No Spoliation Where Party Made Efforts to Retrieve and Produce Deleted Emails
In Gladue v. Saint Francis Medical Center, Case No. 1:13-DV-186-CEJ (E.D. Miss. March 24, 2015), the Eastern District of Missouri considered whether Defendant had engaged in spoliation of email communications.
Defendant terminated Plaintiff from her employment in December 2011. As part of Defendant’s routine audit procedure, Defendant deleted Plaintiff’s emails in March 2012. At that time, Plaintiff had not yet filed suit or filed a charge with the EEOC.
In June 2012, Plaintiff’s attorney contacted Defendant regarding a settlement of employment law claims. Two years later, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit. Although Defendant had deleted Plaintiff’s emails two years earlier, Defendant attempted to retrieve the emails by searching the email accounts of employees identified in the FRCP 26 disclosures. The initial search retrieved 7,309 email threads which Defendant produced to Plaintiff in August 2014. Defendant then conducted an additional search, which led to Defendant producing an additional 17,320 emails in October 2014. Defendant acknowledged that its retrieval efforts had likely not retrieved every relevant deleted document.
Plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions, alleging spoliation of the deleted emails. The court disagreed, finding no indication that Plaintiff had suffered or would suffer prejudice as a result of the missing emails and finding no exceptional circumstances that would justify sanctions, especially because of FRCP 37(c)(1)’s prohibition on using a document not already produced at summary judgment or trial. The court based its decision on the following:
- Defendant did not have a duty to preserve the emails when it deleted them in March 2012 as part of routine IT operations; further, Defendant did not delete the emails in bad faith.
- Defendant diligently attempted to recover the deleted emails and produced a large number of them nearly three months prior to the close of discovery.
- Plaintiff failed to show that any of the still-missing emails were relevant to her claims, and did not attempt to describe what information might be contained in the missing communications.
Did you know? Most corporations have written policies regarding email retention but actual implementation and enforcement of these policies varies widely.