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E-⁠Discovery Case Law Library
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Case shelved under Reasonableness

Spoliation Close Call Involving Paper Documents & Work-From-Home

Ricardo Sanz v. Wells Fargo Bank
S.D. Fla. June 21, 2021
Why This Case Is Important

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more employees are working remotely, which can make the discovery of physical files more complex. It’s imperative that legal teams have new procedures for identifying physical documents whether they are located remotely or at a company’s place of work.

Overview

In this civil rights case involving a recently fired employee, the plaintiff moved for attorney’s fee and spoliation sanctions based on the defendant’s “alleged spoliation of a physical file containing ‘documents relating to Mr. Sanz (plaintiff).”

The plaintiff requested a file containing the plaintiff’s supervisor’s notes regarding plaintiff’s employment. The notes were not immediately produced. After the plaintiff first filed a motion for spoliation sanctions, the defendant discovered the file and a copy of the file was produced.

The plaintiff still wanted to move forward with his motion for spoliation sanctions. The plaintiff alleged that, because of the circumstances surrounding the file's production, he "ha[d] no way of determining whether the file presented is the original file or whether documents have been removed—by anyone.

The plaintiff requested an adverse inference instruction or the ability to present testimony about the discovery of this document.

Ruling
  • Motion for Adverse Inference Instruction Denied. Since the physical file was produced to the plaintiff, there was no spoliation and the plaintiff did not prove that the defendant acted in bad faith in not immediately producing the requested file. However, the court did grant attorney’s fees based on the defendant’s delayed production of the physical file, which was only produced after the motion for spoliation sanctions was made.
  • Bad Faith. To prove bad faith, the moving party must offer direct or circumstantial evidence that proves relevant information existed, the spoliating party intentionally caused the evidence to be lost, a duty to preserve the evidence was established, and the spoliating party does not have a credible basis to contradict the bad faith claim.
  • No Proof of Bad Faith. The court found here that there was no bad faith attempt to conceal the requested documents. The defendant explained that the supervisor was working remotely because of the pandemic and didn’t look for the file until after returning to her office. The court noted that mere negligence would not warrant an adverse inference sanction and then went on to state that “the Court is not willing to make the leap and opine there is some nefarious intent behind Defendant's actions.
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Legal Analysis
On Ricardo Sanz v. Wells Fargo Bank
"David Cohen, Esq., Chair - E-Discovery Group, Reed Smith LLP
BY
"David Cohen, Esq., Chair - E-Discovery Group, Reed Smith LLP

As Magistrate Judge Goodman notes, there can be no successful spoliation claim absent evidence that relevant documents were actually lost—a mere delay in production does not consititute spoliation of evidence, whether proceeding under FRCP 37(e)(covering electronic evidence) or common law (covering hard copy documents).

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