Spoliation Sanctions Motion Denied Where Only Evidence in Support Was Off-handed Guess at Date of Litigation Hold During Defendants’ Deposition

Spoliation Sanctions Motion Denied Where Only Evidence in Support Was Off-handed Guess at Date of Litigation Hold During Defendants’ Deposition

Rahman v. The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, 2009 WL 773344 (SDNY 3-18-09) (spoliation motion denied due to lack of evidence of alleged failure to initiate litigation hold and lack of evidence that any alleged failure to initiate litigation hold contributed to spoliation.)

In this very contentious employment discrimination lawsuit, the court was not persuaded by the scant evidence submitted in support of plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions. Plaintiff alleged that a gap in documents produced in the case was the result of defendants’ failure to implement a litigation hold. Plaintiff failed, however, to submit sufficient evidence that 1) defendants failed to implement a litigation hold when the lawsuit was initiated, and 2) any gap in documents was the result of the failure to properly implement a litigation hold. This matter was initiated in 2006. Plaintiff’s sole evidence in support of his motion was aptly summarized by the court:

“The plaintiff presents, as proof of the defendants’ alleged spoliation, [one witness’s] single ambiguous statement that the defendants instigated a litigation hold in ‘Summer of 2008, maybe’ rather than when the lawsuit commenced in August 2006.”

The court held that this isolated statement is insufficient to support a finding of spoliation. The court went on to further hold that even “assuming there was, in fact, no litigation hold until the summer of 2008, the plaintiff has failed to establish that any gap in the [document] production is attributable to the failure to institute a litigation hold at an earlier date.”

As a result of the lack of evidence, the court denied plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions. It is important to note that the court did not cite any litigation hold cases for its analysis. Rather, the court cited to Second Circuit precedent: “A party seeking sanctions for the spoliation of evidence must show “(1) that the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed ‘with a culpable state of mind’; and (3) that the destroyed evidence was ‘relevant’ to the party’s claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim or defense.”

Rahman, p. 14, Footnote 9 (citations omitted). For a copy of the opinion click here: http://legalholds.typepad.com/legalholds/new-cases.html.