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Breaking Legal Developments


Published by:
Peter A. Lynch, Esq.
of Cozen O'Connor


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:      This weekly newsletter covers:

  1. Seventh Circuit Discusses Spoliation of Evidence


In Smith v. United States Of America, (PDF Format) No. 01-4000 United States Court Of Appeals For The Seventh Circuit, . Perched atop an M60-A3 tank parked on his farm, Randell L.D. Smith struck a proud pose as a newspaper reporter snapped his picture. At the age of 76, Smith was a bit of a fixture in the local news in Bloomington, Illinois. After he acquired the tank from the U.S. Army -one that once roared across the hot desert sands of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War - the Bloomington paper published several articles (with pictures), reporting that Smith had refurbished the tank for display on his farm. Passersby could see it from the street. In Bloomington it seemed that everyone knew about Smith and his tank. But the Army had no idea what was going on - it thought the local V.F.W. post had the tank. When the Army eventually discovered that Smith had the tank (a year after the Bloomington paper reported as much), government agents and the Illinois National Guard promptly repossessed it. Unhappy with this turn of events, Smith sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), seeking a return of the tank plus damages for personal injuries he said he suffered when the agents roughed him up during the repossession. Smith claims the Army's destruction of the tank constitutes spoliation of evidence, another reason the district court should have found in his favor. Spoliation of evidence occurs when one party destroys evidence relevant to an issue in the case. Crabtree v. Nat'l Steel Corp., 261 F.3d 715, 721 (7th Cir. 2001). Spoliation of evidence does not apply in this case because the tank itself shed no light on Smith's claims that he owned it, protested its removal, or was assaulted. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Mr. Lynch can be reached at Cozen and O'Connor, 501 West Broadway, Suite 1610, San Diego, California 92101, 800-782-3366 (voice), 619-234-7831 (fax), (e-mail), Follow us on Twitter at @firesandrain.

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