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Judge Rules against Zillow Exec for Destruction of Evidence in Move Case

 

A Seattle judge denied Move Inc.’s motion for sanctions against Zillow Wednesday in the $2 billion trade theft suit it filed against its rival back in 2014. However, Judge Sean O’Donnell will sanction Zillow exec Curt Beardsley by issuing an “adverse instruction” to jurors, or informing them that evidence is missing or has been destroyed.

The lengthy hearing has been ongoing since 2014 when Move, operator of Realtor.com, filed a claim that Beardsley and his boss, Errol Samuelson, stole trade secrets and destroyed documents when they left the company to join Zillow. The case is set to go to trial in Washington state court on June 6.

The judge’s adverse instructions leave it to jurors to decide whether the evidence would have helped the plaintiffs or likewise hurt the defendants.

The story gained national headlines recently when Beardsley testified that he wanted to make sure his laptop computer was wiped clean because he wanted to hide that he had visited porn sites. The judge called Beardsley’s behavior “an undermining of the tenants which make our system of justice work” but determined it was not so severe as to warrant terminating sanctions or automatic default of the defendants’ case.

In response to the ruling, Move issued a statement, which reads in part, "This important ruling validates our claim that one of Zillow's top executives, Curt Beardsley, acted with 'willfulness and bad faith' in destroying evidence, and his actions have 'prejudiced plaintiffs' ability to prosecute their case. We welcome the judge's decision that there will be a jury instruction, which will allow the jury to 'infer the missing evidence would have benefited plaintiff's case or alternatively hurt the defendant's.' ”

To read Move’s full statement released yesterday, click here.

Zillow issued the following statement:

"We applaud the Court’s decision with respect to Zillow, which validates what we already knew: that during the pre-trial hearing, News Corp. did not offer evidence that Zillow did anything wrong or that the company failed to live up to our obligations in this case. We look forward to vigorously defending against the claims in this litigation during the jury trial.

"Zillow Group has and will continue to act with the utmost integrity in conducting our business. Ultimately this comes down to News Corp. trying to win in the courts, since they aren’t winning in the court of consumer opinion. We are fully focused on innovating and continuing to grow the most popular real estate network on mobile and Web."