United States District Court, N.D. California
DANIEL C. GARCIA, Plaintiff,
CITY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants.
ORDER ON MOTION FOR DISCOVERY SANCTIONS RE: DKT. NO.
ILLSTON United States District Judge.
the Court is plaintiff Daniel Garcia's motion for
discovery sanctions. Dkt. No. 186. Pursuant to Civil Local
Rule 7-1(b), the Court finds this matter appropriate for
resolution without oral argument and VACATES the hearing set
for April 28, 2017. Having reviewed the parties'
submissions in detail, for the foregoing reasons, the Court
GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART plaintiff's motion.
incidents underlying this civil rights lawsuit occurred in
May 2008. The Santa Clara Marriott sought to evict Mr. Garcia
for violating its “No Party” policy, and when
Garcia refused to leave, hotel staff called the Santa Clara
Police Department (“SCPD”). When the police
arrived, an altercation ensued. Mr. Garcia was arrested.
During and after the arrest, officers used physical force
against Mr. Garcia - in the Marriott hallway, in the back
seat of a police car, and later, at a Santa Clara County
2009, completely unrelated to his May 2008 arrest, plaintiff
was arrested and held on, among others, charges of conspiracy
to commit murder. On June 1, 2010, plaintiff filed this civil
rights lawsuit while in custody. Dkt. No. 1. In May 2012,
upon motion, the Court stayed this case pending completion of
the “significantly more serious” proceedings in
Riverside County. Dkt. No. 60. Approximately one year later,
Mr. Garcia wrote the Court to provide an update on his
criminal proceedings - he had been convicted and sentenced to
a term of life without parole. Dkt. No. 63.
12, 2014, upon motion, the Court lifted the stay in this
case. Dkt. No. 75. Garcia served his first discovery requests
in January 2015; defendants responded in February 2015. Kim
Decl. ¶ 3 & Ex. A. On September 9, 2015, the Court
granted defendants' motion for summary judgment in part,
narrowing the case from at least nine causes of action
against multiple defendant police officers to two excessive
force claims, and related state tort claims, against a single
officer: defendant Alec Lange. Dkt. No. 116.
Court referred this matter for appointment of pro
bono counsel on May 17, 2016. Dkt. No. 129. Shortly
thereafter, plaintiff's attorneys were appointed to aid
with discovery, trial preparation, and trial. Dkt. No. 132.
Since being appointed last July, plaintiff's pro
bono counsel has conducted roughly ten depositions,
engaged in document discovery, and closely reviewed the
discovery record as it existed when counsel began
representing Mr. Garcia. Throughout this process,
plaintiff's attorneys have repeatedly encountered
specific documents or categories of documents that had not
been produced and arguably should have. At plaintiff's
request, defendants produced some of these documents; others
had been destroyed, lost, or may never have
existed. On March 24, 2017, plaintiff filed this
motion, requesting sanctions against defendants for
spoliation of evidence and other alleged discovery
trial courts are vested with a wide range of inherent powers
that allow them to govern their courtrooms and the litigation
processes before them. Chambers v. NASCO, 501 U.S.
32, 43 (1991). Inherent powers must be used only “with
restraint and discretion.” Id. at 44. An
example of these inherent powers is the discretionary power
of a federal trial court to levy appropriate sanctions
against a party which prejudices its opponent through the
spoliation of evidence that the spoliating party had reason
to know was relevant to litigation. See Glover v. BIC
Corp., 6 F.3d 1318, 1329-30 (9th Cir. 1993). Appropriate
sanctions for spoliation, when found, range from outright
dismissal, an adverse inference jury instruction with respect
to the spoliated evidence, exclusion of a category of
evidence, or monetary sanctions (including attorneys'
fees). See id.; Leon v. IDX Sys. Corp., 464
F.3d 951, 958, 961 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Goodyear
Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, No. 15-1406, 581 U.S.,
2017 WL 1377379, at *5 (Apr. 18, 2017) (quoting
Chambers, 501 U.S. at 44-45) (Inherent authority
“includes ‘the ability to fashion appropriate
sanctions for conduct which abuses the judicial process.'
. . . And one permissible sanction is ‘an assessment of
impose evidentiary sanctions for spoliation, the court need
not find that the spoliating party acted in bad faith;
willfulness or fault can suffice. Unigard Sec. Ins. Co.
v. Lakewood Eng'g & Mfg. Corp., 982 F.2d 363,
368 n.2 (9th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted); Glover,
6 F.3d at 1329. The court need only find that the offending
party destroyed evidence with notice that the evidence was
potentially relevant to the litigation. Leon, 464
F.3d at 959; Glover, 6 F.3d at 1329 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (“Surely a finding of bad
faith will suffice, but so will simple notice of potential
relevance to the litigation.”); cf. United States
v. $40, 955.00 in U.S. Currency, 554 F.3d 752, 758 (9th
Cir. 2009) (“A party does not engage in spoliation
when, without notice of the evidence's potential
relevance, it destroys the evidence according to its policy
or in the normal course of business.”).
attorneys' fees, a court may award reasonable fees as a
sanction for spoliation of evidence against a party
“who acts in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for
oppressive purposes.” Leon, 464 F.3d at 961
(citation omitted). “Before awarding such sanctions,
the court must make an express finding that the sanctioned
party's behavior constituted or was tantamount to bad
faith[, ]” i.e., “by delaying or
disrupting the litigation or hampering enforcement of a court
order.” Id. (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted). “[S]uch a sanction, when imposed
pursuant to civil procedures, must be compensatory rather
than punitive in nature. . . . [T]he fee may go no further
than to redress the wronged party for losses
sustained[.]” Haeger, 581 U.S. at ___, 2017 WL
1377379, at *5 (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted); see Id. (requiring a but-for “causal
link - between the litigant's misbehavior and legal fees
paid by the opposing party.”). In addition to a federal
court's inherent power to levy sanctions, courts also
have authority to sanction a party “who fails to obey
an order to provide or permit discovery” under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b). Leon, 464 F.3d at 958
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“Willfulness, fault, or bad faith is not required for
the imposition of monetary sanctions under Rule
37(b)(2).” In re NCAA Student-Athlete Name &
Likeness Licensing Litig., No 09-1967-CW, 2012 WL
5372477, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 30, 2012).
action has been pending for approximately seven years,
predicated on events that occurred nine years ago. Mr. Garcia
represented himself in this case, from prison, during the
first six years of litigation. Essentially two claims remain
for trial on May 30, 2017: (i) an excessive force claim against
Officer Lange for pulling Mr. Garcia's hair while he was
restrained in the back seat of a police car; and (ii) an
excessive force claim against Officer Lange for taking Mr.
Garcia to the ground and using a “leg lock” at
the Santa Clara County Main Jail.
brings this motion seeking two types of sanctions for
discovery misconduct. First, plaintiff seeks an adverse
inference jury instruction based on defendants' alleged
spoliation of certain evidence. Second, plaintiff seeks
attorneys' fees for his Court-appointed pro bono