Purple Rain of Sanctions Falls on the Record Company in the “Prince Case” for their Intentional Destruction of Text Messages

March 10, 2019

Honey, I know, I know
I know times are changing
It’s time we all reach out
For something new, that means you too.
Purple Rain
PRINCE Rogers Nelson
1958-2016

I know, I know, it used to be good enough just to save the relevant emails and ESI on company computers. Not any more. Times are changing. Important business is now conducted by phone text and other messages. It’s time we all reach out and save something new, save the texts, save the phones. That directive applies to everyone, that means you too. Prince record company executives recently found that out the hard way in District Court in Minneapolis. Paisley Park Enters. v. Boxill, No. 0:17-cv-01212, (D. Minn., 3/5/19) (copy here: Prince_Discovery_Order).

United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung sanctioned the record company defendant and its two top executives in a suit over the posthumous release of Prince’s “Deliverance” album. They were sanctioned because the plaintiff, the Prince Estate via Paisley Park, proved that the defendant executives intentionally destroyed text messages about the album. They denied bad intent and claim they did what they thought the law required, save the emails and office computer data. Defendants claimed they provided discovery from other sources of ESI, including their work computers, cooperated with a forensic data firm to ensure Plaintiffs obtained everything they sought, but, they further argue that Plaintiffs never asked to inspect their cell phones during this process. They claimed they did not know they also had to preserve their text messages.

One is reminded of the first verse to Purple Rain:
I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted to one time to see you laughing
I only wanted to see you
Laughing in the purple rain

Judge Tony Leung was not laughing, purple rain or not. He did not believe defendants’ good faith intent argument. He was no more impressed by their “times are changing,” “we didn’t know” argument than Prince was in Purple Rain. In today’s world preservation of email is not enough. If text messages are how people did business, which was the case in Paisley Park, then these messages must also be preserved. As Judge Leung put it:

In the contemporary world of communications, even leaving out the potential and reality of finding the modern-day litigation equivalent of a “smoking gun” in text messages, e-mails, and possibly other social media, the Court is baffled as to how Defendants can reasonably claim to believe that their text messages would be immune from discovery.

Perhaps what really got to the judge was that these record executives not only the deleted the texts, they wiped the phones and then they threw them away. This was all before suit was filed, but they knew full well at the time that the Estate was going to sue them for copyright violations.  As Judge Leung explained (emphasis added):  “An e-discovery lawyer for Plaintiffs’ law firm indicates that had Staley and Wilson not wiped and discarded their phones, it might have been possible to recover the deleted messages. (ECF No. 387, p. 2).” (Note: this is the first time I can recall this expression “e-discovery lawyer”  being used in an opinion.)

Text Message Spoliation Law

Judge Leung provides a good summary of the law.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that parties take reasonable steps to preserve ESI that is relevant to litigation. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e). The Court may sanction a party for failure for failure to do so, provided that the lost ESI cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery. Id. Rule 37(e) makes two types of sanctions available to the Court. Under Rule 37(e)(1), if the adverse party has suffered prejudice from the spoliation of evidence, the Court may order whatever sanctions are necessary to cure the prejudice. But under Rule 37(e)(2), if the Court finds that the party “acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation,” the Court may order more severe sanctions, including a presumption that the lost information was unfavorable to the party or an instruction to the jury that it “may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party.” The Court may also sanction a party for failing to obey a discovery order. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b). Sanctions available under Rule 37(b) include an order directing that certain designated facts be taken as established for purposes of the action, payment of reasonable expenses, and civil contempt of court.

Pgs.6-7

There is no doubt that Staley and Wilson are the types of persons likely to have relevant information, given their status as principals of RMA and owners of Deliverance. Nor can there be any reasonable dispute as to the fact that their text messages were likely to contain information relevant to this litigation. In fact, Boxill and other third parties produced text messages that they sent to or received from Staley and Wilson. Neither party disputes that those text messages were relevant to this litigation. Thus, the RMA Defendants were required to take reasonable steps to preserve Staley and Wilson’s text messages.

