Western District of Washington Denies Request to Third Party for Images of Hard Drives and ESI Regarding Contacts with Daimler Employees; Northern District of Mississippi Quashes Subpoena to Email Providers for Contents of Email Boxes

Daimler Truck North America LLC v. Younessi, Case No. 08-5011 (W.D. Wash. June 20, 2008) J.T. Shannon Lumber Co. v. Gilco Lumber Inc., Case No. 07-119 (N.D. Miss. Aug. 14, 2008)

Today is subpoena day at the dance hall. In Daimler Truck, District Judge Ronald B. Leighton found concern over potential trade secret disclosure sufficient to deny Daimler’s request for images of third party Cascadia’s hard drives. The court ordered Cascadia to perform its own searches and produce the results to Daimler. In J.T. Lumber, Magistrate Judge Allan Alexander quashed the subpoenas to Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, finding that the Stored Communications Act prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of stored electronic communications and customer account information. Shades of Quon, discussed here.

Daimler sought two categories of information: communications between an executive of Cascadia and the defendant in the case, and communications between that executive and any Daimler employee. The court found that Daimler had justified its need for discovery of the first, but Cascadia also had an interest in keeping its trade secrets out of the public eye, and particularly away from competitor. The court felt that providing images of hard drives would give Daimler information far beyond the scope of discovery. “This would be analogous to allowing the search of a party’s entire collection of file drawers for the purpose of finding a single class of documents.” The court held:

In the interest of protecting private information such as trade secrets or privileged documents, the Court can order the responding party’s attorneys to search for all documents consistent with the subpoena and to produce only those which are relevant, responsive, and do not disclose trade secrets. … Having Cascadia search its own computers is an appropriate compromise here because of the unique status of Daimler as a direct competitor and of Cascadia as a nonparty to the underlying suit.

Slip Opinion at 4-5.

The second category of information, communications between the Cascadia executive and any employee of Daimler, was a different story. Cascadia owns 89 computers in five different locations and Daimler wants all of them searched. The court held that this was unduly burdensome. The court noted that there was no evidence that Daimler had performed a search of its own for such contacts.

If it has not, it would be unduly burdensome and potentially cumulative to require Cascadia to perform such a search in its records when Daimler, by failure to do such a search on its own, has implied that the costs of such a search outweigh the potential benefits. If Daimler has performed such a search and revealed no evidence to support the need for such a broad ranging search then the likelihood of Cascadia’s similar search being sufficiently beneficial to outweigh the costs is low. Without such a showing, Daimler has not met its burden of showing “good cause.”

Slip Opinion at 6-7.

In the J.T. Shannon Lumber case, the court went right to the Stored Communications Act, noting that it prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of stored electronic communications and customer account information unless an exception applies. No such exception applies. “The Act creates a zone of privacy that protects internet subscribers from having their personal information wrongfully used and disclosed by unauthorized private parties.”

The court also found that the subpoenas were overly burdensome. They request all of the contents of the subscribers email accounts regardless of the content, much of which is likely irrelevant. They request the subscribers’ account information with respect to personal account information, records of session times, means of payment, volumes of email, and detailed connection logs between January 1, 2005 and September 1, 2007. In short, the court found that the subpoenas sought an unlimited number of documents. “The breadth of the request is so expansive that it resembles a fishing expedition.” The court granted the motion to quash.

Read the Daimler Truck opinion

Read the J.T. Shannon Lumber opinion