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Waters v. Kohl's Department Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 2, 2015

SHARYN WATERS, Plaintiff,
v.
KOHL'S DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS FOR SPOLIATION OF EVIDENCE RE: DKT. NO. 65

KANDIS A. WESTMORE, Magistrate Judge.

On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff Sharyn Waters filed this action against Defendant Kohl's Department Stores, Inc. alleging that she was injured in a slip and fall incident at Defendant's Hayward, California store. On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence and requested that the Court give the jury an adverse inference instruction.

On April 2, 2015, the Court held a hearing, and after careful consideration of the parties' arguments and moving papers, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion for sanctions.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 5, 2011, Plaintiff Sharyn Waters allegedly tripped and fell at Defendant Kohl's Department Store, Inc.'s Hayward, California store. (Compl., Dkt. 1, Ex. A.) She claims to have fallen as a result of "(1) narrowly spaced clothing racks, and (2) litter [] remain[ing] on the floor... [which caused] her to smash her head on the floor with violent force resulting in severe, permanent, and substantial injuries and permanent bodily and mental damage." (Compl. at 4.) Plaintiff's fall was witnessed by her son Robert McQueen.

On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff and John Philip Waters filed this action in Alameda County Superior Court, which Defendant subsequently removed to federal court. Thereafter, John Philip Waters dismissed his claims against Defendant with prejudice.

Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on August 26, 2014. On January 8, 2015, after holding a hearing and considering supplemental briefing, the Court denied Kohl's motion for summary judgment and found that "Plaintiff's fall triggered Kohl's duty to preserve all relevant video evidence, rather than only the video that showed her fall, so an adverse inference [jury] instruction may be appropriate to explain the absence of additional surveillance video." (Order on Mot. for Summary J., "MSJ Order, " Dkt. No. 57 at 8.)

On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed her motion for sanctions for spoliation of video evidence. (Pl.'s Mot., Dkt. No. 65.) Defendant filed its opposition on March 6, 2015. (Def.'s Opp'n, Dkt. No. 71.) Plaintiff filed her reply on March 13, 2015. (Pl.'s Reply, Dkt. No. 72.) On April 2, 2015, the Court held a hearing at which both parties appeared.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Courts are vested with inherent powers "to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.'" Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. Lakewood Eng'g & Mfg. Corp., 982 F.2d 363, 368 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991)). The Ninth Circuit has explicitly recognized that trial courts possess "inherent discretionary power to make appropriate evidentiary rulings in response to the destruction or spoliation of relevant evidence, " and that sanctions for spoliation of evidence may be imposed under the court's inherent powers to manage its own affairs. Glover v. BIC Corp., 6 F.3d 1318, 1329 (9th Cir. 1993); Jackson Family Wines, Inc. v. Diageo N. Am., Inc., No. CV 11-5639 EMC (JSC), 2014 WL 595912, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 14, 2014) (citing Leon v. IDX Sys. Corp., 464 F.3d 951, 958 (9th Cir.2006)).

Spoliation "refers to the destruction or material alteration of evidence or to the failure to preserve property for another's use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation." Silvestri v. Gen. Motors Corp., 271 F.3d 583, 590 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing West v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 167 F.3d 776, 779 (2d Cir. 1999)). Evidence of spoliation may be grounds for sanctions, which may include an adverse inference instruction. Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 888 F.Supp.2d 976, 989 (N.D. Cal. 2012) (citing Akiona v. United States, 938 F.2d 158, 161 (9th Cir. 1991)).

While the Ninth Circuit has not set forth the standard for when an adverse inference instruction is appropriate, courts in this district have adopted the Second Circuit's three-part test, which provides that "a party seeking an adverse inference instruction based on the destruction of evidence must establish[:] (1) that the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind'; and (3) that the evidence was relevant' to the party's claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that it would support that claim or defense." Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Byrnie v. Town of Cromwell, 243 F.3d 93, 107-12 (2d Cir. 2001)); see, e.g., Io Grp. Inc. v. GLBT Ltd., No. C-10-1282 MMC DMR, 2011 WL 4974337, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 19, 2011); Vieste, LLC v. Hill Redwood Dev., 2011 WL 2198257, at *2 (N.D.Cal. June 6, 2011); World Courier v. Barone, No. C 06-3072 TEH, 2007 WL 1119196, at *1 (N.D.Cal. Apr. 16, 2007); UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Hummer Winblad Venture Partners (In re Napster, Inc. Copyright Litig.), 462 F.Supp.2d 1060, 1078 (N.D.Cal. 2006); Hamilton v. Signature Flight Support Corp., No. C 05-0490 CW(MEJ), 2005 WL 3481423, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2005); Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 888 F.Supp.2d 976, 989-90 (N.D. Cal. 2012).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that Kohl's engaged in the willful spoliation of video evidence when its employees retained only nine minutes of video footage pertaining to Plaintiff's slip and fall. (Pl.'s Mot. at 5-6.) As a result of this conduct, Plaintiff requests that the Court give an adverse inference instruction to advise the jury of Kohl's ...


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