Court Allows Subpoena Seeking Inspection of Plaintiff’s Mother’s Laptop, but Orders Defendant to Prepare Search Protocol and Pay Her Reasonable Costs

Hoover v. Fla. Hydro, Inc., 2008 WL 4467661 (E.D. La. 2008)

In this breach of contract case, Hoover moved to quash subpoenas issued by defendant to two non-parties:  Hoover’s mother and Hoover’s former roommate. The subpoena issued to Hoover’s mother requested inspection of her laptop or any electronic storage device “for documents copied, sent to, or received by her son” related to several entities, including the defendant.  The subpoena issued to the former roommate, Sanghani, also sought inspection of his laptop computer and any other electronic storage device or computer “that has any responsive documents.”  The subpoena further requested documents, “whether in paper form or electronically submitted,” between Hoover and Sanghani that referred to specific persons or topics.

Hoover moved to quash the subpoenas, arguing that they were unwarranted, unduly burdensome, sought to harass the witnesses, amounted to a “fishing expedition,” and that they “infringed upon the privacy and proprietary interests of his friend, his mother, and himself.”  Regarding the subpoena to Hoover’s mother, he argued that the information sought was protected by attorney-client privilege because he used her computer to correspond with his attorneys, and the risk was too great to mitigate.  With respect to Sanghani, he argued that the responsive materials had already been produced in hard copy.

In response, defendant argued that the subpoenas had been issued with good cause, that Hoover did not have standing to bring the motion, and that neither Hoover’s mother or roommate were entitled to raise a claim of attorney-client privilege.  It also argued neither recipient had objected that the requests were overbroad or burdensome, that the subpoenas were reasonably related to the claims and limited to relevant years, and that it had tried to make the production easy by arranging pick-up and agreeing to pay expenses, among other things.

The court declined to quash the subpoena to Hoover’s mother.  The court noted that plaintiff’s mother had previously issued a declaration in which she indicated that from 1999 to 2003, she received multiple phone calls, emails, faxes, and packages mailed from defendant.  She also indicated that she sent relevant information to potential investors, including business plans and non-disclosure agreements.  Thus, the court concluded that she likely did have relevant information on her laptop computer.

Turning briefly to the issue of attorney-client privilege, the court noted that Hoover had already submitted a privilege log which detailed his communications with his attorney.  The court concluded a search could be configured so as to exclude those communications or any non-business communications between plaintiff and his mother.

In addition, the court ordered defendant to prepare and exchange a search protocol with Hoover prior to the production and inspection of Hoover’s mother’s laptop, and ruled that Hoover’s mother would be permitted to be present at the inspection.  The court also ordered defendant to reimburse Hoover’s mother her personal and reasonable expenses incurred complying with the subpoena, in accordance with its prior agreement to do so; however, such reimbursement was not to include the fees of plaintiff’s or his mother’s attorneys.

With regard to Sanghani, the court noted that defendant had previously issued a subpoena to Sanghani, and had obtained an order from the Western District of Louisiana compelling his compliance.  The court stated that it was not aware of any defect in his responses which required further compliance with the sister court’s order.  Accordingly, the court granted Hoover’s motion to quash as to the subpoena to Sanghani.

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