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Morris v. Trust Technologies, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 28, 2019

MATTHEW MORRIS AND COMPLETE CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTORS, LLC
v.
TRUST TECHNOLOGIES, LLC AND JEFF HANSON

          On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket No. C662166 Honorable Todd W. Hernandez, Judge Presiding

          Robert N. Aquiluz Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants Matthew Morris and Complete Construction Contractors, L.L.C.

          Azelie Ziegler Shelby Sarah K. Lunn Stephanie L. Willis Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Defendants/Appellees Trust Technologies, LLC and Jeff Hanson

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

          McCLENDON, J.

         In this appeal, the plaintiffs contend that the trial court abused its discretion and erred in failing to grant them a preliminary injunction that would enjoin the defendants from depriving the plaintiffs of full access to and use of certain computer information. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Matthew Morris is the sole owner and managing member of Complete Construction Contractors, LLC (CCC), a Louisiana residential and commercial construction company. On February 7, 2017, a warrant for the search and seizure of property located at the Baton Rouge office of CCC was issued for "[c]ompany [owned] computers, cellular phones, digital storage devices, customer ... files and billing invoices, and any information that would identify past or present employees."[1] Jeff Hanson, the owner of Trust Technologies, LLC, d/b/a Trust IT, had been providing computer support and services to CCC since 2014. At the time of the search, Mr. Hanson was contacted by CCC for assistance, and he went to CCC's office. Law enforcement personnel advised Mr. Hanson to preserve all existing computer data in his possession.

         On August 12, 2017, after the issuance of the search warrant and the arrest of Mr. Morris, Mr. Hanson sent a letter by email to Mr. Morris and CCC giving notice that Trust IT would no longer be providing technical services to CCC as of September 15, 2017. Mr. Hanson further stated that he wanted to give CCC as much notice as possible so it could secure a new IT provider and that Trust IT would provide assistance for the transition.[2]

         On September 13, 2017, Mr. Hanson sent an email to Mr. Morris and Ashley Morris, Mr. Morris's wife, wherein Mr. Hanson gave an update of various matters, including ShareSync data. With regard to the ShareSync data, Mr. Hanson stated:

I will not be able to transfer the account to Matt directly. On the day of the original raid in February, law enforcement directed me to ensure that any data we provided for CCC was protected and to not delete any of that data. In light of my conversations with Matt yesterday, I contacted law enforcement to confirm it was acceptable to transfer the ShareSync account from Trust IT to Matt. They instructed me not to do so and retain custodianship of the account. As a result, we will continue as originally planned and provide the ShareSync data on a hard drive.

         The following day, Mr. Hanson sent another email to Mr. and Mrs. Morris again advising them of the termination of services to CCC on September 15, 2017. Mr. Hanson advised Mr. Morris that he was not jeopardizing Mr. Morris's litigation in any way through the termination of services, stated that the data to be delivered to the plaintiffs could be accessed by them, and again recommended that they immediately secure the services of a new IT company. With respect to Mr. Morris's requests for additional IT services, Mr. Hanson agreed to keep the ShareSync account open until October 15, 2017. On September 21, 2017, Mr. Hanson gave Mrs. Morris an external USB hard drive containing data for CCC.[3] The receipt for the hard drive also contained a list of its contents with a screenshot of the files.[4]

         Mr. Hanson's deposition was taken on October 3, 2017. He testified that he did not have access or control to many of CCC's accounts, including RackSpace, QuickBooks, LastPass, Xactimate, BuilderTrend, NexVortexIP, GoDaddy, iPhones, iPads, iCIoud, and Wunderlist. He also testified regarding the ShareSync account, stating that it is a cloud-based file storage and sharing system. Mr. Hanson testified that he had custodial access to the ShareSync account, but that Mr. Morris had access to the account and could see what files were deleted and restore them. Mr. Hanson stated that he, however, was the only person who could permanently delete a file. Mr. Hanson agreed to maintain the ShareSync account, provided that Mr. Morris and CCC pay the cost of keeping it open for one year in advance.

         Shortly thereafter, on October 5, 2017, Mr. Morris and CCC filed a Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction against Trust Technologies, LLC and Mr. Hanson, asserting that if Mr. Hanson and Trust IT shut down the various accounts, metadata evidence would be permanently lost, which would result in the spoliation of evidence needed to defend against allegations in civil and criminal proceedings against Mr. Morris.[5] The plaintiffs asserted that Mr. Hanson and Trust IT refused to preserve the data, and they prayed for a temporary restraining order and, after due proceedings, a preliminary mandatory injunction to prevent irreparable harm. The trial court issued a temporary restraining order and set the matter for hearing.

         The hearing on the petition was held on November 27, 2017 and November 30, 2017, after which the trial court took the matter under advisement. Post-trial memoranda were filed to try to narrow the issues before the court, and on January 12, 2018, the trial court denied the petition for a preliminary injunction and vacated the temporary restraining order. ...


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