Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Motion to Compel Compliance With Subpoena Directed to Cooke Legal Group, PLLC

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 11, 2019

IN RE MOTION TO COMPEL COMPLIANCE WITH SUBPOENA DIRECTED TO COOKE LEGAL GROUP, PLLC
v.
REPUBLIC OF THE SUDAN, et al., Defendants. JAMES OWENS, et al., Plaintiffs, JUDITH ABASI MWILA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, et al., Defendants. RIZWAN KHALIQ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
REPUBLIC OF THE SUDAN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN D. BATES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs are judgment-holders seeking to locate and attach assets owned by defendants the Republic of the Sudan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Plaintiffs move for the Court to order nonparty Cooke Legal Group, PLLC (“Cooke”), to produce documents in compliance with a third-party subpoena issued on May 1, 2019. Pls.' Mot. to Compel Compliance with Subpoena Directed to Nonparty Cooke Legal Grp., PLLC (“Pls.' Mot.”) [ECF No. 1] at 2. For the reasons detailed below, the Court grants plaintiffs' motion. Cooke's broad, generally unsupported objections are unavailing, and it must produce the requested materials.

         BACKGROUND

         This discovery dispute stems from the litigation that followed the 1998 terrorist bombings at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. See, e.g., Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 174 F.Supp.3d 242, 247-48 (D.D.C. 2016). Plaintiffs hold judgments against the Republic of the Sudan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. See Order, Owens v. Republic of Sudan, Civ. Action No. 01-2244 (D.D.C. Mar. 28, 2014) [ECF No. 301]; Order, Mwila v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Civ. Action No. 08-1377 (D.D.C. Mar. 28, 2014) [ECF No. 88]; Order, Khaliq v. Republic of Sudan, Civ. Action No. 10-356 (D.D.C. Mar. 28, 2014) [ECF No. 40]. To date, plaintiffs have received no compensation under those judgments and are in the midst of discovery to identify defendants' assets for attachment. See Mem. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot to Compel Compliance with Subpoena Directed to Nonparty Cooke Legal Grp, PLLC (“Pls.' Mem.”) [ECF No. 1-1] at 2.

         Plaintiffs issued a subpoena to nonparty Cooke on May 1, 2019, seeking information regarding the firm's past work advising Sudan on debt restructuring. Ex. 1 to Pls.' Mot. (“Subpoena”) [ECF No. 1-4] at 2, 14-15.[1] Plaintiffs hope to glean information about how Sudan paid Cooke and about Sudan's other commercial activities and assets both in the United States and abroad. Pls.' Mem. at 2.

         Plaintiffs and Cooke met and conferred on May 23, 2019. Ex. 7 to Pls.' Mot. (“May 29 Letter”) [ECF No. 1-10] at 2. According to plaintiffs, “Cooke Legal represented [at that meeting] that it had identified over 1, 000 potentially responsive documents, ” but “asserted a blanket claim of privilege over all of them and took the position . . . that it would not produce those documents.” Ex. 9 to Pls.' Mot. (“June 28 Letter”) [ECF No. 1-12] at 2. Plaintiffs thereafter sent a letter on May 29, 2019, responding to Cooke's claim that it did not possess any responsive, non-privileged documents. May 29 Letter at 2-3. Plaintiffs followed up with letters on June 17 and June 28, but they received no response. June 28 Letter at 2-3; Pls.' Mem. at 6. On September 6, 2019, plaintiffs filed this motion to compel compliance with their May 1, 2019 subpoena. Pls.' Mot. 2.

         Cooke responded on October 22, 2019, objecting to each of plaintiffs' requests and refusing to turn over any documents related to Sudan. Non-Party Cooke Legal Grp.'s Resp. & Objs. to Third Party Subpoena Issued by the Pls. (“Cooke's Resp.”) [ECF No. 6] ¶¶ 1-7. According to Cooke, one of its prior partners, Mr. Thomas Laryea, began working with Sudan while he was a partner at Dentons Law Firm and continued that representation when he became a partner at the now-defunct Cooke Robotham, LLC. Decl. & Claim of Privilege (“Cooke Decl.”) [ECF No. 6-1] ¶ 3. Since then, Cooke Robotham has dissolved and the present firm, Cooke Legal Group, has been established. Id. Cooke maintains a “joint email system” that appears to retain at least some records from Mr. Laryea's time at Cooke Robotham, but Mr. Laryea is not presently affiliated with the firm. Id.

         Cooke argues that Mr. Laryea or Dentons is the proper target of plaintiffs' subpoena, and that the firm lacks Mr. Laryea's “permission” to release portions of the joint email system related to his work with Sudan. Id. Cooke also contends that whatever responsive documents it may possess are protected under attorney-client or work-product privilege. Cooke's Resp. ¶¶ 1-7. And the firm objects to various other aspects of plaintiffs' subpoena. Id. Plaintiffs filed a reply, see Reply Br. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. to Compel Compliance with Subpoena Directed to Nonparty Cooke Legal Grp., PLLC (“Pls.' Reply”) [ECF No. 7], and the matter is now ripe for consideration.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 permits a party to command, via subpoena, the production of documents that are in the “possession, custody, or control” of a nonparty. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(a)(1)(A)(iii). “Control is the test with regard to the production of documents and is defined not only as possession, but as the legal right to obtain the documents on demand.” In re Barnwell Enters. Ltd, 265 F.Supp.3d 1, 16 (D.D.C. 2017) (citation omitted). “It does not require that the party have legal ownership or actual physical possession of the documents at issue, but rather the right, authority, or practical ability to obtain the documents from a non-party to the action.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A nonparty responding to a subpoena need not produce documents protected by attorney-client privilege. See In re Sealed Case, 737 F.2d 94, 98-99 (D.C. Cir. 1984); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(e)(2). As the D.C. Circuit has summarized:

The privilege applies only if (1) the asserted holder of the privilege is or sought to become a client; (2) the person to whom the communication was made (a) is a member of the bar of a court or his subordinate and (b) in connection with this communication is acting as a lawyer; (3) the communication relates to a fact of which the attorney was informed (a) by his client (b) without the presence of strangers (c) for the purpose of securing primarily either (i) an opinion on law or (ii) legal services or (iii) assistance in some legal proceeding, and not (d) for the purpose of committing a crime or tort; and (4) the privilege has been (a) claimed and (b) not waived by the client.

Sealed Case, 737 F.2d at 98-99 (internal quotation omitted). Communications from attorneys to their clients are covered only “if they rest on confidential information obtained from the client.” Id. at 99.

         “The work product protection is broader than the attorney-client privilege in that it is not restricted solely to confidential communications between an attorney and client.” FTC v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., 778 F.3d 142, 149 (D.C. Cir. 2015). “It is narrower, however, insofar as the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.