Wednesday, May 28, 2014

So-Called "Porno Troll's" Attempt at Joinder, Discovery Shot Down

Tired of using Mosley v. General Motors for an illustration of joinder under Rule 20? The D.C. Circuit has provided a great new case. The court quaintly began its opinion:

Generally speaking, our federal judicial system and the procedural rules that govern it work well, allowing parties to resolve their disputes with one another fairly and efficiently. But sometimes individuals seek to manipulate judicial procedures to serve their own improper ends. This case calls upon us to evaluate—and put a stop to— one litigant’s attempt to do just that.

AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1058, No. 12-7135 (D.C. Cir. May 27, 2014).

Plaintiff AF Holdings, represented by a law firm related to one that was called a "porno-trolling collective" in another case, allegedly (there was some question of forgery) acquired the copyright to a pornographic film called "Popular Demand." It sued 1,058 "John Doe" defendants in federal court in D.C. for copyright infringement for downloading the film on a file-sharing service known as BitTorrent.

Moving for leave to take immediate discovery, AF Holdings then sought to serve subpoenas on the five Internet service providers linked to the 1,058 IP addresses it had identified: Cox Communications, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Bright House Networks. The district court granted the motion . . . . The providers refused to comply. Invoking Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(d)(3)(A), . . . they asserted that the administrative expense involved was necessarily an “undue burden” because AF Holdings had failed to establish that the court would have personal jurisdiction over the defendants or that venue would lie in this district. . . . The providers also argued that any burden was necessarily undue because AF Holdings had failed to provide any reason to think that joinder of these 1,058 defendants in one action was proper. The district court rejected these arguments, . . . [but] certified its order for immediate appeal.

The D.C. Circuit vacated, holding that AF Holdings had failed to make a threshold showing of a good faith belief that the discovery would enable it to show that the court had personal jurisdiction over the unknown defendants; thus, the information sought from the service providers was not relevant.

The court then turned "to the question of joinder, which provides a separate and independent ground for reversal":

. . . Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) sets forth that multiple defendants may be joined in one action if the plaintiff seeks relief “with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” and “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” In a multi-Doe copyright infringement lawsuit such as this, at least one issue of law or fact will generally be common to all defendants—here, that issue might be whether AF Holdings has a valid copyright in Popular Demand. But whether all of these Doe defendants could possibly have been a part of the same “transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” so as to support joinder is a more difficult question. . . . For purposes of this case, we may assume that two individuals who participate in the same swarm [a type of peer-to-peer file sharing] at the same time are part of the same series of transactions within the meaning of Rule 20(a)(2). In that circumstance, the individuals might well be actively sharing a file with one another, uploading and downloading pieces of the copyrighted work from the other members of the swarm. But AF Holdings has provided no reason to think that the Doe defendants it named in this lawsuit were ever participating in the same swarm at the same time.

The D.C. Circuit left the question of sanctions to the district court on remand.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civpro/2014/05/so-called-porno-trolls-attempt-at-joinder-discovery-shot-down.html

Discovery, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions | Permalink

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Posted by: Rules Of Civil Procedure | May 29, 2014 6:50:55 AM

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