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Wilmoth v. Murphy

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

August 7, 2019

MICHAEL SHANE WILMOTH
v.
DEPUTY AUSTIN MURPHY PLAINTIFF DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently pending before the Court is a Motion for Relief Regarding Spoliation (Doc. 144) filed by Plaintiff Michael Shane Wilmoth. Defendant Deputy Austin Murphy has filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. 146). The Court subsequently held a phone conference during which it gave the parties a chance to file supplements to their previous filings. Defendant filed a Supplement (Doc. 151) and a second Supplement (Doc. 152), and Wilmoth filed a Reply in support of his motion (Doc. 158). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case have already been recounted in much greater detail in the Court's opinion on summary judgment (Doc. 90). As such, the Court will repeat here only those facts necessary to give context for the Court's current ruling.

         Following the Court's order on summary judgment, the sole remaining claim in this case is Wilmoth's claim of excessive force against Deputy Murphy for an incident on August 12, 2016 in Wilmoth's cell. Of course, the facts surrounding that confrontation are disputed, but it is undisputed that Wilmoth sustained at least some bruising following the event. As such, and pursuant to the admitted standard operating procedures at the time, Deputy Zachary Hale took photographs of Wilmoth and his injuries using his personal cell phone, [1] which were to be used in the resulting investigation of the incident.[2] And, in fact, Sergeant Lira made specific mention of these photographs in his resulting report. (Doc. 145-3). However, contrary to the apparent usual practice of the Benton County Detention Center, those photographs were either 1) never uploaded to the jail's internal incident reporting system or 2) were uploaded and were subsequently misplaced or deleted.[3]These photographs were also never produced to Wilmoth at any point during discovery. Wilmoth now claims that this evidence was intentionally destroyed or made unavailable to him by the defendant. As such, he requests an adverse inference instruction based on spoliation of evidence. While the Court concludes that sanctions-including an adverse inference instruction-are appropriate, it does so based on this defendant's lack of candor in the discovery process and his repeated failure to answer Wilmoth's simple discovery requests. In short, the Court finds that defendant's[4]conduct in this case was designed to deprive Wilmoth of the use of these photographs in litigation.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e) provides sanction options for a court when a party fails to take reasonable steps to preserve electronically stored information. Under that Rule, if such evidence cannot be replaced through additional discovery, the Court:

(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or
(2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information's use in the litigation may:
(A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party;
(B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party; or
(C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.

F.R.C.P. 37(e)(1), (2)(A)-(C).

         III. ...


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