United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
RACHEL E. WEBSTER, a married woman, Plaintiff,
PSYCHIATRIC MEDICAL CARE, LLC, doing business as SENIOR LIFE SOLUTIONS, a Tennessee limited liability company, Defendant.
L. CHRISTENSEN, CHIEF JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff Rachel E. Webster's Motion for
Sanctions. (Doc. 37.) A hearing was held on the motion on
April 26, 2019. The Court now grants the motion in
substantial part, but it denies the form of relief requested.
Webster is entitled to: (1) an adverse inference instruction;
(2) the opportunity to conduct additional discovery; and (3)
her costs and fees associated with bringing the motion and
with correcting the prejudice she has suffered.
initiated suit in this matter on August 28, 2017, alleging
that she was unlawfully terminated from her employment with
Defendant Psychiatric Medical Care, LLC ("PMC"). On
January 3, 2019, the Court granted Webster1 s motion to file
an amended complaint adding Defendant Cabinet Peaks Medical
Center ("Cabinet Peaks"), a medical facility
located in Libby, Montana, which contracted with PMC to
provide services at Cabinet Peaks. Trial is set for October
claims arise from the termination of her employment with PMC.
Webster began working for PMC as a Program Therapist on June
5, 2017, with an annual salary of $65, 000. (Doc. 13 at 2.)
Along with two other new hires, Webster traveled to Missouri
for training the following week. (Id., ) On June 21,
2017, PMC terminated Webster's employment. (Id.
suffers from multiple sclerosis and trigeminal neuralgia, and
she alleges that her firing was related to her disability, in
violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
("ADA"). (See Doc. 40.) PMC theorizes that
Webster was terminated due to performance issues. However,
key evidence-Webster's personnel file, including her
training evaluation-was destroyed within days of
Webster's termination. Further, PMC did not timely inform
Webster of the destruction of the file.
requests sanctions because PMC:
(1)destroyed Webster's training records;
(2) withheld an email referencing the destruction of the
records until the day before discovery closed; (3) withheld
the templates used to assess Webster's performance in
training until after the close of discovery; (4)failed to
produce other documents regarding Webster's performance,
"including an email that disproves one of PMC's
claimed reasons for terminating Ms. Webster";
(5) failed to disclose witnesses known to PMC to have
discoverable information; and
(6) failed to produce a copy of its insurance policy for ten
months and failed, until the hearing on this matter,
produce an unredacted copy including the relevant policy
38 at 7.)
are two sources of authority under which a district court can
sanction a party who has despoiled evidence: the inherent
power of federal courts to levy sanctions in response to
abusive litigation practices, and the availability of
sanctions under Rule 37 against a party who 'fails to
obey an order to provide or permit discovery.'"
Leon v. IDX Sys. Corp., 464 F.3d 951, 958 (9th Cir.
2006) (quoting Fjelstad v. Am. Honda Motor, Co., 762
F.2d 1334, 1339 (9th Cir. 1985)). Regardless of the source of
authority relied upon, the district court has broad
discretion to fashion appropriate sanctions. Id.
the court's authority derives from Rule 37 or from its
inherent authority, the court should consider five factors
"[b]efore imposing the harsh sanction of
(1)the public's interest in expeditious resolution of
(2)the court's need to manage its dockets;
(3)the risk of prejudice to the party seeking sanctions;
(4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their
(5)the availability of less drastic sanctions.
Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Nat. Beverage Distribs., 69
F.3d 337, 348 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Henry v. Gill
Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 948 (9th Cir. 1993)).
Additionally, "[a] finding of 'willfulness, fault,
or bad faith' is required for dismissal to be
proper." Leon, 464 F.3d at 958 (quoting
Anheuser-Busch, 69 F.3d at 348).
claims may be divided between two legal categories. First,
she alleges spoliation, which is sanctionable under the
Court's inherent authority. See Leon,
464 F.3d at 958 & n.4. Second, she contends that PMC
failed to timely producer-or, in some instances, to produce
at any time-discoverable and responsive information and
evidence, which is sanctionable under Rule 37.
Northern District of California has noted, courts generally
look for three elements to determine if sanctionable
spoliation has occurred: (1) a duty to preserve the evidence
at the time of destruction; (2) culpability for the
destruction; and (3) relevance of the destroyed evidence to a
claim or defense "such that a reasonable trier of fact
could find that it would support that claim or defense."
Rockman Co. (USA) v. Nong Shim Co., 229 F.Supp.3d
1109, 1122-23 (NX). Cal. 2017) (quoting Apple Inc. v.
Samsung Elecs. Co., 888 F.Supp.2d 976, 989 (N.D. Cal.
2012)). Because Webster alleges not only spoliation but also
violations sanctionable under Rule 37, the Court will address
the second and third elements in its analysis of PMC's
discovery-related conduct as a whole. See infra p.
relies on 29 C.F.R. § 1602.14, promulgated in part under
the ADA, to establish the existence of a duty at the time
Webster's training documents were shredded. Section
1602.14 provides that "[i]n the case of involuntary
termination of an employee, the personnel records of the