The RMA Defendants did not do so. First, Staley and Wilson did not suspend the auto-erase function on their phones. Nor did they put in place a litigation hold to ensure that they preserved text messages. The principles of the “standard reasonableness framework” require a party to “suspend its routine document retention/destruction policy and put in place a ‘litigation hold’ to ensure the preservation of relevant documents.” Steves and Sons, Inc. v. JELD-WEN, Inc., 327 F.R.D. 96, 108 (E.D. Va. 2018) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). It takes, at most, only a few minutes to disengage the auto-delete function on a cell phone. It is apparent, based on Staley’s affidavit, that he and Wilson could have taken advantage of relatively simple options to ensure that their text messages were backed up to cloud storage. (ECF No. 395, pp. 7-9). These processes would have cost the RMA Defendants little, particularly in comparison to the importance of the issues at stake and the amount in controversy here. Failure to follow the simple steps detailed above alone is sufficient to show that Defendants acted unreasonably.

Pgs. 8-9

But that is not all the RMA Defendants did and did not do. Most troubling of all, they wiped and destroyed their phones after Deliverance and RMA had been sued, and, in the second instance for Wilson, after the Court ordered the parties to preserve all relevant electronic information, after the parties had entered into an agreement regarding the preservation and production of ESI, and after Plaintiffs had sent Defendants a letter alerting them to the fact they needed to produce their text messages. As Plaintiffs note, had Staley and Wilson not destroyed their phones, it is possible that Plaintiffs might have been able to recover the missing text messages by use of the “cloud” function or through consultation with a software expert. But the content will never be known because of Staley and Wilson’s intentional acts. The RMA Defendants’ failure to even consider whether Staley and Wilson’s phones might have discoverable information before destroying them was completely unreasonable. This is even more egregious because litigation had already commenced.

Pg. 9

It is obvious, based on text messages that other parties produced in this litigation, that Staley and Wilson used their personal cell phones to conduct the business of RMA and Deliverance. It is not Plaintiffs’ responsibility to question why RMA Defendants did not produce any text messages; in fact, it would be reasonable for Plaintiffs to assume that Defendants’ failure to do so was on account of the fact that no such text messages existed. This is because the RMA Defendants are the only ones who would know the extent that they used their personal cell phones for RMA and Deliverance business at the time they knew or should have reasonably known that litigation was not just possible, but likely, or after Plaintiffs filed suit or served their discovery requests.

Furthermore, the RMA Defendants do not get to select what evidence they want to produce, or from what sources. They must produce all responsive documents or seek relief from the court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) (outlining process for obtaining protective order).

Pg. 12

Having concluded that the RMA Defendants did not take reasonable steps to preserve and in fact intended to destroy relevant ESI, the Court must next consider whether the lost ESI can be restored or replaced from any other source. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e).

Pg. 13

While it is true that Plaintiffs have obtained text messages that Boxill and other parties sent to or received from Staley and Wilson, that does not mean that all responsive text messages have been recovered or that a complete record of those conversations is available. In particular, because Wilson and Staley wiped and destroyed their phones, Plaintiffs are unable to recover text messages that the two individuals sent only to each other. Nor can they recover text messages that Staley and Wilson sent to third parties to whom Plaintiff did not send Rule 45 subpoenas (likely because they were not aware that Wilson or Staley communicated with those persons). The RMA Defendants do not dispute that text messages sent between Staley and Wilson are no longer recoverable.  . . .

At most, Plaintiffs now can obtain only “scattershot texts and [e-mails],” rather than “a complete record of defendants’ written communications from defendants themselves.” First Fin. Sec., Inc. v. Lee, No. 14 cv-1843, 2016 WL 881003 *5 (D. Minn. Mar. 8, 2016). The Court therefore finds that the missing text messages cannot be replaced or restored by other sources.

