Obtaining electronic discovery from a city or municipality in civil litigation can be a slow process. But, in DMAC LLC and Fourmen Construction, Inc. v. City of Peekskill, plaintiffs’ task was made impossible because of the City of Peekskill’s failure to implement a “formal e-mail retention policy,” leaving it up to the “sole discretion” of City staff and elected officials whether to retain or delete their e mails. When the City and other defendants were sued in 2009 for stopping a real estate development project that began back in 2007, allegedly for political reasons, that lack of any e-mail retention policy came back to haunt the defendants.
Tagged: FRCP 37
To echo a popular tag line frequently heard on Top 40 radio stations, when it comes to court-imposed sanctions for e-discovery failures, “the hits just keep on comin’!” According to a recent study published in the Duke Law Journal, sanctions for e-discovery violations are occurring more frequently than ever. Dan H. Willoughby, Jr., Rose Hunter Jones, Gregory R. Antine, Sanctions for E-Discovery Violations: By The Numbers, 60 Duke Law J. 789 (2010). However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel, as it appears that the frequency of sanctions awards is trending downward after hitting an all-time high in 2009.
As was recently reported in the New York Law Journal, one of the issues for discussion at the recent annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association this January was the need for more uniformity, and possibly even a bright-line rule, to govern issues of document preservation. This was the focus of a panel including two New York State Supreme Court justices and three federal judges from the Southern District of New York – District Judge Shira Scheindlin and Magistrate Judges Andrew Peck and James Francis.
District Judge Overturns Part of Victor Stanley II Ordering Immediate Jail Time to a Defendant Based on a Possible Future Failure to Pay Spoliation Sanctions
As previously reported, in Magistrate Judge Grimm’s September 9, 2010, decision and order, often referred to as Victor Stanley II, defendant Creative Pipe, Inc. and its principal, defendant Mark T. Pappas, were sanctioned for intentionally violating the court’s preservation and production orders. Among other things, Magistrate Judge Grimm ordered defendants to pay plaintiff’s costs and attorneys’ fees allocable to their spoliation. Judge Grimm further ordered that Mr. Pappas be imprisoned for no more than two years, “unless and until” he pays the fee award. Judge Grimm regarded this sanction as “absolutely essential” in light of his conviction that, “[w]ithout the threat of jail time, … Plaintiff will receive a paper judgment that does not enable it to recover its considerable out-of-pocket losses caused by Pappas’s spoliation.” By Order dated September 30, 2010, the Honorable Marvin J. Garbis, U.S.D.J., entered Magistrate Judge Grimm’s September 9 order essentially verbatim, including that, “[p]ursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(vii), Defendant Pappas’s acts of spoliation shall be treated as contempt of this Court, and as a sanction, he shall be imprisoned for a period not to exceed two (2) years, unless and until he pays to Plaintiff the attorney’s fees and costs that will be awarded ….” (Emphasis added.)
In Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93644 (D. Md. Sept. 9, 2010), Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm sanctioned Defendants CPI and Mark Pappas, its president – and threatened to imprison Pappas – for the willful destruction of evidence and violation of his discovery orders. The Court’s lengthy decision gives a comprehensive analysis of preservation and spoliation issues across the federal circuits that will benefit every practitioner and corporate litigant.