On January 23, 2018, the Northern District of Indiana issued a decision that clarifies what constitutes spoliation of evidence under Indiana law. In Arcelormittal Ind. Harbor LLC v. Amex Nooter, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10141 (N.D. Ind.), the defendant filed a motion for sanctions, alleging that the plaintiff intentionally spoliated critical evidence. The defendant sought dismissal of the action, asserting that the plaintiff intentionally discarded and lost important physical evidence within hours of a fire that occurred while the defendant’s employees were performing work at its facility. The decision underscores the importance of taking immediate action to properly identify and secure potentially material evidence in order to satisfy ones duty to preserve pre-suit evidence and avoid any spoliation defenses and associated sanctions.
In Arcelormittal, the court initially considered whether to apply state or federal law when analyzing a litigant’s duty to preserve pre-suit evidence and determine if that party committed spoliation. Since the case was brought in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, the court held that Indiana state law governed the spoliation analysis.
As noted by the court, under Indiana state law, “the intentional destruction, mutilation, altercation, or concealment of evidence” is considered to be spoliation. Thus, under Indiana law, a party who knew or should have known that litigation was imminent “may not lose, destroy or suppress material facts or evidence.” The plaintiff argued that Indiana law requires a showing of improper purpose or bad faith to establish that a litigant spoliated evidence. The Arcelormittal court rejected the plaintiff’s argument.