Pgs. 13-14

There is no doubt that Plaintiffs are prejudiced by the loss of the text messages. Prejudice exists when spoliation prohibits a party from presenting evidence that is relevant to its underlying case. Victor Stanley, 269 F.R.D. at 532. As set forth above, in the Court’s discussion regarding their ability to replace or restore the missing information, Plaintiffs are left with an incomplete record of the communications that Defendants had with both each other and third parties. Neither the Court nor Plaintiffs can know what ESI has been lost or how significant that ESI was to this litigation. The RMA Defendants’ claim that no prejudice has occurred is “wholly unconvincing,” given that “it is impossible to determine precisely what the destroyed documents contained or how severely the unavailability of these documents might have prejudiced [Plaintiffs’] ability to prove the claims set forth in [their] Complaint.” Telectron, Inc. v. Overhead Door Corp., 116 F.R.D. 107, 110 (S.D. Fl. 1987); see also Multifeeder Tech., Inc. v. British Confectionary Co. Ltd, No. 09-cv-1090, 2012 WL 4128385 *23 (D. Minn. Apr. 26, 2012) (finding prejudice because Court will never know what ESI was destroyed and because it was undisputed that destroying parties had access to relevant information), report and recommendation adopted in part and rejected in part by 2012 WL 4135848 (D. Minn. Sept. 18, 2012). Plaintiffs are now forced to go to already existing discovery and attempt to piece together what information might have been contained in those messages, thereby increasing their costs and expenses. Sanctions are therefore appropriate under Rule 37(e)(1).

Sanctions are also appropriate under Rule 37(e)(2) because the Court finds that the RMA Defendants acted with the intent to deprive Plaintiffs of the evidence. “Intent rarely is proved by direct evidence, and a district court has substantial leeway to determine intent through consideration of circumstantial evidence, witness credibility, motives of the witnesses in a particular case, and other factors.” Morris v. Union Pacific R.R., 373 F.3d 896, 901 (8th Cir. 2004). There need not be a “smoking gun” to prove intent. Auer v. City of Minot, 896 F.3d 854, 858 (8th Cir. 2018). But there must be evidence of “a serious and specific sort of culpability” regarding the loss of the relevant ESI. Id.

Pgs. 15-16

The Court can draw only one conclusion from this set of circumstances: that they acted with the intent to deprive Plaintiffs from using this information. Rule 37(e)(2) sanctions are particularly appropriate as to Wilson, RMA, and Deliverance for this reason as well.

Pg. 17

The Court believes that Plaintiffs’ request for an order presuming the evidence destroyed was unfavorable to the RMA Defendants and/or for an adverse inference instruction may well be justified. But given the fact that discovery is still on-going, the record is not yet closed, and the case is still some time from trial, the Court believes it more appropriate to defer consideration of those sanctions to a later date, closer to trial. See Monarch Fire Protection Dist. v. Freedom Consulting & Auditing Servs., Inc., 644 F.3d 633, 639 (8th Cir. 2011) (holding that it is not an abuse of discretion to defer sanction considerations until trial). At that point, the trial judge will have the benefit of the entire record and supplemental briefing from the parties regarding the parameters of any such instruction or presumption.

The Court will, however, order the RMA Defendants to pay monetary sanctions pursuant to Rules 37(b), and 37(e) and the Court’s pretrial scheduling orders.

Pgs. 18-19

The Court will therefore order, pursuant to Rules 37(b)(2)(C), 37(e)(1), and 37(e)(2) and the Court’s pretrial scheduling orders, the RMA Defendants to pay reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees and costs, that Plaintiffs incurred as a result of the RMA Defendants’ misconduct. The Court will order Plaintiffs to file a submission with the Court detailing such expenses and allow the RMA Defendants the opportunity to respond to that submission. In addition, pursuant to Rule 37(e)(2) and the Court’s pretrial scheduling order, the Court will also order the RMA Defendants to pay into the Court a fine of $10,000. fn3 This amount is due within 90 days of the date of this Order.

Pg. 20

Let’s close with the original music of Prince.

 

 




The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Sanctions For Destruction

December 2, 2018

James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix, whom Rolling Stone ranked the greatest guitarist of all time, died intestate in 1970 at twenty-seven. His heirs have been embroiled in litigation ever since. They have recently entered the fiery realm of e-discovery and sanctions. Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Pitsicalis, No. 17-cv-1927 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y., 11/27/18). The opinion by District Court Judge Paul A. Engelmayer is interesting in its own right, but when you add the Hendrix name and family feud, you have a truly memorable order. After all, we are talking about the artist who created “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Hey Joe” and my personal favorite, his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.

