School District Deleted Email Account, But No Spoliation Found
Archer et. al. v. York City School District, et. al., Case No. 13-2826 (M.D. Pa., Dec. 28, 2016) is a case involving a charter school in York, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs are a group of students and parents suing Defendants to protest the decision not to renew the school’s charter based upon its performance and the hardship on the city’s budget. Plaintiffs argue that Defendants never expressed any concern about the school before. In 2011, a consultant, Dr. Clemens, opined that the school did not meet the state’s academic standards. When the school applied to renew its charter, it was denied.
Plaintiffs alleged that the nonrenewal proceedings were a sham and that the committee had already decided to shut the school down after engaging in “secret” meetings and failing to publicize their findings. Plaintiffs filed with the school’s appeal board, which found that there was adequate notice. Plaintiffs then filed for a review of the appeal board’s decision with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision, and the school dissolved in 2014. Plaintiffs sued in 2013 Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. In their opposition to the summary judgment motion, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants spoliated evidence, and Defendants filed a substantive response to the allegations, so the court addressed them in its decision on the summary judgment motion.
The spoliation allegation arises from former assistant superintendent Perry-Cross, who retired in February 2012. Her email account was purged thereafter. Defendants argued that the deleted email account and emails were deleted as a matter of course and they were not trying to hide evidence. They also argued that there was no foreseeable duty to preserve at the time they were deleted.
The court agreed with Defendants. Defendants claimed to have deleted the email account around 90 days after her retirement, which was likely more than a year prior to the litigation commencement. Defendants also turned over another email account quickly after at first alleging it was deleted. The court found that the circumstances altogether could not support a finding of intent. The court further found that Plaintiffs could not successfully argue that Defendants’ duty to preserve arose nearly a year before the filing of the lawsuit. The court did not agree with Plaintiffs that Defendants should have anticipated litigation simply by revoking the charter, and further, the appeals process began eight months after Ms. Perry-Cross left her position. The court found that Defendants had no duty to preserve at the time the email account was deleted, and therefore found the spoliation claims without merit. Overall, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment was granted in its entirety.