United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PLAINTIFFS OBJECTION TO RULING ON MOTION
Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
product liability lawsuit concerns the installation of spray
polyurethane foam ("SPF") at Plaintiffs' home
in Niantic, Connecticut; Plaintiffs allege that the SPF
emitted noxious fumes, gases and odors that caused them
serious harm. Familiarity with the underlying facts is
presumed. The current dispute arises from Defendants'
allegation that Plaintiffs engaged in the spoliation of
evidence. On February 19, 2016, Defendants Johns Manville and
Icynene filed a joint motion for sanctions arising out of
this alleged spoliation [Doc. ## 112-114], which was later
joined by Defendant Anchor [Doc. # 115]. Plaintiffs filed
their opposition on March 11, 2016 [Doc. # 116] and requested
a hearing on March 18, 2016 [Doc. # 117]. Defendants replied
fourteen days later. [Doc. # 118.] On April 26, 2016,
Magistrate Judge Margolis issued a ruling granting in part
Defendants' motion for sanctions and denying
Plaintiffs' request for a hearing. [Doc. # 128.] On May
10, 2016, Plaintiffs objected to Magistrate Judge
Margolis' ruling [Doc. # 130] and the objection was fully
joined on June 23, 2016. For the reasons laid out in this
memorandum, Plaintiffs' Objection is overruled.
instant objection [Doc. # 130] seeks to overturn Magistrate
Judge Margolis's decision that Plaintiffs engaged in
spoliation of relevant evidence when they removed "at
least ten separate rolled bundles of floor covering"
from their home one day before Defendants were to inspect it.
(Ruling on Mot. [Doc. # 128] at 6.)
evident in her ruling, Magistrate Judge Margolis carefully
reviewed the parties' briefing and exhibits. She remarked
first that Plaintiffs admitted to removing certain items from
the home prior to inspection, including "candles,
carpeting, rugs and furniture" and she considered
Plaintiffs' explanations for these actions, taking into
account their need for toiletries and laundry detergent at
the hotel to which they had decamped pending the inspection,
their desire to de-clutter the house prior to inspection, and
medical advice to remove rugs that posed risks of slipping
for Mrs. Beyer while she was mobility-impaired. (Id.
at 3, 5.)
Judge Margolis then focused on the disparity between what
Plaintiff Richard Beyer asserted in his affidavit about what
he removed and the videotape evidence shot by Defendants'
private investigator showing Mr. Beyer "tossing into the
back of a pickup truck at least ten separate rolled bundles
of floor covering, " some relatively small and some
"large and bulky." (Id. at 6.) She
reasonably found that Mr. Beyer's affidavit "grossly
understate[d]" the amount of carpeting he threw away and
that this fact placed in question his veracity in this
matter. (Id. at 6.) Magistrate Judge Margolis
concluded that the "large-scale removal of floor
covering" constituted spoliation.
Judge Margolis then fashioned a remedy that granted
Defendants some of what they sought, denied other requests,
and left certain requested remedies to this Court for
consideration at an appropriate stage. Specifically,
Magistrate Judge Margolis awarded Defendants attorneys'
fees and costs reasonably incurred in bringing on the motion
for sanctions, but not for the costs connected with the home
inspection itself. She also found that Defendants were
entitled to the specific adverse inference: "that the
floor covering that was removed from the Plaintiffs' home
would be favorable to defendants' defense and unfavorable
to plaintiffs' claims." (Id. at 8.) She
additionally specifically found that Defendants were not
entitled to an inference that the "air quality inside
plaintiffs' home does not pose a threat to human health
or property." She left three further requested
remedies-preclusion of reports showing elevated levels of
volatile organic compounds ("VOCs") in
Plaintiffs' home, preclusion of testimony regarding
elevated VOC levels in the home, and preclusion of expert
testimony on elevated VOC levels-to the discretion of this
briefing their objection to Magistrate Judge Margolis's
ruling, Plaintiffs advance a new explanation for the removal
of carpeting. (Pis.' Obj. [Doc. # 130-1].) They now
assert that Defendants' videotape evidence, which depicts
the removal of a large volume of carpeting, is not of
carpeting from the master bath area that was removed from the
home the day before the inspection, but rather of carpeting
from the study that was subjected to water damage, removed
from the home some six weeks before the inspection, stored on
the patio, and thrown away the day before the inspection.
(Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiffs then explain that they did
not mention this carpeting in their prior briefing or
affidavits because it was not "in the home the day
before the inspection, was not removed from the home in
anticipation of the inspection, and had not been in the home
for over a month before Plaintiffs received notice of
Defendants' Inspection ...." (Id. at 4.)
noted in other rulings in this case, a Magistrate Judge has
the authority to review, hear and "determin[e]
non-dispositive motions, including, but not limited to, those
relating to discovery and other matters of procedure."
D. Conn. L. Civ. R. for Magistrate Judges 72.1(C)(2). In the
event a party timely objects to a magistrate judge's
written determination, "in matters determined by the
Magistrate Judge under Rule 72.1(C)(2) . . . the reviewing
Judge . . . shall set aside any order found to be clearly
erroneous or contrary to law . . . ." D. Conn. L.
Civ. R. for Magistrate Judges 72.2(b) (emphasis added).
"Under the clearly erroneous standard of review of [Fed
R. Civ. P.] 72(a), the magistrate judge's findings should
not be rejected merely because the court would have decided
the matter differently. Rather, the district court must
affirm the decision of the magistrate judge unless the
district court on the entire evidence is left with the
definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been
committed." Pall Corp. v. Entegris, Inc., 655
F.Supp.2d 169, 172 (E.D.N.Y. 2008). Further, "a
magistrate judge's decision is contrary to law only where
it runs counter to controlling authority." Id.
the evidentiary record on which the Court bases its decision,
while Rule 72(b)- regarding objections to a magistrate
judge's recommended rulings-allows the district court to
receive further evidence in order to conduct its de
novo review, Rule 72(a), under which Plaintiffs'
objection is considered, provides no such authority. Given
that the Court functionally operates as an appellate tribunal
under Rule 72(a), it should rarely exercise its discretionary
power to entertain evidence outside the record. See
Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp. v. Interstate Fire
& Cas. Co., No. 3:12-cv-1641 JBA, 2015 WL 164069, at
*6-7 (D. Conn. 2015).
instant case, Plaintiffs neglect to recite or discuss this
legal standard, instead treating the Objection as a chance to
relitigate the motion for sanctions on an expanded
evidentiary record. They do, however, isolate one of
Magistrate Judge Margolis's findings as
"error." (Pis.' Objection. [Doc. # 130-1] at
4.) Plaintiffs contend that
in ruling on Defendant's Motions [for sanctions in
connection with spoliation], this Court held that the video
showed that Plaintiffs grossly understated the quantity of
floor covering that was removed from the home that day.
However, this conclusion is erroneous because neither
Plaintiffs' Response nor the Affidavit of Richard Beyer
submitted therewith addressed the Study Carpet that ...