Case Background: The Hendrix Family Feud

The latest suit involves the usual serial litigants. On one side is Jimi’s step-sister, Janie Hendrix (shown right). She is, as Jimi would have said, a “Foxy Lady”. Janie assumed control of the Estate from Jimi’s natural father, Al Hendrix, when he died in 2002. On the other side is Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix and Leon’s business partner, Andrew Pitsicalis. Kerzner, Hendrix Sues Serial Infringer Andrew Pitsicalis (American Blues Scene, 3/20/17). There can be big money in the Hendrix name, the top guitarist of all time. I for one still get choked up when I hear his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix, won bitterly fought estate litigation in the seventies, but the trademark litigation has never stopped. Multiple injunctions are in place under the corporate name, Experience Hendrix, LLC, but the infringements just keep coming. Companies keep popping up to sell Jimi Hendrix branded goods. Andrew Pitsicalis and Leon Hendrix are frequently involved. Their latest attempts to profit from the Jimi brand include marijuana related products (apparently “Purple Haze” has long been a well know strain of cannabis. See: Legal Battle Ensues Over Jimi Hendrix Usage Rights (High Times, 3/29/17); Jimi Hendrix’s heirs wage court battle over branded cannabis, other products (Cannifornan, 3/22/17).

I am reminded of the closing line of the Hendrix classic, Are You Experienced:

Ah! But Are You Experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?

Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.

Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix (shown right), is an artist and musician himself with his own following. Some think he was treated unfairly by his Dad and Step-Sister. For a variety of reasons, especially I suspect the impact of Pitsicalis, the CEO of “Purple Haze Properties” and Leon’s business partner, there is still bad blood. Chris Fry, Jimi Hendrix’s Brother Fires Back Against Estate (Courthouse News, 3/28/17).

This kind of family feud mentality is not uncommon in litigation, especially in cases involving the intentional destruction of evidence. I am reminded of a Hendrix line from Voodoo Child:

Well, the night I was born. Lord I swear the moon turned a fire red. The night I was born I swear the moon turned a fire red. Well my poor mother cried out “lord, the gypsy was right!” And I seen her, fell down right dead. Have mercy.

Spoliation sanctions generally arise from a haze, just not a stoned purple haze, more like an angry moon turned a fire red haze. Even a seasoned District Court Judge in the SDNY, Paul Engelmayer, was “dismayed” by the conduct of Pitsicalis and Leon Hendrix. Well, what did you expect in matters involving the Estate of a Voodoo Child musical genius? The best guitarist that ever lived?

Judge Engelmayer’s Sanction Order

The scholarly and well-written opinion by District Court Judge Paul A. Engelmayer (shown right) begins by observing:

As the docket in this matter reflects, the Court has been called upon dismayingly often to act when presented with evidence of the PHP defendants’ persistent non-compliance with basic discovery obligations. Plaintiffs now move this Court to sanction these defendants for (1) spoliation of evidence and, more generally, (2) “consistent, pervasive[,] and relentless discovery abuses by [d]efendants and their counsel, Thomas Osinski.” Dkt. 245. Plaintiffs request, inter alia, a preliminary injunction, an order of attachment, an adverse inference instruction at trial, and terminating sanctions. See Dkts. 237, 244. For the reasons below, the Court grants the motion for an adverse inference instruction and directs the PHP defendants to pay the reasonable fees and costs incurred by plaintiffs in bringing this motion.

Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Pitsicalis, No. 17-cv-1927 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y., 11/27/18). Expressing “dismay” is about as emotional as Judge Engelmayer gets in writing an opinion, even one sanctioning a party for destroying evidence and disobeying court orders.

The PHP defendants mentioned are Leon Hendrix, Andrew Pitsicalis and their corporation, Purple Haze Properties (PHP). As you can see from the first quote, the attorney who represents them, Thomas Osinski, was also accused of discovery abuse. That often happens in joker and the thief type cases like this.

