eDiscovery Daily Blog

No Sanctions for Failing to Preserve Videos and Photos of Prisoner Accident: eDiscovery Case Law

In Hernandez v. Tulare Cnty. Correction Center, et al., No. 1:16-cv-00413-EPG (PC) (E.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2018), the California Magistrate Judge denied the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions, ruling that the defendants did not act with the intent to deprive there was no prejudice to the plaintiff from loss of videos and photos of an accident suffered by the plaintiff, a state prisoner at the defendant’s correctional facility.

Case Background

In this case, the plaintiff tripped and fell when going through an x-ray scanning machine while shackled, suffering injuries – as a result, he filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendants.  In August 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion to compel claiming that Tulare County failed to preserve relevant videos as well as photos (stored on a memory card) of the accident.  In a discovery hearing held in September 2017, defendant’s counsel confirmed that relevant ESI had, in fact, been mistakenly deleted by Tulare County officials and could not be replaced. The motion to compel was denied because there was nothing to produce and the plaintiff was instructed on the procedure to file a motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 37(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  He filed the motion for sanctions a few days later, requesting monetary sanctions and entry of default judgment based upon intentional deprivation of relevant evidence and serious prejudice suffered to his case that cannot be cured.  Defendant Tulare County filed a response in opposition arguing that the loss of the ESI was inadvertent and did not prejudice the plaintiff.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that Subdivision (e)(1) of Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e) applies only “upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information” and that Subdivision (e)(2) applies “only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation”, the court proceeded to consider those two factors with respect to the plaintiff’s motion.

With regard to the intent to deprive consideration, the Court stated: “While the Court is troubled by the the failure to preserve the relevant video, there is no indication from the evidence in the record that Tulare County acted with intent to deprive Plaintiff of use of the video in this case. Upon consideration of the evidence in the record, it appears that this failure was a result of Tulare County either being misinformed about the relevant scope of this litigation or that the staff responsible for the preservation were poorly trained. However, the record does not contain any evidence suggesting that the failure to preserve the video was a result of bad faith or intent to deprive.”

With regard to the claim of prejudice suffered, the Court noted that “Tulare County does not dispute that: 1) Plaintiff was in shackles and other detainees were not; 2) Plaintiff tripped and fell when stepping onto the platform of the body scanner; or 3) others assisted Plaintiff to his feet after he fell.”  The Court also noted that “the video surveillance in question does not capture sound so the footage would not have been helpful regarding Plaintiff’s allegations that he informed correctional staff about his disability and the information was ignored”, that “Tulare County has produced relevant documents in this case, including photos of Plaintiff’s injuries” and “Plaintiff has also located eye-witnesses of the April 21, 2015 incident, who have reportedly agreed to provide testimony in support of his case.”  As a result, the Court ruled that the plaintiff was not prejudiced by loss of the information and denied the motion for sanctions.

So, what do you think?  Should the defendants have received at least some level of sanctions?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

February 19 has always been an important day to me, as this was my dad’s birthday (he would have been 89 today) and it’s my wife Paige’s birthday now!  Happy birthday, honey!

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

Sponsor: This blog is sponsored by CloudNine, which is a data and legal discovery technology company with proven expertise in simplifying and automating the discovery of data for audits, investigations, and litigation. Used by legal and business customers worldwide including more than 50 of the top 250 Am Law firms and many of the world’s leading corporations, CloudNine’s eDiscovery automation software and services help customers gain insight and intelligence on electronic data.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.