Mount Hope Church v. Bash Back!

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 11-26-2012
  • Case #: 11-35632
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judge Schroeder; Senior District Court Judge Rakoff
  • Full Text Opinion

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(c)(1) “cannot properly support a sanction where the cost of complying with the subpoena is minimal and there is no showing that the subpoena was facially defective or issued in bad faith.”

Mount Hope Church (the “Church”) appealed a sanction order in favor of Riseup Networks (“Riseup”) and Objector dkwatt@riseup.net (“dkwatt”). The Church obtained a subpoena from the district court, requesting that Riseup disclose information regarding the names of seven e-mails that were involved in the planning of a protest involving Bash Back!, a group of gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual and queer individuals. A subdivision of Bash Back! had disrupted the Church’s services during a protest against the Church’s anti-gay beliefs. Riseup and dkwatt, an e-mail account holder, successfully moved to quash the subpoena. Subsequently, dkwatt and Riseup sought attorneys’ fees and costs under FRCP 45(c)(1) on the basis that “they had suffered an undue burden in fighting the ‘baseless’ subpoena.” The district court granted the motion without finding any bad faith on the part of the Church or that the subpoena imposed an undue burden. In determining “whether losing a motion to compel here based on unpersuasive legal arguments, absent other aggravating factors, is enough to warrant FRCP 45(c)(1) sanctions,” the Ninth Circuit considered the plain language and the history of the rule. FRCP 45(c)(1) was designed to apply the principles of FRCP 26(g)(1)(B), which requires that a party seeking discovery act without bad faith and reasonably without imposing undue burden or expense. The Court determined that a subpoena requesting privileged information does not always create an undue burden, and therefore requires a balancing of the interest in disclosure against the harm of disclosure. In this case, the subpoena was narrowly tailored, because the Church requested a limited amount of easily accessible information. Because there was no finding that the Church acted in bad faith, the Court concluded that there were no grounds for sanctions. REVERSED.

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