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Flatow v. Islamic Republic of Iran

September 14, 2000

STEPHEN M. FLATOW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court as part of the plaintiff's attempt to obtain satisfaction of a money judgment entered in this Court on March 11, 1998. Plaintiff moves the Court to (1) vacate the Consent Protective Order entered on July 30, 1999, (2) compel the Department of the Treasury to produce documents to the Court covered by the June 5, 1998 subpoena, and (3) sanction the Department of Treasury for noncompliance with the subpoena.

For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to compel is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. This Court modifies the June 5, 1998 subpoena and orders the Department of the Treasury to produce documents covered by the modified subpoena. Plaintiff's motion to vacate the protective order, and for sanctions, is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

I. The Plaintiff's Subpoena

After receiving a judgment of over $225 million, the plaintiff began the formidable task of collecting his damages. As part of this process, the plaintiff sought to discover records of Iran's assets in the files of the United States Department of the Treasury. Thus, on June 5, 1998, the plaintiff issued a third-party subpoena to the Treasury Department seeking all documents pertaining to the finances of the defendants. See Subpoena, June 5, 1998.

Upon receiving the subpoena, the Treasury Department made various objections, asserting in a letter to the plaintiff that the request was "unduly burdensome and overly broad." Letter from John Niemeyer to Thomas Fortune Fay, June 19, 1998. While the Treasury Department produced some records covered by the subpoena, it maintained throughout the production process that it was not waiving its initial objections. The Treasury Department continues to press these objections, which the Court addresses in this opinion.

II. The Consent Protective Order

In early 1999, the plaintiff made a specific request pursuant to the subpoena to the Treasury Department for information pertaining to the assets of the banks Saderat, Sepah, and Melli. As many of the requested documents contained highly confidential information, an agreement was entered into and approved by the Court on July 30, 1999 which prescribed the conditions of production and handling for the bank documents in question. This agreement, the Consent Protective Order, covered a wide array of matters, ranging from the permissible uses of the documents to the persons who would have access to them. See Amended Consent Protective Order, July 30, 1999.

ANALYSIS

I. Plaintiff's motion to vacate the Consent Protective Order

This Court is at a loss to understand the plaintiff's interest in the vacating of the Consent Protective Order (the "Order"). The plaintiff proffers no rationale in support of his plea, and the Court is unable to divine a rationale on its own.

As described above, the Order simply lays out the conditions necessary to secure the confidentiality of sensitive government documents involving three foreign banks. For example, the Order states at the outset that the documents in question "shall be used only by those [connected to the litigation] for the sole purpose of this litigation and shall not be disclosed . . . to anyone for any other purpose or reason whatsoever." Id. ¶ 1 (July 30, 1999). The Order goes on to specify the plaintiff's duty to file any matters involving the documents under seal and to return the documents at the conclusion of the litigation. Id. ¶ 3, 5.

The Order's prescriptions, though specific, focus exclusively on the handling of documents and do not inhibit the plaintiff's pursuit of his litigation objectives. Thus, it is difficult to understand the nature of the plaintiff's objection to the order. As this Court has stated before: "The court will not vacate its protective order in the absence of a legal argument explaining why the order, on its merits, was not correctly decided." Kauffman v. Anglo-American School of Sofia, ...


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