A good sanctions case will always have a “parade of horribles” consisting of a list of things the spoliating party supposedly did wrong. Hendrix is no exception. That is how the severe sanctions are justified. It would take too long to list all of the abuses justifying sanctions in Hendrix, but here are the four main ones:

  1. PHP Defendants’ Failure to Produce Forensic Images as Ordered. Apparent intentional disobedience of court orders to make forensic copies of and produce certain drives, even after daily fines are imposed for late production. One of the excuses PHP offered was especially humorous, especially considering the NYC venue, but they actually claimed “that they had had difficulty hiring an expert technician who could image the hard drives.” Yeah, it’s real hard. Need I say more about Osinski’s veracity? When they finally did produce some, but not all of the forensic images, they were not “forensic” images. They were just copies of all active files (a “ghost” copy) with no forensic copy of the slack space. That is what a forensic copy means. It allows for search and examination of deleted files, which was the whole point of the court order.
  2. PHP Defendants’ Use of Anti-Forensic Software. Software allowing for the complete wiping of files was found installed on several of the computer images that were produced. In some there was evidence the software was installed immediately after a court order was entered requiring production. In these the plaintiff’s forensic expert could also show that the software, CleanMyMac, was actually used to wipe files and when, although it was not possible to know what files were destroyed. The moving party (Janie Hendrix and her company Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.)  proved the use was knowing when their expert, John T. Myers, showed how the software was configured to have a pop-out and warn the user to confirm complete elimination of the file (it cannot be recovered after that). The defendants testified that they did not recall ever using it. Sure. Spoliate evidence and then cover-up, or try to.
  3. Andrew Pitsicalis Deleted “Jimi”-related Text Messages from his iPhone. Plaintiff’s forensic expert was able to prove that more than 500 text messages had been deleted from Pitsicalis cell phone after the duty to preserve had arisen (suit was filed). Moreover, they were able to recover nine text messages pertaining to Jimi. As Judge Engelmayer explained: “Fortuitously, Myers was able to recover the deleted text messages from the imaged phone because those communications had been stored not in the applications used to send and receive them (e.g., iMessage), but in databases where files exist until overwritten or otherwise purged.”
  4. Key Computer at First Hidden, then After Discovery in Photograph, Goes South to Florida and is Never Examined. This one sounds like a bad game of Where’s Waldo. A “Seventh Computer” was found, one never reported by PHP, by plaintiff’s study of photos on PHP’s Facebook page. Very clever. One picture on FB showed Andrew Pitsicalis, sitting in his office, in immediate proximity to a mystery desktop computer. When asked about it under oath PHP’s fine attorney, Osinski, swore that he thought it was just a dummy Apple monitor on the office desk, not a computer. He said he did not know that the monitor, and key board next to it, were a real, functional computer, an iMac. What? Did he think these were IKEA props in a display room? They were sitting on his client’s desk in a Facebook photo taken after suit was filed. But wait, there is more, Osinski went on to swear that the computer had moved to Florida. As Judge Engelmayer explained:

“Osinski testified that his present understanding is that the desktop computer belonged to an individual named Hector David, Jr. who has moved to Florida and who, Osinski assumes, took the computer with him. Osinski, however, did not have personal knowledge of this, or of the contents of the desktop in Andrew Pitsicalis’ office. … Andrew Pitsicalis, for his part, denied owning the computer and testified that David was not employed by PHP.”

Apparently no one has been able to locate this mysterious Hector David or know where he took the iMac computer sitting on Pitsicalis desk.

Legal Standards of Spoliation in Hendrix

Judge Engelmayer’s opinion in Hendrix examines two legal standards, Rule 37 and Spoliation. He begins the discussion with the duty to preserve, the threshold issue in spoliation:

The first issue is whether the PHP defendants had an obligation to preserve the categories of evidence at issue. A party has an obligation to preserve evidence when it “has notice that the evidence is relevant to litigation . . . [or] should have known that the evidence may be relevant to future litigation.” Kronisch v. United States, 150 F.3d 112 , 126 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted).

That standard is easily met here.

