The Difference Between Routine Document Destruction and Spoliation

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There are key differences between routine document destruction (when done before receiving notice of potential claims or litigation) and spoliation.

October 18, 2021
Steven A. Neeley - Construction Executive

In today’s world, there is a tendency to believe that everything must be preserved forever. The common belief is that documents, emails, text messages, etc. cannot be deleted because doing so may be viewed as spoliation (i.e., intentionally destroying relevant evidence). A party guilty of spoliation can be sanctioned, which can include an adverse inference that the lost information would have helped the other side. But that does not mean that contractors have to preserve every conceivable piece of information or data under all circumstances. There are key differences between routine document destruction (when done before receiving notice of potential claims or litigation) and spoliation.

The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals decision in Appeal of Sungjee Constr. Co., Ltd., ASBCA Nos. 62002 and 62170 (Mar. 23, 2021) provides a good reminder. There, Sungjee challenged its default termination under a construction contract at Osan Air Base in South Korea. Sungjee argued that the government denied it access to the site for 352 days (out of a 450-day performance period) by refusing to issue passes that were needed to access the base. The government argued that it had issued the passes, but it could not produce them to Sungjee in discovery because they had been destroyed as part of a routine document destruction policy. The base security force issued hard copy passes and entered the information in a biometric system. The government was able to produce the biometric system data but not the hard copy passes because they were destroyed each year.

Sungjee argued the government was guilty of spoliation and moved for sanctions. It asked the Board to draw an adverse inference that the passes would have shown that the government had not issued proper passes on a timely basis, which delayed Sungjee’s performance. The Board denied Sungjee’s motion for several reasons.

Reprinted courtesy of Steven A. Neeley, Construction Executive, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All rights reserved.

Mr. Neeley may be contacted at steve.neeley@huschblackwell.com



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