Cordero v. Guzman et al

Filing 170

FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS signed by Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman on 06/16/17 recommending that plaintiff's motion for sanctions 156 be granted in part and denied in part: plaintiff's motion for an adverse inference instruction sh ould be denied; and, as discussed above, defendant should be precluded from offering non-expert and expert evidence in his case-in-chief regarding whether the front bead sight was bent and whether is caused the shot to go errant. Motion for Sanctions 156 referred to Judge John A. Mendez. Objections due within 7 days. (Plummer, M)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 RANDY M. CORDERO, 12 Plaintiff, 13 14 No. 2: 13-cv-1551 JAM KJN P v. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS NICK GUZMAN, et al., 15 Defendants. 16 17 I. Introduction Plaintiff is a state prisoner, proceeding through counsel, with a civil rights action pursuant 18 19 to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action is set for jury trial before the Honorable John A. Mendez on 20 July 24, 2017. 21 Pending before the court is plaintiff’s motion for sanctions due to alleged evidence 22 spoliation. (ECF No. 156.) On June 15, 2017, a hearing was held before the undersigned 23 regarding plaintiff’s motion for sanctions. Meryn Grant and Christopher Soper appeared on 24 behalf of plaintiff. Deputy Attorney General Diana Esquivel appeared on behalf of defendant. 25 For the reasons stated herein, and at the hearing, the undersigned recommends that plaintiff’s 26 motion be granted in part. 27 //// 28 //// 1 1 II. Discussion 2 A. Background 3 The only remaining defendant in this action is N. Guzman. Plaintiff alleges that on 4 November 9, 2011, he and inmate Haxton had an altercation. Plaintiff alleges that during the 5 altercation, defendant intentionally shot plaintiff in the head with a round from his 40 mm 6 launcher, causing plaintiff to suffer great bodily injury. Defendant claims that he was aiming for 7 plaintiff’s lower body when he fired the round, but plaintiff fell as he fired, and the bullet 8 accidentally hit plaintiff in the head. In the finding and recommendations addressing defendant’s summary judgment motion, 9 10 the undersigned also observed that a bent front bead sight was found on the launcher during an 11 inspection of the 40 mm launcher after the shooting: 12 The undersigned also notes another possible scenario suggested by the evidence, which is that the bent front bead sight caused the shot to hit plaintiff in the head, even though defendant aimed for plaintiff’s calf. This issue has not been sufficiently addressed by the parties. 13 14 15 However, according to defendant Guzman, he inspected the weapon before his shift and apparently did not notice the bent front bead sight. Defendant Guzman also opines that the bent front bead sight did not affect his aim for plaintiff’s left calf. 16 17 Whether the bent front bead sight affected the aim of the weapon may require the opinion of an expert witness. Fed. R. Evid. 701, 702. The undersigned also notes that the prison official who took possession of the weapon after the incident noticed that the front bead sight was slightly bent during an inspection. (ECF No. 50-12 at 56.) If this official noticed the bent front bead sight, then it is unclear why defendant Guzman did not notice it during his inspection. 18 19 20 21 22 (ECF No. 65 at 21 n.3) 23 In the pending motion for sanctions, plaintiff alleges that on February 22, 2017, his 24 counsel learned that the 40 mm launcher had not been preserved. (ECF No. 156 at 10.) It was 25 later determined that the launcher had been released from the evidence locker on August 31, 26 2016, and repaired. (Id.) For these reasons, plaintiff’s forensic expert, R. Wyant, could not 27 inspect the launcher. (Id.) 28 //// 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 In the pending motion, plaintiff requests the following adverse inference instruction as a sanction for the spoliation of the 40 mm launcher: Officer Guzman and High Desert State Prison had a duty to preserve relevant evidence in the condition it was in immediately following the November 9, 2011 incident, including the 40 mm Launcher used to shoot Mr. Cordero. When that weapon was collected from Officer Guzman immediately after the shooting, it was defective. The front bead sight, which must be used to aim the weapon, was bent to the left. This evidence was destroyed in violation of California Department of Corrections Policy, when the 40 mm launcher was cleaned and the front bead sight repaired. The jury may presume that the evidence from the 40 mm launcher would have been favorable to Mr. Cordero’s claim of excessive force and unfavorable to Officer Guzman’s defense in the following ways: 1) Officer Guzman should have observed the defective bead sight during his inspection of the weapon; 2) Officer Guzman would have noticed the defective bead sight if he properly aimed the 40 mm launcher; and 3) with the defective bead sight, Officer Guzman could not have had reasonable certainty that he would hit Mr. Cordero’s lower zone, which is required by CDCR Policy to fire a 40 mm launcher. 