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Court Rules that Employer Entitled to Electronic Devices in Employee’s Possession

Wegman v. United States Specialty Sports Association, Inc.  

M.D. Fla. Dec. 12, 2023

Why This Case is Important

As electronic devices proliferate in work environments, it’s important to know what entities are entitled to retain or obtain employer-owned electronic devices in the event of a legal dispute between employer and employees.

Case Overview

The defendant, the plaintiff’s former employer, motioned for the plaintiff to return defendant’s electronic devices, because they held relevant information to the pending case.

In this case, the plaintiff, who was the defendant’s CEO, was on administrative leave from his employer. When the defendant was placed on leave, he kept multiple electronic devices, owned by the employer, that contained relevant information to the case between the two parties. The defendant tried multiple times to meet-and-confer about this issue, but the plaintiff never complied. 

Based on the defendant’s duty to preserve relevant information, the defendant moved for the plaintiff to produce the electronic devices in question and abstain from copying them.

Case Ruling

  • Motion to Compel Granted. The court ruled that the plaintiff return all employer provided electronic devices, and, before the transfer of the electronic devices, the plaintiff “not access, copy, or otherwise tamper with any [ESI] contained on the devices.”
  • Defendant Prejudiced by Plaintiff’s Retention of Employer Owned Electronic Devices. The defendant is under a duty to preserve all potentially relevant information to the case. The refusal of the plaintiff to return these devices “frustrates the organization’s collection efforts, stymies its investigation into the events that form the basis of Plaintiffs’ claims, and thwarts the preparation of the organization’s defenses.”
  • Reasonable Expenses. In addition, the court awarded reasonable expenses to the defendant and ordered the two parties to confer about the amount.

Case Law Tip

Have questions on how the FRCP applies to e-discovery? Download this FRCP E-Discovery Quick Guide to get all your questions answered. 

Legal Analysis 

That the court ordered plaintiff to return employer-owned devices to defendant, his former employer, is not at all surprising. That the court did not allow plaintiff to make any copies is surprising; will plaintiff now make a document request to defendant to produce relevant material from the devices formerly in his possession? One point of note: in footnote 1, the court held that a response two business days after a request to meet and confer is not “prompt” under the rules. That ruling should be applied more often by courts.

Hon. Andrew Peck (ret.), Senior Counsel, DLA Piper

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