In Sanctions Motion Based Upon Spoliation Claim, Plaintiff Claims Defendant Acted with Intent to Deprive Him of ESI

7 Mar 2018

In Hernandez v. Tulare Correctional Center, et al., No. 1:16-cv-00413-EPG, (Dist. Court California, 2018), the Court was called upon to determine a request for sanctions based upon a spoliation claim.

Albert Hernandez (“Plaintiff”) alleges that on April 21, 2015, he was pre-trial detainee at Tulare County Correctional Center (“Defendant”). Plaintiff was subjected to a search with an x-ray scanning machine and was instructed to remove his shoes and proceed through the x-ray scanner. Plaintiff told Tulare County officers that he had chronic disabilities and asked to have his shackles removed. The officers refused. When Plaintiff tried to step into the x-ray machine, the chain on his shackles caught on a plate in the machine, causing Plaintiff to trip and fall face first on a steel platform. Plaintiff claims that he was denied medical attention and treatment for his injuries.

In January of 2016, Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Defendants. In August of 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel claiming that Defendants failed to preserve relevant videos and photos. In a discovery hearing held in September of 2017, Defendants confirmed that relevant ESI had been mistakenly deleted and could not be replaced. The motion to compel was denied because there was nothing to produce.

Plaintiff filed the subject motion for sanctions on September 22, 2017. He requested monetary sanctions and a default judgment based upon a claim that Defendant intentionally deprived him of relevant evidence and caused Plaintiff incurable prejudice.  Defendant argued in its response that the loss of the ESI was inadvertent and did not cause prejudice to Plaintiff.

The Court found undisputed that Defendant received notice of Plaintiff’s potential claim, that that relevant, electronically stored photos and videos existed after the incident, but that the ESI cannot now be located, restored or replaced. The Court went on to identify the remaining question for deternimation to be whether Defendant had an intent to deprive Plaintiff of the ESI.

The Court determined that the Defendant’s failure to preserve the video to be a result of the breakdown of Defendant’s preservation policies and practices. The Court expressed that it was s troubled by the Defendant’s failure to preserve the relevant video but stated that there was no indication from the evidence that the Defendant acted with intent to deprive Plaintiff of use of the video. Based upon these findings, the Court denied the Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions.