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Dotson v. Edmonson

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 22, 2018

LYLE DOTSON, ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
COL. MICHAEL EDMONSON, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (1)

          ORDER

          SUSIE MORGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On January 3, 2018, Plaintiff Lyle Dotson filed a motion in limine seeking sanctions for spoliation of evidence.[1] Defendants Calvin Anderson, Rene Bodet, Michael Edmonson, Tagee Journee, and Huey McCartney oppose the motion.[2] For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         Plaintiff seeks sanctions for spoliation of evidence, arguing the Defendants and the Louisiana State Police (“LSP”)[3] destroyed or failed to preserve electronically stored information in the form of cell phone records and call logs from the evening of October 7, 2015.[4] According to interrogatory responses provided by the Defendants and deposition testimony, the troopers relied on their LSP-issued (or LSP-funded) cell phones to communicate during the course of operations in general, and specifically on the night of October 7, 2015.[5] Trooper Bodet testified that the troopers primarily used cell phones for communicating during the undercover operation.[6] Trooper Bordelon testified that Sergeant Sinanan spoke with Bordelon several times via cell phone, and that Sinanan relayed the information regarding the “potential shadow” to other LSP officers.[7] Trooper Bodet corroborated Trooper Bordelon's testimony, confirming that the communication between the LSP officers regarding the shadow occurred via cell phone.[8] Plaintiff asserts this “establishes the existence of electronically stored information such as call logs and text messages on those cell phones.”[9]

         Plaintiff has issued multiple discovery requests, subpoenas, and has filed several motions to compel in efforts to obtain these call logs and text messages and thereby develop an understanding of the officers' movements and observations on the night of October 7, 2015. Despite these efforts, Plaintiff has not been able to obtain this information. Plaintiff's motion asserts “Defendants and Louisiana State Police each continue to maintain that no cell phone records from the evening of October 7, 2015 exist and any such records that may have existed have been destroyed because LSP has no mechanism for maintaining these records.”[10] Plaintiff claims the loss of these records has prejudiced his case, because the movements and communications among these officers are crucial to establishing whether reasonable suspicion existed to stop Plaintiff.[11]

         “Spoliation of evidence is the ‘destruction or the significant and meaningful alteration of evidence.'”[12] For the spoliation of evidence doctrine to apply, the movant must prove two elements: “(1) that the party having control over the evidence had a duty to preserve the evidence at the time it was destroyed; and (2) that the destruction of evidence was intentional.”[13] “A duty to preserve arises when a party knows or should know that certain evidence is relevant to pending or future litigation.”[14] “The duty to preserve material evidence arises not only during litigation, but also during the period before litigation when a party knew or should have known that litigation was imminent.”[15]

         Rule 37(e) provides for sanctions in response to a failure to preserve electronically stored information:

(e) Failure to Preserve Electronically Stored Information.
If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court:
(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or
(2) only upon finding that the party acted with intent to deprive another party of the information's use in the litigation may:
(A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the jury;
(B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party; or
(C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.[16]

         Plaintiff argues the Defendants and the LSP had a duty to preserve this information in anticipation of litigation, [17] as well as a duty to preserve public records under the Louisiana Public Records law.[18] Plaintiff argues that, as early as October 7, 2016, when the Defendants were named in an article on nola.com, [19] Defendants and the LSP were on notice that litigation was pending, and thus should have known that any electronically stored information relating to the investigatory stop and arrest of Lyle ...


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