Law School Case Brief
Gonzales v. Google, Inc. (2006) - 234 F.R.D. 674 (N.D. Cal. 2006)
In addition to the discovery standards under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 incorporated by Fed. R. Civ. P. 45, Rule 45 itself provides that on timely motion, the court by which a subpoena was issued shall quash or modify the subpoena if it subjects a person to undue burden. Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c)(3)(A). Of course, if the sought-after documents are not relevant, nor calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, then any burden whatsoever imposed would be by definition undue. Underlying the protections of Rule 45 is the recognition that the word "non-party" serves as a constant reminder of the reasons for the limitations that characterize third-party discovery. Thus, a court determining the propriety of a subpoena balances the relevance of the discovery sought, the requesting party's need, and the potential hardship to the party subject to the subpoena
In aid of the government's position in a different case, plaintiff U.S. Attorney General subpoenaed defendant, Internet search engine, to compile and produce a massive amount of information from the search engine's search index, and to turn over a significant number of search queries entered by users of the engine. The search engine objected, and the government filed the present action to compel the search engine to comply with the subpoena.
Was the government allowed to subpoena a nonparty to a lawsuit to submit to discovery?
The case raised vital interests regarding the government's power to subpoena a third-party, a third party's interest in not being compelled to reveal confidential business information, and the interest of individuals to be free from government surveillance of their use of the Internet. The government did not even provide a rudimentary level of general detail as to what it intended to do with the sample of URLs. However, given the broad definition of relevance in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, and the narrow scope of the subpoena, the court gave the government the benefit of the doubt. However, the government did not demonstrate a substantial need for both the information contained in the sample of URLs and sample of search query text. Faced with duplicative discovery, the court determined that the marginal burden of loss of trust by the search engine's users based on the search engine's disclosure of its users' search queries to the government outweighed the duplicative disclosure's likely benefit to the government's case.
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