No Spoliation After Defendants Inadvertently Destroy Video Surveillance
In Wardner v. American Airlines, et al., Case No. 14-22011-CIV (S.D.Fl. Jan. 12, 2015), a Florida district court considered whether to enter an adverse inference instruction against Defendants’ due to alleged spoliation of video surveillance. Plaintiff, who was arrested following alleged disruptive behavior at the Miami International Airport, filed suit against the airline, Miami-Dade County, and others for malicious prosecution, negligence, and civil rights violations. Plaintiff requested that Miami-Dade County preserve the video surveillance of the American Airlines ticket counter where the incident took place. The County delegated an employee to do so but the employee misinterpreted the request to mean that he should view the footage to determine if it contained an incident involving the police, rather than simply preserve the video. Because the employee did not see an incident involving police on the footage, he took no further action and the video footage was automatically overridden. The court acknowledged that the County “badly bungled” Plaintiff’s request but had to consider if the mistake met the 11th Circuit’s stringent requirements for a spoliation finding.
To find spoliation, the 11th Circuit requires the following elements: 1) confirmation that the missing evidence existed at one time; 2) a duty to preserve such evidence; and 3) the evidence was crucial to either the plaintiff’s prima facia case or the defendant’s defense. Further, and importantly, the 11th Circuit requires that even where all three elements exist, a court must still find that the party accused of spoliation acted in bad faith (e.g., purposefully tampered with evidence).
The court concluded that Defendants’ actions did not meet the 11th Circuit’s requirements for spoliation. First, Plaintiff did not carry his burden to establish that any footage of him actually existed on the surveillance video (if anything, it seemed unlikely given that the County employee did not observe any footage involving police on the video). Second, Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the video would have assisted him in proving his case, and might have actually damaged his case. Third, and finally, the court concluded that Defendants’ mishandling of the evidence, while negligent, was not done in bad faith.
Although the court denied Plaintiff’s request for a spoliation sanction, the court did not preclude Plaintiff from presenting facts and arguments surrounding his video preservation requests and the County’s failure to preserve and produce the video.