Court Denies ESI Spoliation Motion Regarding Document and iPad Email Deletion
In First American Title Insurance Company et. al. v. Northwest Title Insurance Agency, LLC et. al., Case No. 15-00229 (D. Utah, Aug. 31, 2016), Plaintiffs sued Defendants Smith and Williams, former employees of Plaintiffs, after they started a competing company, Defendant Northwest Title. While setting up the company, Smith and Williams used their wives’ personal email accounts to coordinate the setup after hours.
Smith and Williams quit their jobs with Plaintiffs; Smith deleted personal files from his work computer before leaving; he also deleted personal files and apps from his work iPad before turning it in. Plaintiffs allege he performed a factory reset on the iPad as well. Soon after, other employees of Plaintiffs left Plaintiffs’ employ to work for Northwest, taking documents with them. Plaintiffs sent litigation hold letters; Smith instructed the other recipients not to destroy anything on several occasions. After suit was filed and discovery began, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Sanctions, alleging spoliation of evidence.
Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Smith and Williams deleted emails from their personal accounts that they shared with their wives; that they deleted documents from Smith’s work computer and iPad; that Smith deleted emails from the new company for a certain time period; and that documents from Plaintiffs’ business were destroyed by non-party employees.
The court found that a duty to preserve arose on March 18, 2015 when the litigation hold letter was sent. The court then found that the deleted personal emails were deleted by Defendants’ wives as part of routine maintenance. The court held that although some relevant evidence was probably lost, there were no dates showing if the emails were deleted before or after the duty to preserve arose; further, there was no evidence of prejudice or that the information could not be restored or recreated. The court found similarly with respect to the iPad email deletion. The court did find that some documents taken by a non-party employee were destroyed after the litigation hold letter was sent, and therefore, the court granted the Motion only with respect to that employee’s documents, and left it to the jury to determine whether spoliation had occurred. The court denied the balance of the Motion.