“[T]hrowing the Laptop Off a Building; Running Over the Laptop with a Vehicle; and Stating ‘If This Gets Us into Trouble, I Hope We’re Prison Buddies,’ Unquestionably Demonstrate Bad Faith.”
Daynight, LLC v. Mobilight, Inc., 248 P.3d 1010 (Utah Ct. App. 2011)
Appellants appealed the district court’s decision to enter default judgment against a third-party defendant for the destruction of evidence. Appellants argued that the sanction was excessive and unduly harsh and that the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure require a finding of willfulness, bad faith or persistent dilatory tactics in order to impose sanctions. Rejecting appellants’ reliance on Utah R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2), a rule “which typically pertains only to a delay in the production of evidence,” the Court of Appeals established that the appropriately applied rule, Utah R. Civ. P. 37(g), did “not require a showing of ‘willfulness, bad faith, or dilatory tactics’ or the violation of court order before a court may sanction a party” – including by ordering default judgment. Moreover, the court noted that even if such a showing were necessary, the district court concluded that the third-party “chose to willfully and in bad faith destroy the laptop” as evidenced by employees’ recorded comments about “their destruction of ‘potential[ly] harmful evidence that might link [them] to any sort of lawsuit.’” The Court of Appeals further concluded that the there could be no reliance on Rule 37(g)’s good faith exception (which is identical to the safe harbor provision in Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e)) in light of certain “actions and words attributable to the third-party defendant after it filed suit, including throwing the laptop off the building; running over the laptop with a vehicle; and stating ‘[I]f this gets us into trouble, I hope we’re prison buddies’” – activities which “unquestionably demonstrate bad faith and a general disregard for the judicial process.” Acknowledging that an order of default judgment was an “extreme” sanction, the court nonetheless found no abuse of discretion in light of the third-party defendant’s behavior and affirmed the order of the district court.