United Med. Supply Co., Inc. v. United States, 77 Fed. Cl. 257 (2007)
In this decision, the United States Court of Federal Claims imposed sanctions against the United States based upon its “reckless disregard of its duty to preserve relevant evidence.” The court opened its lengthy opinion and order with the following passage:
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Aside perhaps from perjury, no act serves to threaten the integrity of the judicial process more than the spoliation of evidence. Our adversarial process is designed to tolerate human failings – erring judges can be reversed, uncooperative counsel can be shepherded, and recalcitrant witnesses compelled to testify. But, when critical documents go missing, judges and litigants alike descend into a world of ad hocery and half measures – and our civil justice system suffers.
To guard against this, each party in litigation is solemnly bound to preserve potentially relevant evidence. In this government contract case, defendant violated that duty not once or twice—but repeatedly, over many years, and in sundry ways, leading to the destruction of many admittedly relevant documents. Most disturbingly, some of these documents were destroyed even after the court conducted its first spoliation hearing. While defendant apologizes profusely for what it claims is the “negligence” of some of its employees and for making repeated misstatements to the court as to the steps that were being taken to prevent spoliation, it, nonetheless, asseverates that the court should not—indeed, cannot—impose spoliation sanctions because defendant did not proceed in bad faith. While defendant may be wrong in asserting that it acted in good faith, it most certainly is wrong in thinking that it can recklessly disregard its obligations to preserve evidence without legal consequence.