While non-lawyers may not have heard of the term “spoliation,” most people intuitively know that destroying evidence related to an ongoing litigation is a bad thing to do.  Conversely, even many lawyers do not know the breadth of a company’s obligation to preserve evidence, particularly electronically stored information (which is quaintly referred to as “ESI”).  Further, knowing the basics of this obligation is critical because failing to preserve ESI can lead to monetary penalties, affirmative claims being dismissed and/or defenses being barred.

Perhaps the most common misconception about the obligation to preserve ESI is that a company runs no risk of punishment for having destroyed ESI pursuant to a document retention/destruction policy, as long as such policy (i) is objectively reasonable and (ii) was  implemented at a time when no litigation could have been anticipated.  Further, at first glance, Rule 37(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would appear to support this notion:

Absent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions under these rules on a party for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system.

While this rule seems simple enough, the … Keep reading