13 14 B. Legal Standard 15 Federal trial courts are vested with a wide range of inherent powers that allow them to 16 govern their courtrooms and the litigation processes before them. Chambers v. NASCO, 501 U.S. 17 32, 43 (1991). Inherent powers must be used only “with restraint and discretion.” Id. at 44. An 18 example of these inherent powers is the discretionary power of a federal trial court to levy 19 appropriate sanctions against a party which prejudices its opponent through the spoliation of 20 evidence that the spoliating party had reason to know was relevant to litigation. See Glover v. 21 BIC Corp., 6 F.3d 1318, 1329-30 (9th Cir. 1993). Appropriate sanctions for spoliation, when 22 found, range from outright dismissal, an adverse inference jury instruction with respect to the 23 spoliated evidence, exclusion of a category of evidence, or monetary sanctions (including 24 attorneys' fees). See id.; Leon v. IDX Sys. Corp., 464 F.3d 951, 958, 961 (9th Cir. 2006). 25 To impose evidentiary sanctions for spoliation, the court need not find that the spoliating 26 party acted in bad faith; willfulness or fault can suffice. Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. Lakewood Eng'g 27 & Mfg. Corp., 982 F.2d 363, 368 n.2 (9th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted); Glover, 6 F.3d at 1329. 28 The court need only find that the offending party destroyed evidence with notice that the evidence 3 1 was potentially relevant to the litigation. Leon, 464 F.3d at 959; Glover, 6 F.3d at 1329 (internal 2 quotation marks omitted) (“Surely a finding of bad faith will suffice, but so will simple notice of 3 potential relevance to the litigation.”); cf. United States v. $40,955.00 in U.S. Currency, 554 F.3d 4 752, 758 (9th Cir. 2009) (“A party does not engage in spoliation when, without notice of the 5 evidence's potential relevance, it destroys the evidence according to its policy or in the normal 6 course of business.”). The adverse inference instruction is “an extreme sanction and should not be taken lightly.” 7 8 Moore v. Gilead Scis., Inc., 2012 WL 669531, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 29, 2012). “A party seeking 9 an adverse inference instruction based on the destruction of evidence must establish (1) that the 10 party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was 11 destroyed; (2) that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and (3) that the 12 destroyed evidence was relevant to the party's claim or defense such that a reasonable trier of fact 13 could find that it would support that claim or defense.” In re Napster, Inc. Copyright Litig., 462 14 F. Supp. 2d 1060, 1078 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]he 15 presence of bad faith automatically establishes relevance; however, when the destruction is 16 negligent, relevance must be proven by the party seeking sanctions.” S.E.C. v. Mercury 17 Interactive LLC, 2012 WL 3277165, at *10 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2012) (citation and internal 18 quotation marks omitted). 19 In addition, “[t]he imposition of a harsh sanction such as ... an adverse inference 20 instruction requires an analysis of the prejudice suffered by the non-spoliating party.” Moore, 21 2012 WL 669531, at *5 (citing Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Natural Beverage Distribs., 69 F.3d 337, 22 348 (9th Cir. 1995)). “The prejudice inquiry looks to whether the spoiling party's actions 23 impaired the non-spoiling party's ability to go to trial or threatened to interfere with the rightful 24 decision of the case.” Leon, 464 F.3d at 959 (citation omitted); see also Ingham v. United States, 25 167 F.3d 1240, 1246 (9th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted) (“To be actionable, the spoliation of 26 evidence must damage the right of a party to bring an action.”). 27 //// 28 //// 4 1 C. Analysis 2 As discussed above, a party seeking an adverse inference instruction must demonstrate 1) 3 that the party having control over the evidence had an obligation to preserve it at the time it was 4 destroyed; 2) that the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind; and 3) relevance. 5 6 The parties do not dispute that defendant had an obligation to preserve the launcher at the time it was removed from the evidence locker and repaired. At the hearing, plaintiff’s counsel stated that she was not alleging that the removal and 7 8 repair of the launcher was intentional. The evidence indicates that the removal and repair of the 9 launcher was negligent.1 Because the spoliation was negligent, plaintiff must demonstrate 10 relevance, i.e., prejudice, in order to be entitled to an adverse inference instruction. 11 The undersigned is troubled by removal of the launcher from the evidence locker and its 12 repair. However, for the reasons stated herein, plaintiff has not demonstrated sufficient prejudice 13 to warrant an adverse inference instruction. As discussed at the June 15, 2017 hearing, plaintiff’s theory of the case has been that 14 15 defendant intentionally shot him in the head in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff does 16 not allege a claim for negligence based on the bent front bead sight, including defendant’s alleged 17 failure to adequately inspect the weapon. In addition, the defense is not based on the bent front 18 bead sight.2 Thus, evidence regarding the bent front bead sight is not directly relevant to 19 plaintiff’s theory of liability. For these reasons, an adverse inference instruction is not warranted. 