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Guyzik v. Moore

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 18, 2017

MANUEL RAMON GUYZIK, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY A. MOORE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT HOLTON'S MOTION FOR SPOLIATION SANCTIONS

          ROBERT H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Manuel Ramon Guyzik was mistakenly implicated in a drug distribution conspiracy and subsequently arrested by some of the individual Defendants. (Dkt. #30.)

         The only remaining claims in this action are against Defendants Justin Holton and Ryan Behrik, who were both involved in Plaintiff's arrest. Presently before the court is Defendant Holton's motion for spoliation sanctions. (Dkt. #74.) Defendant Holton contends that Plaintiff failed to preserve security camera footage of some Defendants entering Plaintiff's home 20 to 30 minutes before Plaintiff was arrested. He asks that Plaintiff's claims against him be dismissed. In the alternative, Defendant Holton asks the court to impose an irrebuttable presumption that the video would not have supported Plaintiff's account of how these Defendants' acted when they entered the house. The motion is fully briefed, and the court held a hearing on November 15, 2017. For the following reasons, the court will impose spoliation sanctions, though not those requested by Defendant Holton.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Rather than repeat the detailed factual background of this case, the court incorporates and refers to the relevant section of its opinion and order granting summary judgment to Defendants Chad Teets and David Powell. (Dkt. #81.) The court will, though, elaborate on the factual dispute that was irrelevant in that opinion: the manner in which the arresting Defendants approached Plaintiff's home.

         Defendants Teets, Powell, Holton, Behrik, and Steve West (the “arresting Defendants”) went to Plaintiff's home to execute an arrest warrant. They arrived at the house around 7:40am, but Plaintiff had already left for work.

         The arresting Defendants maintain that Defendant Powell knocked on the door and introduced himself to Plaintiff's wife-Deanna Saldana-when she answered. Defendant Powell explained who he was and asked if the agents could speak with Saldana inside. She invited them in. The arresting Defendants explained that they had an arrest warrant for Plaintiff. Saldana was “taken aback, ” but offered to call Plaintiff at work. Defendant Holton's motion describes it as a “routine, even pleasant, encounter” until Plaintiff returned home. (Dkt. #74 Pg. ID 1782.)

         Plaintiff and Saldana, however, express a very different version of events. Saldana contends that that the arresting Defendants approached the front door with their guns drawn and Defendant Powell demanded that she “open the fucking door.” After the arresting Defendants entered the house, they kept their guns pointed at her and her young daughters before eventually holstering their weapons. Plaintiff's daughters were crying hysterically. Defendant Powell repeatedly asked “Where's the money? Where's the dope?” What is not in dispute is that Plaintiff's living room was equipped with an ADT home security camera. The camera was set to automatically record for three minutes whenever the front door opened. The camera therefore recorded the arresting Defendants' entry into Plaintiff's home after Saldana opened the door. Sometime after the arresting Defendants entered, the camera was unplugged. Plaintiff maintains that it was unplugged by one of the arresting Defendants. Defendant Holton has not responded to this allegation.

         There is also no dispute that Plaintiff was aware that his security camera would record video and that it was possible to look at stored footage. (See Guyzick Dep. Dkt. #74-7 Pg. ID 1839.) Plaintiff asked Saldana to retrieve “footage from the incident” within a few days after the arrest, but Saldana told him that ADT did not have the footage. (Id.)

         On Saldana's phone was an ADT application that allowed a user to arm and disarm the system, watch live footage, and view and save stored footage. The day after the arrest, Saldana had accessed the application. (Dkt. #74-9 Pg. ID 1843.) The record does not disclose what she did while logged in. Saldana says she never checked the application to see whether there was footage from the arresting Defendants' arrival. (Saldana Dep. Dkt. #74-6 Pg. ID 1825.) Nine days after the arrest, Saldana contacted ADT to ask when the camera had gone offline. (Dkt. #74-8 Pg. ID 1841.)

         Neither Saldana nor Plaintiff saved the recorded footage. ADT maintains recorded video on its servers for only 30 days. The footage, in other words, is gone.

         II. STANDARD

         The district court has broad discretion in imposing sanctions for evidence spoliation. Adkins v. Wolever, 554 F.3d 650, 652 (6th Cir. 2009). The district court may dismiss a case, grant summary judgment, or craft a jury instruction permitting the jury to infer a fact based on the lost evidence-the proper remedy depends on the circumstances. Id. at 653. Regardless of how the district court chooses to craft the sanction, the sanction should serve a fairness and a punitive function. Id. at 652.

         III. ...


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