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Case shelved under Reasonableness

Altered Photos Lead to Case Dismissal

Lawrence v. City of New York
S.D.N.Y. July 28, 2018
Why This Case Is Important

While there are new FRCP rules that more clearly define when spoliation sanctions are warranted, the court is still afforded a variety of sources of authority to sanction parties for e-discovery misconduct.

Overview:

The defendants moved for case dismissal against the plaintiff based on the production of 67 photos that may have been intentionally altered by the plaintiff.

In this civil rights case, the plaintiff contended that defendants entered her house without a warrant and damaged property. Within e-discovery, the plaintiff produced photos to show the condition of her house after the improper search was conducted. The plaintiff testified that the photos produced were taken days after the incident.

Based on conflicting testimony on who took the photos, the defendants produced the photos’ native files, including metadata. After checking the photos’ metadata, the photos were found to have been taken two years after the incident.

Ruling:
  • Case Dismissed. Based on the inherent power of court, the court dismissed the case due to plaintiff’s continued “pattern of evasion and untruths” surrounding the date on which the photos were taken to bolster the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant.
  • Plaintiff’s Attorney Not Sanctioned by Court. The attorney’s production of the staged photos was “careless, but not objectively unreasonable.” The plaintiff’s attorney repeatably tried to gain access to the photos in questions after the incident and was “unfamiliar with the process for checking a digital photograph’s metadata.” Thus, the attorney did not know about the fraudulent nature of the photos and was deemed to have conducted a reasonable inquiry into the completeness and correctness of the production.
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Legal Analysis
On Lawrence v. City of New York
David Cohen, Esq., Chair - E-Discovery Group, Reed Smith LLP
BY
David Cohen, Esq., Chair - E-Discovery Group, Reed Smith LLP

Must lawyers producing digital photographs first check metadata to help ensure that the pictures are not fraudulent? Noting that attorneys are generally entitled to rely on representations of their clients, Judge Pauley opined here that Plaintiff’s attorney’s failure to check metadata “may have been careless, but was not objectively unreasonable.”

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