Tag Archives: FRCP

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED? New York’s Split Southern District Court

It is very easy to put up a banner claiming “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED — NO MORE BITTORRENT CASES IN SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK,” but reality is not that simple. A judge can give a ruling, and it can be a darned good ruling which is binding on all other judges in that federal district (similarly, that ruling is persuasive for judges in other federal districts). One such case is the case written up by Sophisticated Jane Doe in her “The Domino Effect: Trolls are not welcome in the Southern District of New York anymore” article posted just moments ago. I do not need to re-write this up — she did a wonderful job, and there is no reason to duplicate her efforts.

That being said, this case does merit some discussion. The name of the case is Digital Sins, Inc., v. John Does 1-245 (Case No. 1:11-cv-08170, or 11 Civ. 8170) [misspelled], filed in the U.S. District Court for the SOUTHERN DISTRICT of New York (remember our blog post about forum shopping there?). I am happy to share that the case is now SEVERED AND DISMISSED. Obviously, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who were part of that case. This ruling is WONDERFUL for you.

As far as I am concerned, this ruling was the order I was waiting for back in March when I reported that all of copyright troll Mike Meier’s New York cases were consolidated by Judge Forrest. Similarly, you’ll see what I thought would happen in my “New York Judge consolidates and freezes SMALLER BITTORRENT CASES for plaintiff attorney” article earlier that month. Well in short, my opinion with hindsight was that all this was a dud, and Judge Forrest merely consolidated the cases to rein in Mike Meier so that she can control him and his cases so that they all had uniform outcomes. This was obviously a step in the right direction, but it did not dispose of the cases in their entirety. Perhaps because Judge Forrest had experience with copyright cases in the past, she thought she should be the one to preside over them. However, in my opinion, she just made them more orderly; she didn’t rule on the underlying issues plaguing each of Mike Meier’s cases.

Here comes Judge Colleen McMahon of the same Southern District as Judge Forrest, and she (like Judge Forrest) has my respect. In her ruling on Tuesday, she took the opportunity to take a John Doe ruling, and turn it into NEW LAW FOR NEW YORK COURTS (obviously I am referring to the federal courts). What impressed me was that not only was she aware of Judge Forrest’s activities, she changed the law by dissenting with them.

“Judges Forrest and Nathan, have decided to allow these actions to go forward on a theory that permissive joinder was proper.  I most respectfully disagree with their conclusion.” (p.4)

Further, she ruled that if Mike Meier wanted to sue these 244 defendants, he may do so in separate lawsuits, AND HE MUST PAY THE $350 FILING FEE FOR EACH LAWSUIT (that’s $85,400 in filing fees that Digital Sin, Inc. will have to pay if they want to go after the dismissed defendants).

“They are dismissed because the plaintiff has not paid the filing fee that is statutorily required to bring these 244 separate lawsuits.” (p.4)

What made this case blog worthy (and you’ll notice, I rarely post about the run-of-the-mill dismissals that happen every day in various jurisdictions when their rulings teach nothing new) was that Judge McMahon suggested TWO STRATEGIES to John Doe Defendants that she believes would successfully refute the plaintiff attorney’s geolocation evidence as proof that the court has personal jurisdiction over the accused IP addresses.

Firstly, she suggests that the John Doe defendants not living in the jurisdictional confines of the court simply file a SWORN DECLARATION that they live somewhere else.

“John Doe 148 could have overcome [the geolocation data evidence provided by the plaintiff] by averring [e.g., in a sworn declaration] that he was a citizen and resident of some state other than New York — even New Jersey or Connecticut, portions of which are located within the geographic area that is covered by the geolocation data.” (emphasis added, p.5)

Secondly, she said that since plaintiff attorneys are getting the personal jurisdiction right (e.g., filing lawsuits against Californians in California, against Texans in Texas, etc.), defendants could start asserting the “WRONG VENUE” argument (essentially saying, “Court, yes, I live in New York.  But I was sued in Long Island and I live in Buffalo.  It would be an extreme hardship for me to travel down to Long Island every time I need to show up for a hearing there to defend my case.”).  The actual verbiage suggested by the Court is that “…plaintiff has failed to plead facts rom which a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that this Court has personal jurisdiction over this John Doe, or that venue is properly laid in this district.”  (emphasis added).

Next, this ruling is VERY EXCITING because it puts handcuffs on Mike Meier should he wish to file against any of the severed and dismissed defendants in a follow-up case.  Those rules are:

1) When an ISP complies with a subpoena request, it may not share the telephone number or e-mail address of the subscriber with the plaintiff attorney.

2) Assuming the ISP does not file a motion to quash (it obviously may AND SHOULD do so on behalf of its subscribers [my opinion]), the ISP shall share the subscriber’s information WITH THE COURT ONLY (not directly to the plaintiff as is usually done), and the court will disclose the information to the plaintiff attorney.  (I’m not sure the benefit of this — they still get the contact information of the John Doe Defendants this way).

