A trial court opinion involving allegations of spoliation of text messages on a mobile phone in the Southern District of New York has gotten attention because of the application of legal preservation standards. Ronnie Van Zant, Inc. v. Pyle 2017 BL 3018, S.D.N.Y. 17 Civ. 3360 (RWS), 8/23/17) is an interesting read, not just because it involves odd characters, intrigue and drama surrounding one of the greatest Southern Rock bands of all time. It also includes some instructive information about the application of the “practical ability” test for preservation, and the uphill battle for witnesses who lose credibility in testimony about what they did and did not do in a preservation effort.
Not long after the tragic plane crash that resulted in the deaths of Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt and his co-founding band member Steven Gaines, Artimus Pyle, the former drummer, entered an agreement with the surviving heirs and other members of the band. The agreement involved promises to never perform as “Lynard Skynyrd,” or to generally profit from the name of the band or the tragic deaths of Van Zant or Gaines without approval of the original parties to the agreement. Their dramatically named “blood oath” agreement was more concretely memorialized in a Consent Order in 1988, following other litigation, which Pyle signed.
Over 20 years after the 1988 Consent Order, the drama that spawned the litigation began in a story that sounds like it came from a Netflix mini-series. A film director named Jared Cohn, who worked under contract for an independent record label-turned movie producer, Cleopatra Records, Inc. (“Cleopatra”) reached out to Pyle about making a movie centered around the band and Pyle’s life in it. Cohn was hired by the founder and co-owner of Cleopatra Records, Brian Perera, who is another interesting character in his own right. Pyle met and consulted with Perera on multiple occasions about ideas for a film generally depicting his life and the plane crash, which Pyle survived. In their first conversations, Pyle did not mention the 1988 Consent Order, but the Order eventually was delivered to Cleopatra. The copy of the Order was also eventually followed by a “cease and desist” letter and other correspondence from the Plaintiffs’ counsel. All the while, Cleopatra’s movie production work continued. Continue Reading Spoliation and Southern Rock