He then goes on to discuss whether that duty as breached, another no-brainer based on the impressive parade of horribles in this case:

The Court further finds—and the evidence to this effect is overwhelming—that the PHP defendants repeatedly breached this duty. The breaches fall in three categories: (1) the use of cleaning software on covered computing devices, (2) the failure to disclose the existence of a seventh computing device containing potentially relevant documents, and (3) the deletion of relevant text messages.

Judge Engelmayer’ then discusses the key issue of intent, the mens rea to spoliate.

Much of the PHP defendants’ spoliation of evidence, the Court finds, was intentional. …

The Court finds that, by installing anti-cleaning software on his own computer and causing it to be installed on Schmitt’s in the face of an unambiguous and known duty to preserve potentially relevant evidence, Pitsicalis intentionally caused the destruction of such evidence.

The defenses proffered by the PHP defendants are unavailing. That Schmitt personally may not have acted with the intent to deleted responsive files is beside the point. The relevant mens rea here is that of Andrew Pitsicalis, who owned PHP, for which Schmitt worked as an independent contractor, and who, despite being a repeat litigant amply on notice of his duty to preserve potentially relevant evidence, urged Schmitt to run this software to delete files. Tr. 125, 133. Also unhelpful is Pitsicalis’ [*13] explanation that, at some unspecified point, he went on “Google to search for ‘top anti-forensic software’ and went through the first 10 pages of search” without finding anything for CleanMyMac. Andrew Pitsicalis Decl. at 2-3. Regardless what Pitsicalis’ internet research may have shown, the evidence adduced at the hearing clearly established both that the CleanMyMac software had the capacity to cause the deletion (and shredding) of files, and that Pitsicalis knew this, not least because the software’s causation of such deletion was made explicit to the user each time. Pitsicalis does not offer any reason for installing and using this software on his computer, let alone for having done so without first creating an image of the full contents of the computer that would have assured preservation of the computer’s contents.

Andrew Pitsicalis’ deletion of relevant text messages was also clearly intentional. By his admission, he personally and deliberately deleted, among other text messages, a series of texts concerning the marketing of “Jimi”-related products, the very subject of this lawsuit. He did so one day after the Court issued an order requiring the Purple Haze Properties defendants to: “produce to plaintiffs the forensic images of” every device, including phones, containing files that are relevant to this action. Pitsicalis did not offer any coherent defense to this misconduct. The Court finds it to have been a willful and blatant violation of the duty to preserve relevant evidence.

Finally, the Court finds that the removal of a computer from Andrew Pitsicalis’ office and its transfer to a Floridian, Hector David, Jr., was an act of intentional spoliation. To be sure, the question is a closer one, if only because the contents of that computer are unknown, and so the Court cannot rule out the possibility that these contents were wholly extraneous to this litigation. The location of the computer in Pitsicalis’ office, however, suggests otherwise. Had the Court been notified of the existence of this computer, it assuredly would have ordered that the computer’s contents be searched for responsive materials. It is also noteworthy that Andrew Pitsicalis did not inform his attorney of the existence of this computer. While conceivably these circumstances, in isolation, might have been consistent with the merely reckless disposal of evidence, when this episode is viewed in the light of Pitsicalis’ other acts of willful spoliation, the Court has little difficulty finding it, too, to bespeak intentional misconduct.

Sanctions Imposed

Judge Engelmayer begins his analysis of the appropriate, proportional sanctions by stating the black letter law:

The trial judge must determine the appropriate sanction for spoliation [*14] of evidence on a case-by-case basis. F, 247 F.3d at 436 . Such sanctions should be designed to:

(1) deter parties from engaging in spoliation; (2) place the risk of an erroneous judgment on the party who wrongfully created the risk; and (3) restore the prejudiced party to the same position [they] would have been in absent the wrongful destruction of evidence by the opposing party.

West, 167 F.3d at 779 . Case-dispositive sanctions, however, “should be imposed only in extreme circumstances, usually after consideration of alternative, less drastic sanctions.” Id.

