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Spoliation Case Reviews

ABC Home Health Servc., Inc. v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., 158 F.R.D. 180 (S.D. Ga. 1994)

This case involves the destruction of personal files on an AS/400, a computer used by IBM to work on a software project for ABC entitled Medical Operations Management System  (“MOMS”).  When ABC terminated IBM’s involvement in the MOMS project, IBM returned the computer to ABC as they had initially received it, i.e. without any of the personal files created by the IBM/ABC team during the duration of their work on the project.  The files were “both project-related documents and purely personal documents.”  ABC, which believed that the files were critical of IBM, alleged IBM destroyed the files in anticipation of litigation and requested that the court rule in favor of its motion to dismiss IBM’s counterclaims as a sanction and, thereby, effectively enter default judgment in favor of ABC.

The court denied ABC‘s motion for dismissal of IBM’s counterclaims under Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, since the destruction of files was not in response to a specific discovery request.  (The erasure of files occurred prior to the filing of the case.)  The court did leave open the possibility for a jury instruction on the matter, however, stating that “ABC may be entitled to a jury instruction explaining that destroyed documents are presumed to be damaging to the party responsible for the destruction.”

Hertz Corp. v. Gaddis-Walker Elec., Inc., 125 F3d 862, C.A.10 (Okla.), 1997

This case is an appeal from a jury verdict awarding Hertz damages amounting to loss of profits from a computer failure after a Gaddis-Walker employee improperly rewired the power supply to one of Hertz’s computer systems. 

Gaddis-Walker’s arguments included a claim of spoliation of evidence in the form of six computer boards that were damaged and destroyed after the rewiring.  Gaddis-Walker claims that this evidence was central to the issue of whether the rewiring caused the computer failure and requested a jury instruction “that if a party fails to preserve evidence, it may infer the evidence was unfavorable to that party.”  The lower court rejected the requested jury instruction, stating that the destruction was not in bad faith, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding “that absent a showing of bad faith, failure to produce records is not sufficient to warrant a spoliation or missing evidence instruction.”

Linnen v. A.H. Robins Co., Inc., 10 Mass.L.Rptr. 189 (Mass. Super. Ct. 1999)

The Court held that “a discovery request aimed at the production of records retained in some electronic form is no different, in principle, from a request for documents contained in an office file cabinet. . . . [T]here is nothing about the technological aspects involved which renders documents stored in an electronic media ‘undiscoverable’.” Id. at 191.

In response to the defendant drug company’s reluctance and delays to submit to the plaintiff key emails stored on back-up tapes, the court ordered a sample of said emails to be provided to plaintiff, with the potential for further emails to be furnished -- at the expense of the defendant -- if the initial emails proved valuable to the plaintiff’s case.  Furthermore, the court 1) sanctioned the defendant by ordering it to pay costs and fees associated with the plaintiff’s efforts to pursue this line of discovery; and 2) ordered sanctions that the jury be instructed on the “spoliation inference” at the time of the trial.

See also CASE STUDY: Linnen v. Robins: The Fen/Phen Case

Proctor & Gamble v. Haugen, 179 F.R.D. 622 (D. Utah 1998), aff’d in part and rev’d in part, 222 F.3d 1262 (10th Cir. Utah 2000)

The Proctor & Gamble Company (“P & G”) appealed from a final judgment dismissing their lawsuit against parties who disseminated allegedly slanderous information that P&G was a corporate agent of Satan.  Court held that defendants’ contention that message was not “commercial advertising or promotion” under the Lantham Act because it was circulated informally among a few distributors on a private voice mail system, and thus was not disseminated sufficiently within the consumer goods industry, was not a pure matter of law and required a factual determination by the district court. Furthermore, court said that the relevant distributors were more analogous to independent contracts than to employees under Utah law, and thus the manufacturer was not liable even though he provided the voice message system used by the distributors to spread the subject message.