Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Eastern District Court Finds Spoliation of Evidence Relative to Failure To Preserve Video After Plaintiff's Attorney Requested Preservation

In the case of Peronace v. City of Philadelphia, No. 2:23-CV-03943-KSM (E.D. Pa. April 16, 2024 Marston, J.), the court denied the city’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a prisoner’s rights case involving Monell issues.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff alleged that he had sustained multiple seizures while incarcerated and that the correctional officers delayed in providing him with medical assistance.

As part of this decision, the court addressed a Motion for Sanctions filed by the Plaintiff under an allegation that the prison officials intentionally failed to preserve video footage from outside of the prisoner’s cell.

The court reviewed this motion under F.R.C.P. 37(e) and found that, because the city should have known to preserve the video footage after receiving correspondence from an attorney for the Plaintiff to do so, and because there was no evidence that the city took any such steps, let alone reasonable steps to preserve the video footage, the court found that the videos were spoliated.

In terms of what sanction to impose, the court reviewed the factors set out under Rule 37(e) and ruled that, since it found that the city intentionally allowed relevant video footage to be overwritten by the video surveillance system, and considering the prejudice to the Plaintiff, the court fashioned a sanction and ruled that a jury may be instructed that the Defendant intentionally failed to preserve the disputed video evidence and that, therefore, the jury may presume that the lost video footage was unfavorable to the Defendant.

In a different portion of this Opinion, the court denied the city Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment after finding that issues of fact and testimonial differences existed on the case presented.

However, after finding that the Plaintiff did not submit evidence of any custom or policy of correctional officers violating inmates’ constitutional rights in the ways that the officers allegedly violated Plaintiff’s rights in this case, the court found that the city could not be held liable under the policy or custom prong of Monell. However, the court did find that the case against the city based upon an alleged failure of the city to supervise its correctional officers could proceed.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Jeffrey D. Schmidt of the Feasterville, PA law firm of Rovner, Allen, Rovner, Zimmerman and Schmidt for bringing this case to my attention.

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