Plaintiff’s Case Dismissed Despite Evidence of Electronic Data Spoliation
In Brodie v. Burwell, et. al., Case No. 15-322 (District of Columbia, June 13, 2016), Plaintiff introduced allegations of spoliation to buttress his third attempt to sue the entities and individuals he deemed responsible for his debarment as a university researcher. Plaintiff, a molecular pathologist, was employed at the University of Washington to conduct research. However, he was placed under investigation for research misconduct including charges of data falsification. During the investigation, investigators had seized dozens of computers and hard drives from Plaintiff’s office. After the investigation was concluded, Plaintiff was debarred from his employment based upon the investigatory findings that he was guilty of 15 different instances of research misconduct. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants alleging his debarment was arbitrary and capricious, but the case was dismissed by the court. Four months later, Plaintiff made an additional challenge to the debarment based upon allegations that the investigators had improperly denied him access to one of the computers. When this petition was denied, he filed a second action against the same defendants, challenging the refusal to re-open his debarment proceedings. That suit was also dismissed by the court, based upon the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel.
Plaintiff then made public records requests which resulted in production of emails that Plaintiff claimed established intentional deletion of data on one of the computers seized during the misconduct investigation. Plaintiff further asserted that this information constituted evidence of data spoliation. Plaintiff again petitioned Defendants to re-open his debarment proceedings. When this latest request was denied, Plaintiff instituted a third lawsuit against Defendants. Defendants responded by filing a Motion to Dismiss or in the alternative, for Summary Judgment.
Plaintiff opposed the Motion by arguing that this latest lawsuit was distinguishable from the previously dismissed actions, and thus not barred by res judicata or collateral estoppel, because of the introduction of the spoliation claim. He also argued this latest action should survive dismissal because ESI that would have bolstered his defense had been spoliated during the investigation. The court, however, found that the debarment proceedings did not hinge upon the allegedly spoliated data but rather turned upon findings of overwhelming evidence of Plaintiff’s misconduct. The court ruled that the “newly discovered evidence” did not change that the fact that the issues raised were already litigated and findings of Plaintiff’s misconduct established. The court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.