In a case where the Court called the Defendants’ disclosures troubling, the Plaintiffs sought sanctions for the failure to back-up hard drives or issue a litigation hold.
There was one big problem with the Plaintiffs’ argument: they did not prove that the Defendant had a duty to preserve the email when it was destroyed. Magnuson v. Newman, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138595, at *44 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2013).
The Court stated the earliest the Defendants could have been on notice of the duty to preserve was on August 18, 2010, when they were served the original complain. Magnuson, at *45. Additionally, the Defendants had a three-month email retention policy. Id.
The Plaintiffs did not even argue the timing of the destruction of the email, instead focusing exclusively on the fact the Defendants:
1) Did not back up their computers or;
2) Issue a litigation hold. Id.
In the Plaintiffs’ view, that amounted to per se gross negligence. Id.
The Court noted that the Plaintiffs did not cite any authority requiring the Defendants to “back-up” their computers. Magnuson, at *45-46.
The Court stated the Second Circuit abrogated the holding of Pension Committee’s holding that it is gross negligence per se to not issue a litigation hold. Id. Moreover, whether a party failed to failed to issue a litigation hold is one factor in determining whether a party should be sanctioned for spoliation. Magnuson, at *46.
The Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the duty to preserve had yet triggered when relevant email was lost as a part of a routine data retention policy. As such, sanctioned were not warranted, however the Court warned that it would preclude any late emails from being introduced at trial. Id.
Bow Tie Thoughts
The duty to preserve is the trickiest part of litigation for attorneys in my opinion. Lawyers have to give clients news they do not want to hear that can disrupt business. Often times lawyers are in denial about having to learn how clients communicate to identify relevant sources of ESI. Despite these challenges for many, there is simply no escaping the duty to preserve.
That being said, lawyers cannot argue sanctions are warranted if there was no duty to preserve. Moreover, the failure to issue a litigation hold is one factor in determining sanctions, not an outcome determinative fact.