Wong v. Thomas, Case No. 05-2588 (D. N.J. Sept. 10, 2008) 

In this case, plaintiff, a Chinese American woman and the former Executive Director of the State of New Jersey’s Guaranty Agency of Federal Student Loans, sued for discrimination based upon race and national origin. In discovery, she sought a variety of emails that were not forthcoming. In her motion for sanctions, she pointed to testimony showing that many of the defendants in the case had not been asked to preserve documents. The defense pointed to testimony showing that none of the defendants had any relevant documents. District Judge Anne E. Thompson was persuaded by the absence of relevant evidence and refused to sanction the defendants.

The court relied on the opinion in Mosaid Techs. Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., 348 F. Supp. 2d 332, 335 (D.N.J. 2004), which held that a party seeking sanctions must satisfy four requirements:

First, it is essential that the evidence in question be within the party's control. Second, it must appear that there has been actual suppression or withholding of the evidence. Third, the evidence destroyed or withheld must have been relevant to claims or defenses. And fourth, it must have been reasonably foreseeable that the evidence would later be discoverable.

Slip Opinion at 2 (quoting Mosaid, 348 F. Supp. 2d at 336).

The court construed relevant evidence broadly, but held that “the party seeking discovery must be able to identify, with some specificity, the documents being sought, or the information that is contained therein.” Slip Opinion at 3. The defendants maintained that they had reviewed 22,000 recovered emails and not one of them was relevant. They also certified under oath that documents that were inadvertently destroyed bore no relation to the litigation. Because plaintiff was unable to identify any specific examples of information that may have been contained in the lost emails, the court found that she had not met the required threshold of showing the relevancy of any specific evidence that she contends was destroyed.

Read the opinion