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Spoliation of Electronic Evidence Not Found in Maryland Will Contest

Posted on October 21st, 2016

Castruccio v. Estate of Castruccio, et. al., Case No. 1665, September Term, 2014 (Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, Sept. 29, 2016) is a probate case in which the deceased testator signed the fifth page of his six-page will. Witnesses signed on page 6. His widow challenged the will, as money was left to her husband’s employee, Barclay, and not her; she claimed the will had been altered after his death, as the pages were not connected. The court found against her and ruled the will valid.

She appealed, partially on the basis that the court below erred in finding against her without ruling on the issue of whether sanctions for spoliation of electronic evidence should be imposed against Barclay. Plaintiff averred that Barclay destroyed a flash drive shortly after the testator’s death, which contained documents Barclay had typed while working in testator’s office. Barclay asserted that the documents related to her volunteer work or to the business, and that the files were transferred to another storage device before she destroyed the flash drive. She produced printed copies of the documents concerning the testator but did not produce the device from which she printed them.

Plaintiff’s computer expert examined the office computer and determined that the flash drive contained a document called “will” that was not produced by Barclay. Plaintiff sought sanctions on the basis that the document might show whether the will had been altered between the time it was signed and the time it was recorded. The court below never ruled on the sanctions motion, but in granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, declined to draw an adverse inference based upon all the other evidence in favor of Defendants.

The appellate court declined to overturn the ruling, holding that the trial court acted within its discretion. Plaintiff was not certain that the document on the destroyed drive had any relevant information, and Barclay was found to be credible in her “misguided attempt” to destroy confidential information about her volunteer work. Because Maryland law prohibits a court from finding that the destruction of evidence is substantive proof that the evidence was unfavorable, the appellate court affirmed the decision.

ILS – Plaintiff eDiscovery Experts

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