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Af Holdings LLC v. John Doe

March 20, 2012

AF HOLDINGS LLC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Presently before the court are plaintiff's application for leave to take expedited discovery, which plaintiff filed on January 5, 2012 (App. for Expedited Discovery, Dkt. No. 7), and plaintiff's amended application for leave to take expedited discovery, which plaintiff filed on January 29, 2012 (Amended App. for Expedited Discovery, Dkt. No. 9).*fn1

Plaintiff, AF Holdings, LLC ("plaintiff"), did not notice either of its applications for hearing. The undersigned concludes that oral argument would not be of material assistance in resolving the applications. Accordingly, the applications will be decided on the papers submitted.*fn2

Through plaintiff's applications for expedited discovery, plaintiff seeks permission to serve a discovery subpoena upon a third party named Francisco Rivas ("Mr. Rivas" or "the account holder"), who is the "account holder associated with" the Internet Protocol ("IP") address "24.205.30.192," which was allegedly used in connection with infringement upon plaintiff's copyrighted adult video entitled Sexual Obsession ("Video"). (Amended App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; Complaint ("Compl."), Dkt. No. 2 at 1-2.) Although plaintiff alleges that Mr. Rivas is the "holder" of the account allegedly used to infringe upon plaintiff's copywritten Video, plaintiff has not formally named Mr. Rivas as a defendant in this action because the relationship between an account holder and infringer can be "imperfect." (Compl. ¶ 1; App. for Expedited Discovery at 9; Amended App. for Expedited Discovery at 9.) Instead, plaintiff requests expedited discovery (in the form of deposing Mr. Rivas as a third party), purportedly to obtain the identities of the defendant(s) alleged to have used Mr. Rivas's account associated with IP address "24.205.30.192" to infringe on plaintiff's rights in regards to the Video. (Amended App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; see also Compl. ¶¶ 1-4, 19-37.)

The undersigned has considered plaintiff's applications and, for the reasons stated below, denies plaintiff's applications to conduct limited early discovery pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d)(1).

I. BACKGROUND

On November 21, 2011, plaintiff filed a complaint for copyright infringement and

civil conspiracy against John Doe, an unnamed defendant.*fn3 (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff is a producer of adult entertainment content, and is alleged to be the exclusive holder of the relevant rights with respect to the Video. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) In the course of monitoring Internet-based infringement of its copyrighted content, plaintiff's agents allegedly observed unlawful reproduction and distribution of the Video occurring over a particular IP address via the Bit Torrent file transfer protocol, the mechanics of which are further described in the Complaint.*fn4

(Compl. ¶¶ 5, 14-18, 22-24.) According to plaintiff, it has already determined that Mr. Rivas is the account holder of the IP address involved. (Amended App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; App. for Expedited Discovery at 5.) According to plaintiff, "[e]ven if Mr. Rivas did not download and distribute Plaintiff's copyrighted video himself, the infringing activity occurred over his network and the equipment he controls," such that Mr. Rivas is the only person "with information that can allow Plaintiff to identify the actual infringer." (App. for Expedited Discovery at 5 n.1; 9.) According to plaintiff, Mr. Rivas "merely ignored" plaintiff's counsel's attempts to meet and confer regarding the identity of the alleged infringer. (Id. at 9; Gibbs Decl. ¶¶ 2-8.) Also according to plaintiff, plaintiff's counsel met and conferred informally with "Mr. Rivas, and/or his attorneys, have not presented any alternative 'suspects' (e.g. a roommate) that could be the source of the infringement." (App. for Expedited Discovery at 5 n.1.) Finally, plaintiff believes that "Mr. Rivas's evasive behavior thus far does not reflect the actions of an entirely innocent third party." (Id. at 5.)

Plaintiff now requests the court to authorize service of a third party deposition subpoena upon Mr. Rivas. Plaintiff states that, in some cases, an account holder may be able to offer a credible explanation for why he or she is not the infringer and may be able to identify the actual infringer, such as another household member or tenant. (Amended App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; App. for Expedited Discovery at 5.) As such, plaintiff contends that it cannot proceed in the action without ascertaining the likely infringer's identity, and that Mr. Rivas is the only person with information that can allow plaintiff to identify the actual infringer and permit service of process on that individual. (Amended App. for Expedited Discovery at 5; App. for Expedited Discovery at 5.)

II. DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d)(1) provides: "A party may not seek discovery from any source before the parties have conferred as required by Rule 26(f), except in a proceeding exempted from initial disclosure under Rule 26(a)(1)(B), or when authorized by these rules, by stipulation, or by court order" (emphasis added). District courts within the Ninth Circuit have permitted expedited discovery prior to the Rule 26(f) conference upon a showing of "good cause." E.g., In re Countrywide Fin. Corp. Derivative Litig., 542 F. Supp. 2d 1160, 1179 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (citing Semitool, Inc. v. Tokyo Electron Am., Inc., 208 F.R.D. 273 (N.D. Cal. 2002)); accord Am. LegalNet, Inc. v. Davis, 673 F. Supp. 2d 1063, 1066 (C.D. Cal. 2009). "Good cause exists where the need for expedited discovery, in consideration of the administration of justice, outweighs the prejudice to the responding party." In re Countrywide, 542 F. Supp. 2d at 1179 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Semitool, Inc., 208 F.R.D. at 276.

The court must perform the evaluation of the existence of "good cause" in light of "the entirety of the record . . . and the reasonableness of the request in light of all the surrounding circumstances." Semitool, Inc., 208 F.R.D. at 275 (citation & quotation marks omitted) (emphasis removed); Am. Legalnet, 673 F. Supp. 2d at 1067. Judges in the Northern District of California have considered four factors derived from Columbia Ins. Co. v. Seescandy.com, 185 F.R.D. 573, 578-80 (N.D. Cal. 1999), in evaluating motions for permission to conduct early discovery to ascertain the identities of Doe defendants. These judges have considered "whether the plaintiff (1) identifies the Doe defendant with sufficient specificity that the court can determine that the defendant is a real person who can be sued in federal court, (2) recounts the steps taken to locate and identify the defendant, (3) demonstrates that the action can withstand a motion to dismiss, and (4) proves that the discovery is likely to lead to identifying information that will permit service of process." See MCGIP, LLC v. Does 1-149, 2011 WL 3607666, at *2 (citing Columbia Ins., 185 F.R.D. at 578-80).

Good cause for expedited discovery is frequently found in cases involving claims of infringement and unfair competition or in cases where the plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction. Semitool, Inc., 208 F.R.D. at 276; Pod-Ners, LLC v. N. Feed & Bean of Lucerne Ltd. Liability Co., 204 F.R.D. 675, 676 (D. Colo. 2002).*fn5 Federal district courts in California have applied the test in Semitool and found good cause to allow limited expedited discovery to ascertain the identities of Doe defendants in copyright infringement actions. See e.g. UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Doe, No. C-08-03999 RMW, 2008 WL 4104207, at *1-3 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 4, 2008) (unpublished) (granting leave to take expedited discovery in the form of a Rule 45 subpoenas to obtain "documents that identify Defendant, including the name, current (and permanent) address and telephone number, e-mail address, and Media Access Control addresses for Defendant" John Doe); Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-43, No. 07cv2357-LAB (POR), 2007 WL 4538697, at *1-2 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 20, ...

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