Based on these objectives Judge Engelmayer sanctioned defendants as follows:

Considering these objectives, the Court imposes the following two sanctions, regarding (1) Andrew Pitsicalis’ computer, iPhone, and desktop computer; and (2) Schmitt’s computer, as to each of which the Court has found intentional spoliation. First, the Court will instruct the finder of fact that it may draw an adverse inference from the PHP parties’ failure adequately to preserve and produce these materials, to wit, that the devices in question contained evidence of conduct by the PHP defendants in breach of their legal duties to plaintiffs in connection with the sale and marketing of Jimi Hendrix-related materials.8

Second, given the resources plaintiffs again have had to expend in establishing the above-chronicled acts of non-compliance by the PHP defendants with the Court’s discovery orders, plaintiffs are entitled to an award reflecting the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in connection with bringing and litigating the instant successful motion.

Judge Engelmayer went on to explain why a lesser sanction was inappropriate:

The Court has carefully considered whether lesser sanctions are adequate to cure the harm caused by the disposition of these materials. The Court’s firm conclusion is that no lesser sanction than the combination of an adverse inference instruction and an order directing the prompt recompense of plaintiffs for costs reasonably incurred litigating the meritorious motions for sanctions based on spoliation would adequately remedy plaintiffs’ injury. See, e.g., Moody v. CSX Transp., Inc., 271 F. Supp. 3d 410 , 432 (W.D.N.Y. 2017) (finding adverse inference appropriate where defendants intentionally lost material evidence); Ottoson v. SMBC Leasing and Finance, Inc., 268 F. Supp. 3d 570 , 584 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) (granting an adverse inference instruction where plaintiff “has acted willfully or in bad faith” in [*15] violation of her duty to preserve certain emails); First Fin. Sec., Inc. v. Freedom Equity Grp., LLC, No. 15-CV-1893-HRL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140087 , [2016 BL 337069], 2016 WL 5870218 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2016) (imposing adverse inference instruction for intentional deletion of text messages and awarding plaintiffs attorneys fees incurred in bringing sanctions motions). The Court has also carefully considered whether this is the rare case in which terminating sanctions are merited, as plaintiffs have urged. See Dkt. 237. At the present time, the Court’s judgment is that such extreme sanctions are not warranted, although further acts of spoliation and/or other discovery abuses could produce a different result.

The footnotes in these last paragraphs are interesting. Footnote 8 explains that “The Court defers decision on the precise formulation of the adverse inference instruction until closer to trial.” That means it could become a mandatory presumption, or merely permissive. Footnote 9 acknowledges that there may be more discovery misconduct in the works. The court noted it could still strike all defenses, if the conduct continues, and save everyone the cost of a trial.

Conclusion

Even with just a permissive presumption, the case at this point will almost certainly be won by Janie Hendrix’ company, Experience Hendrix, L.L.C.. Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Pitsicalis. Yet another loss for Jimi’s brother, Leon, in a long list of losses. Another injunction and businesses shut-down, but for how long? The Estate and L.L.C. have won so many times before. Yet they keep coming back. Is this yet another Pyrrhic Victory in a long line of pointless litigation? How long before the next suit? Some things are just beyond Law’s reach. Purple Haze.

Purple Haze

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky

Purple haze all around
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down
Am I happy or in misery?
Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me

Help me help me
Oh no no… No

Yeah
Purple haze all in my eyes
Don’t know if it’s day or night
You’ve got me blowin, blowin my mind
Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

No, help me aw yeah! Oh no no oh help me…

When you are the best in the world at something, like Jimi Hendrix was at guitar playing, and when you are still famous and admired by millions fifty years after your death, there will be profiteers around. When you add sibling rivalry and family resentments to the mix, then the trouble goes from bad to worse.

The Hendrix family saga, and this lawsuit, are tragedies. So too is the destruction of evidence and this Sanctions Order. It is part of his guitar star legend. Jimi Hendrix’ boy genius was born out of a troubled childhood and family. Diamond in the rough. Bigger than life. Exploded with art, fame and fortune in just three years. Dead at age 27 of an overdose. The day he was born the moon turned a fire red, “Lord, the gypsy was right!”

The greatest guitarist of all time was a Phoenix – tragic, fiery, short-lived, but beautiful and spell-binding too. Where will musical genius appear like that again?


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