Archive: August 28, 2008

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Avoiding Question of Whether Third-Party’s Compliance with Subpoena Might Violate Stored Communications Act, Court Instructs Plaintiff to Serve Rule 34 Request for Production Instead

Avoiding Question of Whether Third-Party’s Compliance with Subpoena Might Violate Stored Communications Act, Court Instructs Plaintiff to Serve Rule 34 Request for Production Instead

Flagg v. City of Detroit, 252 F.R.D. 346 (E.D. Mich. 2008)

In an earlier decision in this case, the court denied defendants’ motion to quash subpoenas to SkyTel for the production of text messages.  The court found that plaintiff was entitled to pursue the production of certain text messages sent or received by specified officials or employees of the City (some of whom were also named as individual defendants in the suit) during specified time frames, using text messaging devices supplied by SkyTel.  The court observed that the relevance (and hence discoverability) of the text messages necessarily turned upon the content of the communications.  Thus, it was essential to establish a procedure for the review of the content of each such communication, for determining both relevance and the application of any privilege.  The court appointed two magistrate judges to review the communications and make the initial determination as to which were discoverable.  Our post on that March 20, 2008 order is available here.

In this recent decision, the court ruled upon motions by the City and one of the individual defendants seeking to prevent the discovery from going forward.  The moving defendants argued that the federal Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S .C. § 2701 et seq., wholly precludes the production in civil litigation of electronic communications stored by a non-party service provider.  The court rejected this proposed reading of the SCA, observing that “[d]efendants’ position, if accepted, would dramatically alter discovery practice, in a manner clearly not contemplated by the existing rules or law, by permitting a party to defeat the production of electronically stored information created by that party and still within its control – information that plainly is subject to civil discovery, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a)(1) – through the simple expedient of storing it with a third party.”  The court concluded that, because nothing in the plain language of the SCA requires this extraordinary result, and because defendants had not identified any other support for this proposition, the discovery effort contemplated in its March 20, 2008 opinion could go forward (albeit through slightly different means).

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