Evidence and Argument Regarding Spoliation Excluded Absent Evidence of Prejudice and to Avoid “Confusing the Issues”

West v. Talton, No. 5:13-cv-338 (CAR), 2015 WL 6675565 (M.D. Ga. Nov. 2, 2015)

In this case, the court granted Defendants’ motion to exclude “Plaintiff’s use of any argument or evidence of alleged spoliation” where, despite Defendants’ failure to preserve emails from an individual defendant, they were nonetheless able to locate the relevant defendant’s “old computer” and to hire a third party to search for and recover relevant emails and documents from the same.  Thus, the court found that Plaintiff failed to establish prejudice.

In this short case, the court addressed Defendants’ failure to preserve an individual defendant’s emails following his resignation.  Specifically, the emails were “deleted pursuant to a routine procedure to delete an employee’s email account shortly after the employee left the Sheriff’s Department and to rewrite over the backup tapes of the server every six months.”  Plaintiff argued that the failure to preserve was more than “mere negligence” in light of the notice provided by his EEOC complaint.

Taking up the issue, the court reasoned that Plaintiff’s claims of prejudice were “completely speculative” where a third party had been hired to restore the emails from the individual defendant’s old computer and where, according to the court, “Plaintiff received more information … than what was originally requested during discovery.”  The court also noted the lack of evidence of “mass destruction” or “wiping.”  Thus, the court concluded that the Plaintiff failed to establish prejudice and that a sanction was therefore inappropriate.

In so concluding, the court also cited Fed. R. Evid. 403, reasoning that “[t]he Court finds the danger of confusing the issues and misleading the jury outweighs the probative value of such evidence.”

Defendants’ Motion to exclude evidence or argument regarding spoliation was granted.

A copy of the court’s brief opinion is available here available here.

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