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Yu v. Idaho State University

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 13, 2019

JUN YU, Plaintiff,
v.
IDAHO STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF'S MOTION IN LIMINE RE: SPOLIATION OF EVIDENCE AND ADVERSE INFERENCE INSTRUCTION (DKT. 84) DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE EXHIBIT F (DKT. 112)

          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This decision resolves Plaintiff's Motion in Limine Re: Spoliation of Evidence and Adverse Inference Instruction (Dkt. 84) and Defendant's Motion to Strike raised in its memorandum opposing the instant motion in limine (Dkt. 112).

         BACKGROUND

         PLAINTIFF Jun Yu alleges that Defendant Idaho State University (hereafter “Defendant” or “ISU”) deliberately and unlawfully discriminated against him due to his national origin in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et. seq. FAC ¶ 353 (Dkt. 41). In his motion, Plaintiff argues that Defendant has failed to preserve relevant evidence and therefore the jury should be instructed that it may presume that the destroyed evidence, if produced, would have been adverse to Defendant. In Defendant's motion, it seeks to strike an exhibit Plaintiff filed in support of its motion in limine.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         “Spoliation of evidence is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence, or the failure to properly preserve property for another's use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” Balla v. Idaho State Bd. of Corr., 119 F.Supp.3d 1271, 1282 (D. Idaho Aug. 11, 2015). A party seeking sanctions for spoliation must establish that the opposing party (1) destroyed relevant evidence and (2) had an obligation to preserve the evidence when it was destroyed or altered. Harmon v. United States, 2017 WL 1115158 at *2 (D. Idaho, Mar. 24, 2017) (citing Ryan v. Editions Ltd. W., Inc., 786 F.3d 754, 766 (9th Cir. 2015)).

         “A federal trial court has the inherent discretionary power to make appropriate evidentiary rulings in response to the destruction or spoliation of relevant evidence.” Glover v. BIC Corp., 6 F.3d 1318, 1329 (9th Cir. 1993). “When considering the appropriate sanction, courts consider the: (1) willfulness or bad faith of the party responsible for loss of evidence; (2) degree of prejudice sustained by opposing party; and (3) what is required to cure prejudice.” Harmon, 2017 WL 1115158 at *6 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         1. Destruction of Evidence.

         PLAINTIFF's motion focuses on Defendant's failure to produce certain student records. Defendant initially refused[1] to produce the records sought in Plaintiff's initial discovery request. Plaintiff moved to compel discovery. The Court granted the motion (Dkt. 40) and ordered Defendant to provide the student records under a protective order designed to protect the privacy of the students involved, while still allowing Plaintiff and his counsel to access information relevant to Plaintiff's claim against the university. In summary, the records were ordered to be produced, but with only the nationality and ethnic origin of the student unredacted. In other words, the identifying information other than nationality and ethnic origin continued to be confidential and not disclosed. (Dkt. 46.) Specifically, the Protective Order required:

That the Defendant, Idaho State University, will provide to Plaintiff the student records of all students who were enrolled at Idaho State University pursuing a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology between 2008 and 2015. The information disclosed will include each student's transcript containing grades, test scores and courses taken, official letters regarding the student's status at ISU, including any academic probation or suspension records maintained by the Office of Academic Affairs. The information disclosed will also include all material and any related data on each students' externships and internships applied for, approved, disapproved, suspended or curtailed, and taken with all related documentation to include rationale for approval or disapproval or curtailment; and, the contracts and or agreements governing the approved internships whether in the state of Idaho or elsewhere in the United States or abroad.

Prot. Order 1-2 (Dkt. 46).

         On July 20, 2017, Defendant provided Plaintiff with student records under the Protective Order. Plaintiff's counsel promptly notified Defendant's counsel the production was incomplete because it did not include “all material and any related data on each students' externships and internships.” On February 22, 2018, Defendant supplemented its production, but Plaintiff again questioned the accuracy and completeness of the production. As described by Plaintiff's counsel in a letter to Defendant's counsel, “the documents provided were contracts, affiliation agreements, contract amendments, services agreements and extern agreements governing positions for externships or service learning positions but nothing regarding internships.” Coulter Aff. Ex. B (Dkt. 84-3).

         In a further letter exchange about Plaintiff's contention that the document production was inadequate, Defendant's counsel responded that “feedback from internship sites regarding student progress is variable. Mid-year progress reports are normally not provided to the Department. Some internship sites provide the Department with a letter at the completion of the internship noting that a student completed the internship. If such letters were received by the ...


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