Case Law

Proportionality Must Be Considered for Spoliation Sanctions

Pennsylvania

PTSI, Inc. v. Haley, 2013 WL 2285109 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 24, 2013). In this employment law case, the plaintiff appealed a trial court’s denial of motion for sanctions against the defendants who allegedly erased critical electronic records after a preservation order had been issued. The appellate court found that the trial court applied the correct standard to determine if sanctions are appropriate for spoliation: (1) The “degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence; (2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; (3) and whether there is a lesser sanction that will avoid substantial unfairness to the opposing party… .” The appellate court also held that the trial court correctly applied the proportionality standard of Pa.R.C.P. 4009.1 to this test. Specifically, the trial court held that the obligation to preserve electronic data requires reasonable and good faith efforts, but “it is unreasonable to expect parties to take every conceivable step to preserve all potentially relevant data.” The trial court found that the defendants’ deletion of electronically stored information was not in bad faith, and that they only deleted non-relevant information. Furthermore, the trial court held that ordering an adverse inference would be a moot point, as the plaintiff could not defeat defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Asserting its deferential role, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s fact determinations.

Keywords: Spoliation, preservation, ESI, sanctions, good faith, Pennsylvania, adverse inference, proportionality