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District of Minnesota Ruling on Motion to Compel Forensic Examination and Spoliation Sanctions for D

On Friday, Judge Steven Rau entered a decision,Trainer v. Cont'l Carbonic Prods., No. 16-cv-4335 (DSD/SER), 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100671 (D. Minn. June 15, 2018), denying the Defendant's Motion to Compel Discovery, for Spoliation Sanctions Including Dismissal of Action, and for Attorneys' Fees. The Defendant brought a wrongful termination suit against his employer, the Plaintiff, CCPI. CCPI alleged that Trainer deleted text messages and emails responsive to its discovery requests. The parties agreed to produce ESI as PDFs, but reserved the option to request the native format of files if necessary.

After producing some of his text messages as PDFs, Trainer deleted them in order to free up space on this phone. CCPI's Motion to Compel requested a forensic examination of Trainer's phone and that his deposition be taken for a second time. The text messages were sought to establish that a friendly relationship existed between Trainer and a co-worker (Travis Gilder) he complained made racist comments about his family. Trainer did not assert that the harassing statements made by the co-worker were sent in text messages. Making reference to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1), Judge Rau held that, "because the messages are only marginally relevant and because Gilder already produced the messages, forensic imaging is not proportional to the needs of this case." Id. at 9.

CCPI also complained about emails produced by Trainer that had text cut off. The Plaintiff acknowledged that he deleted these emails after producing them. Although finding that the emails were relevant to the Plaintiff's mitigation of damages, Judge Rau ruled that, "[c]ompelling the production of emails from some other source, however, is ultimately not proportional to the needs of this case given their relatively low importance." Id. at 10-11. The issue could have been explored at Trainer's deposition.

The court did not find a basis for spoliation sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e). Trainer was not required to preserve text messages sent in 2015, even though he filed an EEOC complaint in April 2015, because he stated that he had not contemplated litigation until the end of the year, and did not realize that filing an EEOC complaint was a requirement for a lawsuit until October 2015. The opinion cites advisory committee notes for the 2015 amendment to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e) which indicate that courts should consider the sophistication of the parties with respect to data preservation. The deletion of messages sent after the suit was filed was merely found to be negligent because there was no evidence that Trainer intended to deprive CCPI from using them as evidence in the case, as is required for sanctions by Rule 37(e)(2)..

Sanctions were also not awarded for the deletion of emails produced by the Plaintiff with cut-off text because they were capable for being used for their intended purpose - showing that he was looking for a new job.

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