Plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions Denied for Failure to Establish Spoliation of Evidence U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, October 24, 2016

The plaintiffs contended that their decedent was exposed to asbestos while working as a machinist at a shipyard owned by Electric Boat Corporation from 1962-65. At the close of discovery, a period in which several discovery motions were filed, the plaintiffs filed this motion for spoliation of evidence. The plaintiffs asserted that Electric Boat spoliated evidence in four areas including 1) historical asbestos insulation dust studies 2) material safety data sheets 3) certain deposition transcripts 4) certain deposition exhibits

The court stated that spoliation is the “destruction or material alteration of evidence or the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.”

Dust Studies: The plaintiffs contended that Electric Boat had performed dust studies since 1968 and had record of air studies since 1971 or 1972. However, Electric Boat took the position that it had no air studies during the period in which the plaintiff was allegedly exposed. Further, Electric Boat made the statement that the plaintiffs were permitted to add new experts after the close of discovery who relied on “industrial hygiene documents, such as insulation dust studies performed by Electric Boat during the time period Plaintiffs claim exposure to Electric Boat 1962 or 1965.” The plaintiffs argued that this statement contradicted Electric Boat’s position and therefore spoliation was committed. The court disagreed and noted that it was quite possible that Electric Boat had no air monitoring tests for the relevant time period or that it had turned over dust studies from 1962 or 1965. In sum, the plaintiffs’ claims were nothing more than an inference but did not warrant sanctions.

Material Safety Data Sheets: The court noted that Electric Boat had MSDS sheets from 1971 but that it had not produced them as they were not relevant to the time period of the alleged exposure. The court faulted the plaintiffs for not filing a motion to compel on the issue of whether they were outside the scope of discovery as Electric Boat contended. At best, the issue on the MSDS sheets was nothing more than an inference, like the dust studies.

Transcripts and exhibits: The court found that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate spoliation on the final two issues, namely deposition transcripts and exhibits. Electric Boat submitted 10 prior deposition transcripts but the plaintiffs cried foul as they found that 30 transcripts existed. Electric Boat maintained that it had submitted the transcripts in its possession including some of the exhibits the plaintiffs claimed were missing. The court concluded that the plaintiff had not established that the defendants had control over the allegedly spoliated exhibits and transcripts.

Accordingly, the motion was denied.

Read the full decision here.

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