Motion For Sanctions Denied On Grounds of Failure to Establish Prejudice, Despite Finding Defendant’s Clear Failure to Preserve Evidence
In Maifile v. Kaiser-Francis Oil Co., No. 18-CV-586-TCK-FHM (N.D. Okla. May 21, 2019), an Oklahoma Magistrate Judge denied Plaintiff’s motions for sanctions on grounds that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate she suffered prejudice from the loss of her previous work computer, despite finding the Defendant’s clear failure to preserve the computer.
This case involves an employment discrimination claim filed by Plaintiff against her former employer, Defendant. Plaintiff commenced the action in October 2018 and on October 29, 2018, Defendant’s counsel sent an email to Plaintiff regarding the obligation to preserve data and ESI and even lectured Plaintiff in a subsequent email regarding the duty to preserve ESI.
At some point after the commencement of the action, Defendant gave Plaintiff’s former computer to a charitable organization and as a result, the data contained on Plaintiff’s former computer was not preserved and ultimately destroyed.
In her motion, Plaintiff stated that while she was “unaware of the extent of information that might have been on her computer,” her work computer was nevertheless intentionally and willfully destroyed and that it likely would have provided a “treasure trove” of information concerning the issues in the case, and that as a result, Plaintiff had been prejudiced by its loss.
In its ruling, the Court stated: “In defense of its failure to preserve the computer, Defendant makes what the court views as an ill-considered assertion that if Plaintiffs had made a request for the computer earlier than they did, the computer could have been pulled and saved…As evidenced by the emails from Defendant’s attorney lecturing Plaintiffs about their obligation to preserve electronically stored evidence, it is abundantly clear that counsel was aware of Defendant’s own responsibility in this regard. The duty to preserve the electronically stored evidence exists independent of a specific request that the evidence be preserved. It is exceedingly poor form, and beyond zealous advocacy, for Defendant to attempt to blame Plaintiffs for its own obvious failing. The court finds that Mrs. Mafille’s work computer should have been preserved and further that Defendant is solely and entirely at fault for failing to take reasonable steps to preserve the computer.”
However, the Court also stated: “Defendant asserts that sanctions are not appropriate because Plaintiffs have not demonstrated they have been prejudiced by the loss of Mrs. Mafille’s work computer. According to Defendant, a policy was in place requiring that materials be uploaded to Defendant’s LAN Server daily. As a result, there should not have been relevant materials on the subject computer that are not also accessible on the LAN Server. Defendant also asserts that it has requested Plaintiffs to identify what items were on Mrs. Mafille’s computer so an attempt can be made to recover the items from the LAN Server, but Plaintiffs have not identified any such items.”
Thus, “[b]efore an order of sanctions may be entered, there must be a showing of prejudice.” The Court denied Plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions “without prejudice to reassertion of the motion if through discovery it is determined that some specific evidence is beyond Plaintiffs’ reach because of what the court views as Defendant’s clear failure to preserve Mrs. Mafille’s work computer.”