalt that was not included in the emails produced by Plaintiff, Defendants investigated and discovered the issue with Plaintiff’s server. Accordingly, Defendants filed a sanctions motion, arguing that Plaintiff was under an obligation to preserve evidence as early as August 2013 when it launched an investigation into the business relationship, but certainly in September 2013 after one of the defendants had already sued. Defendants argued that if the laptop had not been destroyed, the deleted emails could have been recovered. Plaintiff did not dispute that the laptop was destroyed, but argued that Defendants did not show how the missing emails were relevant or that Plaintiff acted with the state of mind necessary for spoliation sanctions.

The court found no evidence of bad faith, but found that the missing emails would have been relevant. The court also agreed with Plaintiff that Defendants could have obtained the emails from other sources, as the senders and recipients of any emails by DeWalt would also have access to them. However, the court held that this finding did not go to whether sanctions were appropriate, but rather, the extent of sanctions. The court applied the earlier version of the Federal Rules to the case because the issue was first raised before the enactment of the 2015 amendments, and found that Defendants met the lesser burden sufficient for the court to order sanctions. The court limited the sanctions, however, to costs and attorneys’ fees.

ILS – Plaintiff ESI Discovery Experts

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