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Lost and “Found”: Fourth Circuit Interpretation of Discovery in Support of Foreign Litigation Opens Circuit Split

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a corporation that is not physically present in a district is not “found” in the district for purposes of the federal statute that authorizes courts to order discovery for use in a foreign tribunal. In re Eli Lilly and Co., Case No. 22-1094 (4th Cir. 2022) (Niemeyer, Diaz, JJ.; Floyd, Sr. J.) The Court rejected the approach of the Second Circuit, which previously had held that a district court’s power to order discovery under 28 USC § 1782 was coextensive with the minimum contacts inquiry of specific jurisdiction.

After acquiring a patent portfolio related to the psoriasis drug Taltz, Novartis AG sued Eli Lilly for patent infringement in several European courts. Eli Lilly requested discovery from Novartis in the Eastern District of Virginia under § 1782, which authorizes a district court “of the district in which a person resides or is found” to “order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document or other thing for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal.” Novartis is based in Switzerland and has no offices or employees in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Following a magistrate judge’s grant of Eli Lilly’s ex parte application for a discovery subpoena, the district court vacated that order. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, substantially echoing the district court’s reasoning.

There was no dispute that Novartis did not “reside” in the district; the only issue was whether Novartis could be “found” there. The Fourth Circuit considered the plain meaning of “found,” Supreme Court precedent interpreting similar statutory language, and the legislative history of the statute, and held “that a corporation is found where it is physically present by its officers and agents carrying on the corporation’s business.”

The Fourth Circuit rejected Eli Lilly’s counterargument that the satisfaction of specific jurisdiction requirements was sufficient for a corporation to be “found” in a district, including Eli Lilly’s reliance on the 2019 Second Circuit decision in In re del Valle Ruiz, which held that a corporation was “found” wherever it could be subject to specific jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit concluded that In re del Valle Ruiz failed to give “found” its plain meaning, incorrectly ignored Supreme Court precedent and did not give appropriate weight to the legislative history of § 1782.

Even if the Fourth Circuit had disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of § 1782, the Court would still have affirmed based on the deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. Because § 1782 permits, but does not require, an order of discovery, the Court found that the district court’s determination that to “request[ ] [ ] a substantial volume of data and materials located abroad [to] be brought into the United States for subsequent use in proceedings abroad, [would be] a nonsensical result” was well reasoned.

With this decision, the Fourth Circuit broke with the Second Circuit and created a circuit split in the interpretation of § 1782.

Ian Howard, a summer associate in the Washington, DC, office, also contributed [...]

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“Salacious” Content Doesn’t Bar Discovery in Copyright Infringement Suit

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit preserved discovery options for copyright owners fighting online piracy when it reversed the district court’s refusal to allow a subpoena of an alleged online infringer’s internet service provider. The DC Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by relying heavily on the copyright owner’s litigation history and the nature of its films rather than the relevant legal standards under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Strike 3 Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, Subscriber Assigned IP Address 73.180.154.14 (DC Cir. July 14, 2020) (Rao, J.).

Strike 3 is a producer and online distributor of adult films. Like most of its industry peers, the company faces significant online piracy that is often facilitated by peer-to-peer file sharing. To combat this infringement, Strike 3 regularly files copyright infringement lawsuits against “John Doe” defendants based on the internet protocol (IP) address (and the associated physical address) tied to an online infringer’s illegal file sharing and downloads.

In 2018, Strike 3 filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the IP address 73.180.154.14 John Doe subscriber located in the District of Columbia after the IP address was associated with 22 instances of infringement in the course of one year. To properly identify the defendant and serve the complaint, Strike 3 also filed a Rule 26(d)(1) motion seeking leave to subpoena Comcast, the subscriber’s internet service provider, for records identifying the John Doe IP address subscriber. But, in applying a multifactor balancing test adopted by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Arista Records v. Doe, the district court denied Strike 3’s discovery motion on grounds that Strike 3’s need for the subpoenaed information was outweighed by defendant’s right to be anonymous, which the court found to be notably relevant given the risk of defendant misidentification and the “particularly prurient pornography” at issue.

On appeal, the DC Circuit acknowledged the district court’s broad discretion over the structure, timing and scope of discovery. In Strike 3’s case, however, the DC Circuit found that three aspects of the lower court’s analysis were an abuse of this broad discretion.

First, it was improper and “not supported by the relevant legal standards” for the district court to treat the pornographic content of Strike 3’s copyrighted works as relevant to its entitlement to early discovery. None of the supporting case law suggests that a potentially non-infringing defendant’s privacy interests vary depending on the content of the copyrighted work at issue. The Court warned that a plaintiff’s ability to defend its copyrights cannot turn on a court’s subjective view of the copyrighted material, and held that the content of a copyrighted work is per se irrelevant to a Rule 26(d)(1) motion seeking discovery to identify an anonymous infringer.

The district court’s second abuse of discretion was in its conclusion that, even if the discovery request was granted, Strike 3 could not “identify a copyright infringer who can be sued” for purposes of stating a plausible claim against the [...]

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