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Spoliation Meets the Backyard Barbecue: The Bonfire of Veracity

We don’t often write about spoliation cases here, but some cases are so burning hot that they ignite our interest. Such is the recent ruling in an employment discrimination case from U.S. District Chief Judge William H. Steele of the Southern District of Alabama, Evans v. Mobile County Health Department.

The plaintiff, Sandra Evans, appealed to Judge Steele from a finding of a U.S. magistrate judge. The magistrate concluded that she had purposefully destroyed electronic evidence contained on her personal computer during the pendency of the litigation and that the destruction amounted to spoliation, deserving of sanctions. The plaintiff was clearly hot around the collar about this, asserting that her PC contained no discoverable evidence.

Judge Steele made short order of plaintiff’s assertion. There was abundant evidence that her PC contained information that was potentially discoverable, he concluded. These included emails she had admitted forwarding from her work computer to her home computer and a daily work diary she kept on her home computer.

But the one fact that seemed to most burn the judge–and that turned the plaintiff’s arguments to ashes–was the method by which she destroyed the evidence.

She took her home computer out into her yard and set it ablaze.

How did she explain this rather unusual act? Her computer had crashed, she contended, so she set it on fire in order to keep tax information it contained out of the hands of third parties.

Given all this, the judge’s response was rather cool. Her explanation was “facially implausible,” he said, “leaving only the destruction of discoverable information as a likely motive.” Sanctions affirmed.

Had I been the plaintiff’s counsel, I would have cited that famous Sedona Conference e-discovery document in her defense. You know the one, The Conflagration Proclamation.

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Bob Ambrogi About Bob Ambrogi

A lawyer and veteran legal journalist, Bob advises Catalyst on strategic communications and marketing matters. He is also a practicing lawyer in Massachusetts and is the former editor-in-chief of The National Law Journal, Lawyers USA and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. A fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, he also writes the blog LawSites.

Comments

  1. John Waid says:

    I can see why the judge got his hair on fire about this one. What about the air pollution people? This must have burned their bird.

    Actually, I have thought about doing this to my work computer once or twice. A day.

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