Appellate Court Reversed Spoliation Finding for Plaintiff Email Deletion
In Flagship Theatres of Palm Desert, LLC v. Century Theatres, Inc. et. al., Consolidated Case Nos. B257148, B259552 and B261149 (Cal. App., May 24, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendants for antitrust violations. Plaintiff is a movie theater operating in Palm Desert; its claims indicated that Defendants had conspired to keep the most popular films from being distributed to Plaintiff and distributing them instead to Plaintiff’s nearby competitors.
The case labored in court for several years before the court granted summary judgment in favor of Century. The appellate court reversed and remanded for trial. Thereafter, one of Plaintiff’s owners, Tabor, began experiencing technical difficulties with his email account. On the advice of an AT & T customer service rep, he deleted thousands of email messages to free up space.
Plaintiff then received another discovery request from Defendants asking for emails. Upon realizing that he had deleted items he had a duty to preserve, Tabor and Plaintiff attempted to recover the emails but found they could not. Defendants moved for sanctions and were denied; however, they moved again, and the trial court granted terminating sanctions even though it found the emails were not deleted maliciously. Plaintiff appealed.
The court of appeals found that based upon the evidence, the trial court erred in sanctioning the deletion of any email outside of a certain time period. The court also found that terminating sanctions were not appropriate, as the loss and prejudice to Defendants was limited and could be ameliorated by a more limited remedy. The court also reversed the award of attorneys’ fees and remanded the case back to the trial court for trial.