20 1 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Defendant was unable to produce the evidence preservation letter defense counsel allegedly sent to the High Desert State Prison (“HDSP”) Litigation Coordinator regarding the 40 mm launcher. However, defendant filed the declaration of HDSP Litigation Coordinator Amrein. (ECF No. 160-2.) Litigation Coordinator Amrein indicates that she knew of her duty to preserve the launcher as evidence in this case. (Id.) Litigation Coordinator Amrein states that she inadvertently approved the request for removal of the launcher from the evidence room. (Id.) Litigation Coordinator Amrein’s failure to preserve the launcher may be imputed to defendant and defense counsel. See Pettit v. Smith, 45 F.Supp.3d 1099 (D. Az. 2014); Muhammad v. Mathena, 2016 WL 8116155 (W.D. Va. 2016). After reviewing the entire record, the undersigned finds no evidence of intentional spoliation. 2 As discussed above, defendant claims that he aimed for plaintiff’s lower body, but plaintiff fell as he fired his shot. At the June 15, 2017 hearing, defense counsel confirmed that the bent front bead sight is not relevant to the defense. 5 1 While plaintiff has not demonstrated prejudice sufficient to warrant an adverse inference 2 instruction, it would be unfair to allow defendant to benefit from plaintiff’s inability to examine 3 the launcher prior to its repair. For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends the 4 following evidence preclusion sanctions. 5 In particular, the undersigned recommends that defendant be precluded from presenting 6 non-expert and expert evidence in his case-in-chief regarding whether the front bead sight was 7 bent and whether it caused the shot to go errant. The undersigned recommends that nothing 8 preclude plaintiff from introducing, in either his case-in-chief or cross-examination of witnesses, 9 evidence regarding the bent front bead sight. In the event plaintiff introduces evidence regarding 10 the bent front bead sight, including during cross-examination of defense witnesses, defendant 11 should be allowed to respond. Such response may potentially include a defense expert opinion 12 regarding whether the front bead sight was bent after being discharged.3 13 Finally, at the June 15, 2017 hearing, plaintiff requested that the officer who examined the 14 40 mm launcher after the incident, i.e., Officer Lindsey, be precluded from testifying regarding 15 the launcher other than the statements made in his report. The undersigned cannot issue an order 16 regarding whether Officer Lindsey’s testimony may or may not deviate from his report. Rather, 17 this is an issue to be determined by the trial judge after hearing Officer Lindsey’s testimony, 18 including the questions asked on cross-examination. 19 Because the trial is set for July 24, 2017, the undersigned orders objections due within 20 seven days of the date of this order. In addition, because both parties have filed extensive 21 briefing regarding the pending motion, objections are limited to ten pages. Rather than 22 submitting additional exhibits in support of their objections, the parties may refer to previously 23 submitted exhibits. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that plaintiff’s motion for sanctions 24 25 (ECF No. 156) be granted in part and denied in part: plaintiff’s motion for an adverse inference 26 3 27 28 Neither side’s experts had an opportunity to examine the 40 mm launcher prior to the sight being repaired. While the parties’ experts may have an opinion regarding the timing of the damage to the front bead sight, whether such an opinion (not based on an examination of the 40 mm launcher) is admissible may be the subject of a motion in limine. 6 1 instruction should be denied; and, as discussed above, defendant should be precluded from 2 offering non-expert and expert evidence in his case-in-chief regarding whether the front bead 3 sight was bent and whether it caused the shot to go errant. 4 These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge 5 assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within seven days after 6 being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with 7 the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned “Objections to 8 Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” Any response to the objections shall be 9 filed and served within five days after service of the objections. The parties are advised that 10 failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District 11 Court’s order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991). 12 Dated: June 16, 2017 13 14 15 16 17 18 Cor1551.san 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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