Louisiana Court Reverses Summary Judgment on Spoliation of Evidence
In Danna v. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., LLC, et. al., Case No. 15-0651 (La. App. 4th Cir., May 11, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendants after Defendants terminated his employment, alleging breach of contract, defamation, retaliation, and spoliation of evidence. Plaintiff was the Director of Engineering for the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New Orleans. Plaintiff alleged that an employee of Defendants asked him to help choose furniture from the hotel to move into his new home, and Plaintiff informed human resources. Thereafter, Plaintiff was disciplined several times for various reasons and eventually fired after investigation of a carbon monoxide buildup that caused evacuation of hotel guests.
After his termination, Plaintiff’s counsel wrote to Defendants indicating his retention. After years of acrimonious discovery, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Adverse Presumption, alleging spoliation of evidence. The court entered summary judgment against Plaintiff on all but his spoliation claim but denied his Motion for Adverse Presumption. The court then entered summary judgment on the spoliation claim. Plaintiff appealed.
With respect to the spoliation claims, Defendant alleged that certain email data was destroyed under a corporate document retention policy designed to reduce the size of electronic records. Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred when it denied his Motion for Adverse Presumption. The appellate court looked to Louisiana law, which provides that spoliation occurs when there is an intentional destruction of evidence for purposes of depriving the opposing party of its use, which gives rise to an adverse presumption that if the evidence had been produced, it would’ve been unfavorable to the spoliating party. Intentional destruction is required; negligence is not enough.
The appellate court found that Defendants knew about the litigation as early as May 7, 2010, when Plaintiff’s counsel notified them of his retention. Defendants argued that the deleted email data was not made the subject of a litigation hold until October 2013. The appellate court found that summary judgment was not appropriate to dispose of a spoliation issue, because the issue required a judicial determination of motive, intent, good faith and knowledge. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants on the spoliation claim. The court also reversed the trial court’s denial of the Motion for Adverse Presumption, as it would be premature based upon the remand on the issue of intent.
The court also reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on the breach of contract and whistleblower claims, but affirmed the summary judgment on the defamation claim.