Magistrate Quashes Subpoenas to Plaintiff’s Personal Email Providers

Quinby v. WestLB AG, 2006 WL 59521 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2006) In its second opinion addressing e-discovery issues (the first is summarized here), the court quashed subpoenas issued by the defendant to the providers of plaintiff’s personal email accounts. The subpoenas sought all e-mails sent to or received by plaintiff’s personal e-mail account during the period from October 2002 throughout July 2004, other than e-mails between plaintiff and her current and former counsel. The defendant argued that the subpoenas were appropriate because discovery had shown that plaintiff had not produced all the emails she should have produced. Specifically, defendants point to the fact that another former employee of defendant had produced emails from plaintiff that plaintiff herself had not produced. Defendants also pointed to a November 6, 2003 internal email that plaintiff apparently forwarded from her office computer to her home computer but did not produce. The premise underlying defendant’s argument was that plaintiff’s failure to produce these emails demonstrated that plaintiff could not be trusted to review her own emails properly, and that all of plaintiff’s non-privileged emails should therefore be produced, without regard to whether they relate to her claims. Plaintiff argued that the subpoenas were overbroad, and the court agreed.

Assuming plaintiff’s personal e-mail accounts are similar to those of most individual’s, these subpoenas would yield a vast amount of irrelevant material, including “spam” e-mails, internet purchase orders and confirmations, personal correspondence, confirmations of medical appointments and the whole raft of communications that are now routinely made over the internet. Although the vast majority, if not all, of this material is, no doubt, innocuous, that is not the touchstone for discovery; in order to be discoverable, the material sought must be “not privileged” and “relevant to the claim or defense of any party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Defendant’s subpoenas entirely ignore the requirement that a discovery request be limited to relevant material.

Further, the court concluded that defendant’s contention that broad discovery was appropriate because plaintiff had improperly withheld emails did not withstand analysis. It examined the emails produced by others and concluded that they were not responsive to the discovery requests served on plaintiff.

One Comment

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