3) The plaintiff may use the information disclosed ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF LITIGATING THAT CASE (so the plaintiff may no longer use the threat of future litigation if they do not immediately settle to extort a settlement.  This was a tactic used by many plaintiff attorneys (most notoriously, Prenda Law Inc. who admitted that they dismissed the case so that they can go after the John Doe Defendants [extorting settlements] without the court’s involvement).

Lastly — and her timing is quite interesting as we just finished writing about forum shopping in bittorrent cases — she warned Mike Meier not to engage in “judge shopping.”

“Lest plaintiff’s counsel think he can simply put cases against the severed and dismissed John Doe defendants into the wheel for assignment to yet another judge, I remind him of Local Civil Rule 1.6(a) [which requires the plaintiff attorney to bring the existence of potentially related cases to the attention of the Court].” 

For your reading pleasure, I have pasted a copy of the order below.  For my own opinion on the topics discussed by the judge, I have pasted them below the judge’s order.

[scribd id=93798958 key=key-2fufis4rlcf1fuhmb3kz mode=list]

MY OPINION:  There is more here that I did not write about, namely that the judge believes that all the bittorrent cases currently being held by Judge Forrest and Judge Nathan should be assigned over to her so that she can dispose of them once and for all.  She also went into other judge’s rulings which duplicate content in other articles on the blog.  However, once again, we have another wonderful ruling.  However, moving forward, perhaps I am a bit jaded, but I don’t foresee Judge Forrest or Judge Nathan tomorrow assigning over all their bittorrent cases to this judge.  There is now a disagreement in the New York courts (as there are in many jurisdictions) as to how to handle these cases.  I would love to jump up and down, wave a banner and declare “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED — NO MORE BITTORRENT CASES IN SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK,” but quite frankly this is not reality.

More likely than not, plaintiff attorneys such as Mike Meier, Jason Kotzker, and any other copyright troll who wants to file in New York will continue to file there.  As you can see in my forum shopping article (which should more properly be called “Judge Shopping”), an attorney can in ONE DAY file  9 SEPARATE CASES and receive 7 SEPARATE JUDGES, as was the case with Kotzker’s recent filings.

In addition, while the SWORN DECLARATION argument and the VENUE arguments are both easy solutions to disprove the plaintiff’s prima facie case for personal jurisdiction (meaning, the bare minimum a court will require in order to accept the fact that it has personal jurisdiction over the defendants in the case), a John Doe Defendant hoping to hide his identity from the plaintiff attorney and quash a subpoena should not be excited by these solutions.  1) For the sworn declaration, they’ll necessarily be giving up their true location (they cannot lie that they live in Connecticut when they live in California), and we all know that Mike Meier is only ONE local attorney to a larger IP monetization group (“The Copyright Enforcement Group”) which has other attorneys in other states, and who continues to recruit new hungry would-be copyright trolls.  So even if they succeed in getting their case dismissed here, guess who will be filing against them in their home state’s federal court?  2) A John Doe Defendant who asserts the “correct state, wrong venue” argue just made a big blunder — he admitted that personal jurisdiction is proper in that state.  Rules for venue are based on a number of factors, NOT ONLY WHERE THE DEFENDANT LIVES.  Similarly, no doubt the plaintiff will respond in a wrongful venue argument in a motion to quash that “John Doe filed this motion to quash asserting wrongful venue (which by the way is not a valid ground to quash a subpoena; jurisdiction IS), but he is not a party to the action [yet] and thus he has no standing to file this motion to quash.”  Remember this?  Lastly and realistically, the proper time a defendant CAN AND SHOULD use this wrongful venue argument is in his ANSWER (which means he was already NAMED as a defendant in the case).  Too late.  There are better issues to kill a case at this point than complaining that the court is too much of a drive.

[DISCLAIMER: I’ve given many opinions here which is not to be taken as legal advice.  Each defendant has different needs and different circumstances, and for this reason, the legal advice I give for one of my clients may not be appropriate (or may even be harmful) to another client who’s circumstances are different.  Also, obviously no attorney-client relationship is formed until you sign a retainer and become a client.]

What is going on in the District of Columbia (DC) with their bittorrent cases?

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Everyone knows by now that DC is not a friendly jurisdiction to be sued in. Like Washington D.C., the judges do not follow one another, and each judge does what he or she feels should be policy. Two examples — Judge Beryl Howell, a copyright lobbyist turned federal judge, and Judge Bates — friendly towards downloaders (but subsequently removed by other judges from the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case).  As far as I am concerned, this court is wrought with as much politics as Washington D.C. is in general.

So let’s go through some case updates, sorted by plaintiff attorney.

I) DUNLAP GRUBB & WEAVER, PLLC

Imperial Enterprises v. Does 1-3,545 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00529) [at one point it was Imperial Enterprises, Inc. v. Does 1-3,145] — dead. On 9/26, Judge Reggie Walton ordered the plaintiffs to name and serve or dismiss defendants or dismiss them [according to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“F.R.C.P.”), Rule 4(m)] by 12/20/2011. Instead of naming defendants, Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC (who sends out settlement demand letters under the name “Media Law Group” or “MLG”) decided to dismiss all defendants. Case dismissed; congratulations to all Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants (and all others) who were Doe Defendants in this case. See order here.

Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-24,582
, a.k.a., “the Hurt Locker case” (Case No. 1:10-cv-00873) [at one point it was Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-5,000]dead. This one was actually funny. On 11/4, Judge Beryl Howell got tired of this case being on her docket. So she gave Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC (“DGW”) until 12/5 (extended to 12/12) to name and serve defendants or to dismiss them (again, the judge invoked F.R.C.P. Rule 4(m) to wipe what became a stale case off her docket).  However, DGW missed the deadline, and instead of having the judge dismiss the case, they dismissed it themselves to save themselves the embarrassment of having yet another case dismissed for them failing to move forward against defendants.

Regarding this plaintiff attorney, I received word that they were gearing up to sue individual defendants in their home states. This is nothing new as they have already started “naming” defendants for their older dismissed cases. More recently, I received word that they are hiring local attorneys and following the Patrick Collins, Inc. model of stating to dismissed defendants, “we have hired XYZ attorney in your state — unless you settle with us, we will name you in a lawsuit in your state.” The problem here is I have reason to believe they’ll follow up with the lawsuits.

There are some other “conspiracy” issues regarding this plaintiff, namely that they sent subpoena letters demanding names and contact information for various John Doe Defendants *AFTER* dismissing their IP addresses and releasing them from the case. This was written up by Torrentfreak.com, and you can read up about it here.  (NOTE: After the ISPs refused to hand over subscriber information, they added the IP address back into the lawsuit — something I don’t think they were allowed to do — but these Doe Defendants have since been dismissed as well and now they are receiving “scare” letters now as we speak.)

II) STEELE | HANSMEIER, PLLC (NOW PRENDA LAW INC.)

As we know, a few months back, Steele Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) ventured into the DC District doing some “forum shopping” with their Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) and their AF Holdings, Inc. v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) cases — having been essentially locked out of their own Illinois jurisdiction, they were looking for a few favorable rulings based on DC’s “plaintiff-friendly” reputation in the bittorrent cases of the past year (they have since found a happier home filing suits in the Florida / Miami Dade state courts). In these cases was the first appearance of Paul Duffy who has since taken over Steele’s position in the firm (yes, it appears as if he is out).

AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) has survived scrutiny without a hiccup as Prenda has been “pretending” to search and see which defendants lived in DC. To make their searches appear valid, they immediately started dismissing a bunch of defendants a few at a time (“NOTICE of Voluntary Dismissal re Does 1-8,” “…Does 9-15,” “…Does 16-35,” “…Does 36-65” — what I do not understand is, “Hasn’t Judge Reggie Walton figured out their game yet?” After all, it appears to me as if none of the defendants [so far] live in DC. And, they filed the complaint in JULY 2011! Did it REALLY take them 5 MONTHS to figure out that the first 65 defendants did not live in DC? I could have done this in just a few minutes using known geolocation tools). In short, Judge Reggie Walton is allowing this to move forward for now, but he is not stupid. My prediction is that he is going to bust this case using FRCP 4(m) any time now.

Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) is the case that is filled with controversy. It was in this case where Judge Bates figured out that most of the defendants did not live within the jurisdiction of the DC court. He invited Doe Defendants to file motions to quash and promised that he would keep their information sealed and private. My first inclination when I saw this was “watch out! — DC does not keep sealed documents as private — as soon as they deny the motions to quash, they expose the defendants’ information when denying the motions.”  Then a few days later, as we wrote about here, whether for political reasons or from pressure from the other judges, Judge Bates was removed from the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does case and he was replaced by Judge Facciola, someone who in my estimation was not friendly towards bittorrent defendants. For weeks, we saw nothing from him — no indication as to whether he would honor Judge Bates’ offer to submit motions to quash anonymously, or whether he would summarily deny them. I suspected he would deny them in line with DC’s past strong stance AGAINST motions to quash.

Well, I am sad to share that Judge Facciola ended up being exactly who I thought he was. In his 12/21 ruling, he reversed everything Judge Bates was trying to do when he wrote in his order that “I will not consider any motion unless it is publicly filed.” In other words, unless you use your real information in your motion to quash (e.g., your real name, address, phone number, etc. — the exact information the plaintiff attorneys are looking for in order to start sending you “scare” letters and calling you with the effect of scaring you into a settlement), Facciola’s court will not consider your sealed motions to quash as Bates promised they would.  It need not be said that when you file a motion to quash, everybody can see it as the filing is a public document. However, Judge Facciola does not care about your privacy interests, nor does he care if plaintiff attorneys receive your private information, because according to him, “[i]ndividuals who subscribe to the internet through ISPs simply have no expectation of privacy in their subscriber information.” (emphasis added) I wonder when the last time an ISP allowed a subscriber to open an account without the subscriber’s personal information.

In sum, expect this case to move forward like all the others. We appear to have a copyright-troll friendly judge here, so please prepare yourselves to have your private information handed out to your plaintiff attorneys by your ISPs; until now, I expect that they haven’t done so. I would love to give you good news here, but so far there is no indication this is going away any time soon — at least not until Prenda Law Inc. gets its payday.