Terminating Sanctions Denied at Trial; Will the Appeals Court Reverse?
In Dupree et. al. v. Sajahtera, Inc., et. al., Case NO. B260615 (Ca. App., Aug. 12, 2016), Defendants were the owner and manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Plaintiffs were employees of the hotel who sued Defendants for wrongful termination based upon Plaintiffs’ roles in reporting incidents of sexual harassment by the manager Defendant. During the case, Plaintiffs filed a motion for terminating sanctions, which the court denied. Nearly a year later, they renewed their motion on the grounds that evidence of spoliation had arisen at trial. That motion was also denied. At trial, the jury found for Defendants, and judgment was entered against Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appealed the judgment, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying their post-trial renewed motion for terminating sanctions.
During the trial, the trial court permitted Plaintiffs to question witnesses about the spoliation issue and argue it during opening and closing statements before the jury. Plaintiffs argued that Defendants, within days of finding out about the lawsuit, deleted large numbers of emails and shredded paper documents. The jury found for Defendants, and the court did not find that terminating sanctions, which are severe, were warranted. The appellate court could not find an abuse of discretion, noting that the jury likely was not persuaded, based on its verdict, and also noting that the trial court heard evidence on the issue on two different occasions – once when the initial motion was filed and once when it was renewed. The court noted that Defendants’ computer forensics expert testified that most of the files could be recovered. The court therefore affirmed the denial of sanctions.