eDiscovery Case Law: Deliberately Produce Wrong Cell Phone, Get Sanctioned
March 17, 2011
In Moreno v. Ostly, No. A127780, (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2011), the California Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s award of monetary sanctions imposed against the plaintiff and her law firm in the amount of $13,500 for counsel and plaintiff’s discovery misconduct related to the preservation of text messages.
The plaintiff sued her former law firm employer alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and failure to pay back wages. She claimed that a partner at the firm “forced himself on her sexually” on a daily basis and that she was fired when she notified the partner that she wished to sever the “intimate aspect of their relationship.” In discovery, defendants sought copies of relevant e-mails and text messages between the plaintiff and the partner. After the parties' meet and confer efforts failed, the court ordered the plaintiff to produce her personal computer and cell phone for inspection. The inspection revealed that the cell phone produced was different from the one plaintiff had during her course of employment. When questioned regarding the discrepancy, plaintiff’s counsel responded that the defendants would have to undertake further discovery efforts to determine what happened to the relevant equipment. The plaintiff’s attorney conceded that many of the text messages on the prior phone had been used against the defendants before the EEOC, but had not been preserved prior to the disposal of the cell phone.
The defendants filed a motion for terminating and monetary sanctions or, in the alternative, a willful suppression of evidence jury instruction. The trial court awarded monetary sanctions, finding the plaintiff and her counsel deliberately withheld the fact that the plaintiff failed to preserve her cell phone data, causing opposing counsel and the court to expend unnecessary resources. The court found plaintiff’s counsel’s conduct willful and his explanation citing a conflict between the duty of loyalty to the client and the duty of candor to opposing counsel and the court “not very credible.”
The court of appeals concluded the trial court's award of monetary sanctions was supported by substantial evidence, and was well within the discretion of the court.
So, what do you think? Are you aware of any other blatant examples of evasive discovery? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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