United States District Court, N.D. Ohio
DONNA MOORADIAN, ET AL. Plaintiffs,
FCA US, LLC, Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOC. NO. 46]
S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
FCA US, LLC (“FCA”) requests that the Court
sanction Plaintiff White and his counsel for spoliating
evidence. FCA manufactures Chrysler automobiles,
including Jeep Wranglers. Plaintiffs oppose the sanction
motion, arguing that no spoliation occurred.
reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS IN
PART Defendant's motion.
a case about sand. Specifically, in this case, the Plaintiffs
allege that casting sand used in creating Jeep Wrangler
engine parts seeps into those vehicles' radiators,
causing heating and cooling issues.
the most important piece of evidence in this case, then, is
the fluid in a Wrangler's radiator. Plaintiffs allege
casting sand settles in some Wrangler radiators causing a
type of sludge. Plaintiff White and his attorneys'
(mis)handling of that fluid is the reason for this Order.
August 17, 2017, Defendant FCA sent written discovery
requests to Plaintiff White. Among those requests, FCA asked
White to “[w]ithin 90 days . . . [produce] YOUR VEHICLE
for a private inspection by FCA U.S. at an FCA U.S.
authorized dealership chosen by YOU.”Plaintiff White
responded that he would produce his vehicle for inspection as
FCA's request and Plaintiff White's response,
however, Plaintiff White took his vehicle to an unaffiliated
automobile service location at his counsel's
behest. White and White's attorney gave
FCA's counsel no notice. On September 14, 2017, White
took his vehicle to Finish Line Performance LLC
(“Finish Line”) and had the coolant in his
did not take his Wrangler to Finish Line for any needed
service to operate his vehicle. White took his vehicle to Finish
Line because his lawyers told him to. Neither he nor his attorneys
informed Defendant FCA that White was going to take his
vehicle in for this work.
requested that Finish Line record their work and that they
save anything that came out of the radiator. When White
received his vehicle back from Finish Line, they also gave
him two large, unlabeled, unsealed, half-filled jugs of
liquid that Finish Line said came from his radiator
flush. That same day, they also sent him four
videos through Facebook Messenger, purportedly of their
servicing his vehicle.
White, his counsel, nor any representative of Defendant FCA
observed the making of these videos. The videos show fluid
being drained from a vehicle in an auto repair
shop. The fluid pours over part of that
vehicle's underbody, through a dirty funnel, and into a
container. In another video, liquid from one container is
poured into what appears to be one of the jugs White now
possesses. The workstation and shop are dirty in predictable
Line seemingly shot these videos on a cell phone, and so they
are of relatively low quality. There are no wide shots in the
videos. Instead, the videos are all shot in various degrees
of close-up. Because of this, neither the people in the
videos nor the vehicle they are working on is readily
identifiable. Additionally, none of the four videos are time
stamped, and they do not show an obviously continuous
sequence. There is no indication of a precise order of events
or a description of what happens when the camera is off.
of these flaws, it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell
whether these videos show what Plaintiff White and his
counsel says that they show.
may be even more concerning, however, is what White says
happened after he picked up his vehicle and the jugs of
liquid from Finish Line. White says that he took the
unlabeled and unsealed jugs, purportedly containing the
casting-sand filled liquid drained from his radiator, and sat
them in his car during his twelve-hour shift at
work. When White got off work, he put the jugs
in the breezeway at his mother's house. He left them
there, seemingly unattended, for about three weeks, until he
picked them up and brought them to his
courts have broad discretion to craft proper sanctions for
the spoliation of evidence.” When a party seeks
sanctions for its opponent's spoliation of evidence, that
party must show: “‘(1) that the party having
control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at
the time it was destroyed; (2) that the [evidence] was
destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that the
destroyed 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.'” “The culpable state of mind factor
is satisfied by a showing that the evidence was destroyed
knowingly, even if without intent to breach a duty to
preserve it, or negligently.”
proper sanction for spoliation of evidence “serve[s]
both fairness and punitive functions.” It both
levels the evidentiary playing field and punishes the
spoliating party by ensuring that they suffer any risk of an
Requirements for Sanctions
initial matter, Plaintiff White is wrong with his contention
that spoliation sanctions are based on state and not federal
law. The Sixth Circuit has held that “the authority to
impose sanctions for spoliated evidence arises not from
substantive law but, rather, ‘from a court's
inherent power to control the judicial
process.'” Because of this, federal law applies to
crafting spoliation sanctions.
White's and his attorneys' actions satisfy each
requirement for a spoliation sanction. Plaintiff White,
alone, controlled this evidence. The work was done on his
vehicle, and he is the sole owner of that
vehicle. Further, Plaintiff White and his
attorneys admit that they had a duty to preserve this
White and his counsel admit that they had a culpable state of
mind. While Plaintiff White testified that his attorneys were
aware of his plan to get his car worked on, Plaintiff's opposition to FCA's
sanctions motion actually clarifies that statement. In fact,
White's counsel told him to ...