Litigants often weld spoliation sanctions for the destruction of evidence like it is a stake to pound in the heart of a vampire.
In a civil rights case, the Plaintiff alleged the Defendants engaged in the destruction of a video. Olson v. Sax, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76981, 1-2 (E.D. Wis. June 25, 2010). The Defendants in turn claimed the video was destroyed as a result of a good faith, routine computer operation before they knew of the duty to preserve. Olson, at *3.
They were both right and both wrong.
The events recorded took place on July 22, 2008. The Defendant’s data was on a 500GB hard drive that held 29 days of video before being overwritten. Olson, at *2-3. As such, the video would have been overwritten by August 20, 2008. Id.
The Court found that the duty to preserve the video had triggered before the August 20, 2008 date, because the possibility of litigation had been discussed by letter with the Plaintiff on August 11, 2008. Olson, at *6.
If the Defendants had initiated a litigation hold, the data would not have been lost.
However, the Court did not found any bad faith conduct justifying sanctions.
The only evidence of the destruction of the data was the “routine good faith operation” of the video system. Olson, at *6.
This is not “bad faith” conduct that warrants adverse inference of other wrathful sanctions.
Bow Tie Law
Litigation hold and spoliation cases are fact intensive on who knew what when. This is one of those cases.
Expect courts to dig deep on timing as these matters continue to be litigated.