Top 5 Ediscovery Case Summaries – August 2013: New York - Negligence Alone is not Enough for Spoliation Sanctions

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Sekisui Am. Corp. v. Hart, 2013 WL 2951924 (S.D.N.Y. June 10, 2013).

In this employment law case, the court declined to impose any sanctions for the plaintiff’s negligent and perhaps intentional deletion of the email folder of a “key player” in the plaintiff’s subsequent litigation. The plaintiff terminated Hart and notified the defendants that litigation may be forthcoming, but failed to implement a litigation hold until fifteen months later. Prior to the hold, the plaintiff’s HR manager deleted Hart’s email, ostensibly for “storage availability reasons.” The plaintiff conceded that the deletion was a serious mistake, but pointed out that it disclosed the mistake as soon as the mistake was discovered. Furthermore, the plaintiff noted that the deletion was not in bad faith, and that it attempted to recover the emails from “alternative sources”, which resulted in the recovery of 36,000 emails. While the trial court acknowledged that the plaintiff had an obligation to preserve long before the deletion constituted negligence, the court determined that negligence alone was not enough for sanctions. The trial court found that there was no “malevolent purpose” for the deletion, and that the plaintiff attempted to “ameliorate any potential prejudice” by attempting to secure the emails from other sources. The defendants showed the requisite culpable mind, but failed to show that there was any potentially relevant material not available to them. Therefore, the court denied the request for sanctions.

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