Court Orders Spoliation Sanctions for Defendants’ Willful Failure to Produce Text Messages
In First Financial Security, Inc. v. Lee et. al., Case No. 14-1843 (D. Minn. Mar. 8, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendants for breach of contract. During discovery, Plaintiff sought communications, including emails and text messages, sent both before and after a critical May 10 meeting. Defendants refused to provide any of the information from after the May 10 meeting, even after the magistrate judge ordered them to produce it.
Plaintiff sought sanctions, alleging spoliation because of deleted or lost text messages, as well a failure to comply with discovery requests. The magistrate judge found that the lost text messages may have been intentionally destroyed but not necessarily in bad faith and declined to order spoliation sanctions. However, the judge did order sanctions for Defendants’ willful failure to comply with his discovery order. The sanctions ordered included an adverse inference instruction as well as monetary sanctions, and the court struck Defendants’ affirmative defenses. Defendants objected to the order, and the district court reviewed it.
The district court held that Defendants did willfully refuse to comply with the discovery order, despite their efforts to blame the failure on their attorney and on their poor English skills. The court found that their claims of accidental loss of text messages combined with cryptic communications lead to the conclusion that they were deliberately trying to withhold evidence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the sanctions order.