SJS Distrib. Sys. v. Sam’s East, Inc., 2013 WL 5596010 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 11, 2013).
In this breach of contract case, the defendant sought sanctions against the plaintiff. The defendant claimed that over 150 relevant documents remained unproduced despite years of ongoing discovery disputes, and that the plaintiff spoliated evidence by failing to preserve emails after discovering a packaging discrepancy in a 2010 product shipment. The plaintiff countered, stating that the defendant had not suffered any prejudice because it uncovered some of the desired information through third-party discovery and could obtain more information by deposing the plaintiff. After quickly finding that the plaintiff had a duty to preserve the deleted evidence, the court considered first the culpability of the plaintiff in deleting said evidence, and second, whether the destroyed evidence was relevant to the defendant’s arguments. Addressing culpability, the court found that the plaintiffs were not grossly negligent per se, but that the plaintiff nonetheless failed to “take the most basic document preservation steps, even after it discovered packaging nonconformities” and filed suit, which lead the court to conclude that the plaintiff was culpable in destroying the emails. Turning to relevance, the court found that the defendant properly showed that at least some of the destroyed messages were related to the business transaction between the parties, which met the defendant’s burden to show the relevance of the destroyed emails. Finally, the court considered the appropriate sanctions to cure the “evidentiary imbalance” stemming from the plaintiff’s spoliation. The court ordered an adverse inference instruction against the plaintiff and awarded the defendant court fees to be determined upon reviewing the amount of time billed in filing the motion for sanctions.