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West Coast Productions, Inc v. Does 1-1

August 6, 2012

WEST COAST PRODUCTIONS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOES 1-1,434, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case was referred to me for full case management. Currently pending and ready for resolution are 1) Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time to Name and Serve Defendants [Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m)] [#16] and 2) plaintiff's Renewed Motion for Leave to Take Additional Discovery Prior to Rule 26(f) Conference; Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Thereof [#17]. For the reasons stated below, both motions will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, West Coast Productions, is the owner of the copyright for the motion picture "Juicy White Anal Booty 4." Complaint for Copyright Infringement [#1] ¶5. According to plaintiff, numerous individuals illegally downloaded and distributed its film over the Internet, in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.*fn1 Id. ¶¶1, 3. At the time the law suit was filed, plaintiff did not know the identities of these individuals. Id. ¶17. Plaintiff did, however, know the Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses of the computers associated with the alleged infringers. Id. Plaintiff therefore filed suit against all the individuals whose IP addresses it had, denominating them as "John Doe." Id. Once the complaint was filed, plaintiff then moved, pursuant to Rule 26(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,*fn2 to conduct discovery prior to the conference required by that rule.*fn3 At that time, plaintiff was unable to serve a summons or complaint on any of the Doe defendants, as it did not know who they were or where they were located. Plaintiff's motion for discovery was granted on June 28, 2011.*fn4

On August 8, 2011, plaintiff moved for leave to take additional discovery.*fn5 Thereafter, the Court denied plaintiff's motion without prejudice and ordered plaintiff to show cause "why this Court can assert jurisdiction over any defendant (a) who is not domiciled in the District of Columbia, or (b) as to whom plaintiff lacks a good faith basis to assert that he or she committed the act that is the premise of the plaintiff's claim for relief in the District of Columbia, and why venue is proper unless the defendant resides in the District of Columbia." Order [#20] at 1. These issues will now be resolved.

DISCUSSION

I. Introduction

This case and the numerous other cases just like it are extraordinary in that they involve an effort on the part of movie copyright holders to secure the identities of what may be hundreds of individuals so that they can be sued in this Court for illegally downloading a movie onto their personal computers. As I will explain in more detail below, these cases have imposed and will continue to impose extraordinary burdens on the courts and the Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") that must comply with the subpoenas. Moreover, it confronts the Doe defendants, the alleged infringers, with the necessity of answering a complaint that demands substantial damages, often in courts far from their homes. These burdens convince me that the discovery sought must be conditioned upon certain requirements that I hope will establish a middle ground between the plaintiffs' need for information and the unique burdens being cast upon the courts, the subpoenaed parties, and the Doe defendants.

Additionally, I am concerned that there are significant issues that would preclude this Court from ever asserting personal jurisdiction over individuals who do not reside in the District of Columbia. It may also be true that venue can never be proper in this Court unless the defendant resides here. I do not intend to prejudge those issues before they are legitimately raised by persons who are in fact made parties to this lawsuit. I address them herein solely to alert plaintiff to the principles that will guide my future analysis of whether, as I am requiring plaintiff to do, it can in good faith name as defendants individuals who do not reside in the District of Columbia.

Finally, I will explain why the unique burdens imposed by this lawsuit on the Court, the subpoenaed parties, and the Doe defendants justify the other conditions I am imposing.

II. Standard of Review

Pursuant to Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, although "[a] party may not seek discovery from any source before the parties have conferred as required by Rule 26(f)," they may do so "when authorized . . . by court order." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(f). Such authorization, however, must be based on a showing of "good cause." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(d)(1). "[I]n order to get jurisdictional discovery[,] a plaintiff must have at least a good faith belief that such discovery will enable it to show that the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant." Caribbean Broad. Sys. Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless PLC, 148 F.3d 1080, 1090 (D.C. Cir. 1998). Furthermore, all discovery, whether before or after the Rule 26(f) conference, should be precluded when "the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(c).*fn6

Ultimately, Rule 26 "vests the trial judge with broad discretion to tailor discovery narrowly and to dictate the sequence of discovery." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26; Watts v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n., 482 F.3d 501, 507 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted). Generally, this Circuit takes a liberal approach to jurisdictional discovery. Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd., 148 F.3d at 1090. ...


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