In Bruner v. American Honda Motor Co., Case No. 15-00499 (S.D. Ala., May 12, 2016), a products liability action, Defendant car manufacturer Honda was sued for damages arising out of an auto accident involving one of Honda’s products. Defendant refused to comply with certain of Plaintiffs’ discovery requests, and Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Compel. After conferring on the issues, the parties reported to the court that the outstanding discovery disputes involved Defendant’s failure to produce certain emails and the question of whether Defendant should implement a litigation hold.
Defendant alleged that the emails sought were no longer within Defendant’s possession, since the emails had been destroyed pursuant to Defendant’s document retention policy. Defendant further alleged that it had performed extensive searches in its databases for relevant emails and had found none. One of the databases searched was the customer retention resolutions system, which Defendant alleged was the complete record of customer complaints. Plaintiffs contended, however, that the customer complaints database referred to emails not present within this system and that the request for additional searching was therefore warranted. Plaintiffs also requested that Honda be ordered to institute a litigation hold to prevent further deletion of emails.
Defendant countered by arguing that further searching plus a litigation hold would be unduly burdensome, and additionally stated that no responsive emails existed in any case. Defendant also stated that it had considered but did not implement a litigation hold because of its reliance on its document retention policy.
The court noted that a duty to preserve evidence arose upon the filing of the action in May 2015. The court determined that Defendant had failed to substantiate its claims of undue burden or expense related to further searching or a litigation hold. The court also found that it was possible that relevant emails were being continuously deleted under Honda’s document retention policy.
Based upon these findings, the Court granted the Motion to Compel, ordering that Defendant serve “full and adequate” responses to Plaintiffs’ requests by conducting additional searching for emails, and also ordering Defendant to implement a litigation hold.