Stored Communications Act Limits Production of Google Emails – eDiscovery Case Law

By: Doug Austin

In Optiver Australia Pty. Ltd. & Anor. v. Tibra Trading Pty. Ltd. & Ors. (N.D.Cal., January 23, 2013), California Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal granted much of the defendant’s motion to quash subpoena of Google for electronic communications sent or received by certain Gmail accounts allegedly used by employees of the defendant because most of the request violated the terms of the Stored Communications Act.

The plaintiff alleged that several of its former employees copied the plaintiff’s proprietary source code, left the plaintiff company, and used the code to found the defendant in 2006.  After receiving a production from the defendant, the plaintiff “suspected that key emails relating to the allegedly stolen code were previously deleted”; as a result, the Federal Court of Australia ordered further discovery.  The defendant filed an ex parte application for judicial assistance pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 to serve a subpoena upon Google for documents to be used in the foreign proceeding, which was granted.

The plaintiff submitted two requests to Google, as follows:

  • “Request One: Documents sufficient to identify the recipient(s), sender, subject, date sent, date received, date read, and date deleted of emails, email attachments, or Google Talk messages that contain either of the terms ‘PGP’ or ‘Optiver’ (case insensitive) sent or received between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2007” for selected email addresses; and
  • “Request Two: Documents sufficient to show the recipient(s), sender, subject, date sent, date received, date read, and date deleted of emails, email attachments, or Google Talk messages sent or received between November 3, 2005 to December 31, 2009 that were sent to or from” selected email addresses.

The defendant moved to quash the subpoena.

Judge Grewal noted that “it is well-established that civil subpoenas, including those issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782, are subject to the prohibitions of the Stored Communications Act (‘SCA)”, which was passed in 1986.  The SCA prohibits service providers from knowingly disclosing the contents of a user’s electronic communications.

Judge Grewal ruled that the plaintiff’s “Request One is invalid because it seeks disclosure of the terms ‘Optiver’ and ‘PGP’” and granted the defendant’s motion to quash that request.  As for Request Two, Judge Grewal ruled that it “violates the SCA insofar as it seeks the subject of the communications, but the remainder is permissible.”  Therefore, he ruled that Google was required to provide only the following: “Documents sufficient to show the recipient(s), sender, date sent, date received, date read, and date deleted of emails, email attachments, or Google Talk messages sent or received between November 3, 2005 to December 31, 2009 that were sent to or from the email addresses listed”.

So, what do you think?  Was the correct information excluded due to the SCA?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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About the Bloggers

Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins, President and CEO of CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years of experience leading customer focused companies in the litigation support arena. Brad has authored many articles on litigation support issues, and has spoken before national audiences on document management practices and solutions.

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Doug Austin

Doug Austin, Professional Services Manager for CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years experience providing legal technology consulting and technical project management services to numerous commercial and government clients. Doug has also authored several articles on eDiscovery best practices.

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Jane Gennarelli

Jane Gennarelli is a principal of Magellan’s Law Corporation and has been assisting litigators in effectively handling discovery materials for over 30 years. She authored the company’s Best Practices in a Box™ content product and assists firms in applying technology to document handling tasks. She is a known expert and often does webinars and presentations for litigation support professionals around the country. Jane can be reached by email at jane@litigationbestpractices.com.

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