Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Allen v. Sanchez

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

July 11, 2019

JAMES ALLEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
OSMANY F. SANCHEZ, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.s

         Defendants Osmany Sanchez, Caribe Trucking Company, LLC, and Starr Indemnity and Liability Company have moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs James and Rachel Allen's negligent hiring, negligent retention, and punitive damages claims. Doc. 18. In response, the Allens moved for sanctions for the spoliation of evidence that they believe would support their punitive damages claim. Doc. 20. On June 18, 2019, the Court held a hearing on those motions. Doc. 26. For the following reasons, the Allens' motion for sanctions (Doc. 20) is DENIED without prejudice, and the Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 18) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On January 26, 2018, Caribe employee Sanchez was driving Caribe's tractor trailer on an interstate highway when his left front tire blew out. Doc. 20-2 at 10. James Allen was driving in the lane to the right of and slightly behind Sanchez. Id. Sanchez, in an effort to reach the shoulder of the road, hit James' vehicle. Id.

         On March 28, 2018, James and his wife, Rachel, filed suit against Sanchez, Caribe, and Starr. Doc. 1-2. The Allens allege Sanchez was negligent in the operation of the tractor trailer and that he showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Id. ¶¶ 9, 13. The Allens allege Caribe was negligent in hiring and retaining Sanchez and that Caribe is vicariously liable for Sanchez's actions. Id. ¶¶ 10, 11, 13.

         On February 7 and 8, 2018, the Defendants received a spoliation letter from the Allens' counsel, asking the Defendants to preserve Sanchez's driver logbooks and annual inspection, daily inspection, and maintenance reports of his truck. Doc. 20-2 at 2. Throughout discovery, the Allens sought Sanchez's driver logbooks, pre- and post-trip inspection reports, and tire maintenance and replacement reports, but the Defendants failed to produce the requested documents. Docs. 20-3 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-4 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-5 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-6 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-7 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 22-1 at 6:14-8:12. This failure is the basis of the Allens' spoliation claim. Doc. 20.

         Caribe required Sanchez to keep a logbook and pre- and post-trip inspection reports and to give them to Caribe after each trip. Doc. 22-1 at 26:1-24, 28:6-29:16, 40:8-41:18. Caribe also required Sanchez to perform maintenance on his truck after every “7, 000 or 10, 000” miles driven. Id. at 30:3-31:3. This “maintenance” included a tire inspection that was more in-depth than the tire inspection performed during the pre-and post-trip inspections. Id. Like the logbooks and pre- and post-trip inspection reports, Caribe required Sanchez to turn over the maintenance reports upon completion. Doc. 20 at 2-3; see generally Doc. 22-1. The only related documents that the Defendants produced during discovery were the Annual Inspection Report of Sanchez's truck performed by the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Department of Public Safety Driver Vehicle Examination Report that was completed after the accident.[2] Docs. 22-2; 22-3.

         After the Allens moved for sanctions, the Defendants finally produced the logbooks, which only show the hours Sanchez worked during the ten days before the accident, [3] but still failed to produce the reports. Docs. 22-4. The Defendants contend in their brief they cannot locate the pre- and post-trip inspection and maintenance reports, but argue the Allens have all of the information contained in the reports through the information obtained through the DOT Annual Inspection Report, the DPS Driver Vehicle Examination Report, and the testimony of Caribe's 30(b)(6) representative, Arasay Acosta. Doc. 22 at 3, 7. For some reason or reasons, Caribe is no longer attempting to locate the reports. Acosta depo. at 18:15-19:6, 20:22-21:4

         II. MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

         Federal courts have broad discretion to impose spoliation sanctions against litigants as part of their inherent power to manage their own affairs. Brown v. Chertoff, 563 F.Supp.2d 1372, 1377 (S.D. Ga. 2008). If it is found that evidence has been spoliated, the Court must then decide whether sanctions are warranted and if so, what sanctions to impose.

         A. Whether Spoliation Occurred

         “Spoliation is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to preserve property for another's use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” Griffin v. GMAC Commercial Fin., L.L.C., 2007 WL 521907, at *3 (N.D.Ga. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (emphasis added); see Bashir v. Amtrak, 119 F.3d 929, 931 (11th Cir. 1997). “Such conduct creates the presumption that the evidence would have been harmful to the spoliator.” Baxley v. Hakiel Indus., Inc., 282 Ga. 312, 313, 647 S.E.2d 29, 30 (2007).[4] As the parties seeking sanctions, the Allens have the burden of proving spoliation. Stanfill v. Talton, 851 F.Supp.2d 1346, 1362 (M.D. Ga. 2012). To meet this burden, the Allens must prove: (1) the missing evidence existed at one time; (2) the alleged spoliator had a duty to preserve the evidence; and (3) the evidence was crucial to their case. In re Delta/AirTran Baggage Fee Antitrust Litig., 770 F.Supp.2d 1299, 1305 (N.D.Ga. 2011).

         The Allens have met this burden. Sanchez was required by Caribe to conduct pre- and post-trip inspections and perform maintenance checks after every “7, 000 or 10, 000” miles driven, fill out a report, and turn over those reports to Caribe after each trip. Docs. 20 at 2-3; 22-1 at 27:11-28:11, 29:7-31:3, 40:8-41:18; Acosta depo. at 14:3-5, 15:17-16:15. Thus, it is clear that these reports existed at one time and that Caribe received a spoliation letter within two weeks after the accident, providing Caribe clear notice of the potential for litigation and of its duty to preserve all relevant evidence. Doc. 20-2. This evidence is crucial to the Allens' claim for punitive damages because those reports potentially show that Sanchez chose to drive his truck knowing the tire that caused the accident was “defectively maintained and/or inspected.” Doc. 20 at 6. Under Georgia law, evidence of a truck driver ignoring safety concerns regarding his truck and continuing to drive is sufficient for a jury to award punitive damages. Glenn McClendon Trucking Co., Inc. v. Williams, 183 Ga.App. 508, 510, 359 S.E.2d 351, 354 (1987) (citations omitted). Nonetheless, Caribe has failed to preserve, locate, and produce these reports after multiple requests by the Allens. Docs. 20-3 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-4 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-5 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-6 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 20-7 ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 4; 22-1 at 6:14-8:12; Acosta depo. at 18:15-25, 30:23-31:14. Accordingly, the Court finds that spoliation has, indeed, occurred.

         B. Whether ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.