Ninth Circuit Affirms Terminating Sanction for ESI Spoliation
In an unpublished decision, Roadrunner Transportation Services, Inc. v. Tarwater, Case Nos. 15-55448 and 14-55529 (9th Cir., Mar. 18, 2016), the Ninth Circuit reviewed entry of default judgment based upon an order imposing a terminating sanction for spoliation. In the underlying litigation, Plaintiff employer sued Defendant former employee for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as various business torts including appropriation of trade secrets and conversion.
During the case, Plaintiff accused Defendant of deleting data from his laptop computers despite Plaintiff’s prior numerous demands that Defendant preserve the information. A forensic computer expert testified that files on Defendant’s laptop were deleted and overwritten. The District Court found that Defendant’s conduct was willful and purposeful, ordered terminating sanctions, and entered default judgment against Defendant. The court also awarded attorney fees to Plaintiff.
Defendant appealed the entry of default judgment. The Ninth Circuit determined that there was “ample evidence” that Defendant had deleted emails and files on his laptops after his duty to preserve arose and after having received multiple preservation demands from Plaintiff. The court stated that there was even evidence that Defendant had done so after a court order explicitly directed him to preserve all data on his devices. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, holding that the District Court did not clearly err in finding willful destruction of the data and in finding that Plaintiff was deprived of its primary evidence. The District Court also did not err in finding that a less drastic sanction would have been sufficient. The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the award of attorneys’ fees in Plaintiff’s favor.