United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR SANCTIONS
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Armetta, Carlene Armetta, and Aspira Marketing Direct, LLC
(“Aspira”) filed a motion for sanctions, claiming
that Learning Care Group, Inc. (“LCG”) destroyed
a laptop used by Stacy DeWalt allegedly containing crucial
evidence to their case. Mot. for Sanctions, ECF No. 130. They
argue that this destruction or spoliation of evidence
entitles them to sanctions and ask that the Court either find
in their favor on all claims in the case or instruct the jury
to draw an adverse inference from the non-production of the
laptop’s contents. Aspira’s Br. 4, ECF No. 130.
They also ask for attorneys’ fees for time spent
uncovering LCG’s alleged discovery abuse and making
this motion. Id. at 5.
does not dispute that it destroyed the laptop and that a
number of Ms. DeWalt’s e-mails are not available.
However, it argues that sanctions are not warranted here
because the Armettas and Aspira have failed to show that the
laptop’s contents were relevant to this case and that
LCG acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.
See LCG’s Opp. Br., ECF No. 140.
reasons that follow, the Motion for Sanctions, ECF No. 130,
is GRANTED with respect to attorneys’
fees and costs but DENIED as to the
remainder of relief requested.
described in more detail in other rulings, Aspira, Mr.
Armetta, and Mrs. Armetta were in the business of providing
marketing services. LCG hired Mrs. Armetta directly as an
employee. It hired Mr. Armetta and Aspira as independent
third-party contractors. This lawsuit arises out of the
dissolution of these business relationships.
DeWalt was LCG’s Chief Marketing Officer and a key
point of contact for the Armettas and Aspira. See
Ruling on Mots. for Summ. J. 3-14, ECF No. 126. In
particular, and crucial to their factual narrative of the
case, Aspira and Mr. Armetta claim that Ms. DeWalt knew about
a commission LCG paid to them for their direct mail marketing
services. Aspira’s Br. 5-6, ECF No. 130; see
also Ruling on Mots. for Summ. J. 5, ECF No. 146. They
also claim that she approved a business arrangement, which
may represent a conflict of interest, whereby Mrs. Armetta
was employed by LCG and continued to be a member of Aspira,
while LCG continued to do business with Aspira.
Aspira’s Br. 6, ECF No. 130; see also Ruling
on Mots. for Summ. J. 6-9, ECF No. 146.
DeWalt left LCG on January 24, 2013, before this lawsuit was
filed. Per LCG’s policy, after she left the company,
her laptop was slated for recycling, Aspira’s Ex. B,
Letter dated June 4, 2015 at 1, ECF No. 130-1, and was
recycled in October 2013. Id.; Aspira’s Ex. I,
Malik Aff. ¶8, ECF No. 130-3.
employees e-mails are typically backed up to a server, rather
than only being saved locally on any given computer.
See Aspira’s Ex. B, Letter dated June 4, 2015
at 2, ECF No. 130-1; Aspira’s Ex. G, Letter dated Oct.
16, 2014 at 2, ECF No. 130-1; Aspira’s Ex. I, Malik
Aff. ¶¶4-7, ECF No. 130-3. As a result, recycling a
computer ordinarily should not result in the destruction of
e-mails or other electronic documents that may be relevant to
litigation. However, Ms. DeWalt also deleted a number of
emails that had not been backed up on LCG’s server.
Aspira’s Ex. G, Letter dated Oct. 16, 2014 at 2, ECF
No. 130-1; Aspira’s Ex. I, Malik Aff. ¶7, ECF No.
130-3. Thus, a number of Ms. DeWalt’s e-mails were not
on LCG’s server at the time she left the company and,
once the laptop was destroyed, they were completely gone.
March 26, 2014, Mrs. Armetta served LCG with a request for
production of documents in this lawsuit, seeking all
communications from Stacy DeWalt relevant to “marketing
or creative strategy for the partnership and/or direct mail
marketing programs.” Aspira’s Ex. C, Document
Requests dated Mar. 26, 2014 at 7, ECF No. 130-1. LCG
gathered e-mails responsive to this request by pulling them
from its server. Aspira’s Ex. I, Malik Aff.
¶¶ 4-5, 7, ECF No. 130-3. This method excluded the
e-mails that Ms. DeWalt had deleted, but none of the parties
knew about this deficiency at the time. Id. ¶7.
only later, in July 2014, when the Armettas and Aspira
realized that Mrs. Armetta had produced an e-mail sent to Ms.
DeWalt that they did not have in the production of Ms.
DeWalt’s e-mails that prompted an investigation.
Aspira’s Ex. E, Pastore Decl. ¶3, ECF No. 130-1;
Aspira’s Br. 8-9, ECF No. 130. The parties discovered
that many of Ms. DeWalt’s e-mails were not available on
LCG’s server, because she had deleted them. By this
time, Ms. DeWalt’s laptop had already been destroyed.
and the Armettas argue that beginning in August 2013, when
LCG launched an internal investigation into its business
relationship with Aspira and the Armettas, and certainly by
September 2013, when Mrs. Armetta filed a lawsuit against
LCG, LCG was under an obligation to preserve all evidence
related to this case, including Ms. DeWalt’s laptop.
Aspira’s Br. 7-8, 20, ECF No. 130. They contend that if
the physical laptop existed today, they would likely have
been able to recover many of the deleted e-mails.
Aspira’s Ex. E, Pastore Decl ¶7, ECF No. 130-1.
They claim to have an expert who believes this to be the
case, but have not submitted any report or affidavit from
that individual. Id. LCG disputes whether such
e-mails would be recoverable, but also does not submit any
exhibits or other information about that position.
district courts have “broad discretion” in
deciding whether and how to sanction parties for spoliation
of evidence. See West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber
Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999); Fujitsu Ltd.
v. Fed. Express Corp., 247 F.3d 423, 436 (2d Cir. 2001)
(“The determination of an appropriate sanction for
spoliation, if any, is confined to the sound discretion of
the trial judge….”) (citations omitted). To
obtain sanctions based on the spoliation of evidence, the
movant must show “(1) that the party having control
over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the
time it was destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed
with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that the destroyed
evidence was relevant to the party’s claim or defense
such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would
support that claim or defense.” Residential Funding
Corp. v. DeGeorge Financial Corp.,306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d
Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)
(when seeking an adverse inference instruction); see also