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Metro Media Entertainment, LLC v. Richard Steinruck

April 30, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah K. Chasanow United States District Judge


Presently pending and ready for resolution in this copyright infringement case is an objection to a discovery ruling made by United States Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day on January 29, 2013 (ECF No. 80), and a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint (ECF No. 85) filed by Plaintiff Metro Media Entertainment, LLC. The relevant issues have been briefed and the court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6, no hearing being deemed necessary. For the reasons that follow, the objection will be overruled and the motion will be denied.

I. Background

Plaintiff commenced this action on February 6, 2012, by filing a complaint against forty-seven Doe defendants alleged to have infringed its copyright in a pornographic film by downloading and/or uploading the video over the Internet via a file-sharing protocol called BitTorrent. On the same date, Plaintiff filed a motion for expedited discovery, seeking the issuance of subpoenas directing internet service providers to identify the customers associated with the infringing IP addresses. That motion was granted on March 20. Subsequently, however, the court severed the forty-seven defendants referenced in the complaint and dismissed without prejudice all except Doe 1, further directing that "all documents filed in this action that contain Doe 1's identifying information shall be filed under seal." (ECF No. 17, at 2). Doe 1 responded by filing an answer and counterclaim in which he publicly revealed his identity as Defendant Richard Steinruck.*fn1

On July 30, 2012, a scheduling order was entered, which provided, inter alia, a September 13 deadline for moving for joinder of additional parties and amendment of the pleadings. (ECF No. 28). Ten days prior to that deadline, Plaintiff moved for an extension of time, citing its discovery that "a large number of copyright infringements have been committed through Steinruck's IP address, which will likely require an amendment of the pleadings in the future." (ECF No. 36-2, at 1). That motion was denied by a paperless order issued September 13, albeit "without prejudice to the filing of a later motion for leave to amend." (ECF No. 40).

Shortly after discovery commenced, the parties became embroiled in a number of disputes. On October 14, Defendant filed a motion to compel discovery (ECF No. 42), which was denied for failure to comply with Local Rule 104.7 (ECF No. 45). On October 22, Defendant filed an amended certificate under Local Rule 104.7, incorporating by reference the prior motion. (ECF No. 46). Nine days later, Plaintiff filed a motion for protective order. (ECF No. 48). That was followed by Plaintiff's motions to compel (ECF No. 59) and for extension of the discovery deadline (ECF No. 65). On November 2, the case was referred to Judge Day for resolution of all discovery and related scheduling matters.

Judge Day held a hearing on the pending motions on January 29, 2013. Following that hearing, he issued a series of paperless orders, including, as relevant here, an order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's motion for protective order. (ECF No. 75). On February 12, Plaintiff filed the pending objection (ECF No. 80), which was followed by Defendant's opposition papers (ECF No. 83) and Plaintiff's reply (ECF No. 89). On March 15, Plaintiff moved for leave to file a second amended complaint, seeking to add an additional defendant and two new causes of action. (ECF No. 85). Defendant filed an opposition on April 1. (ECF No. 89).

II. Objection to Protective Order Ruling

A. Standard of Review

Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), non-dispositive pretrial matters may be referred to a magistrate judge for hearing and determination. A district judge may modify or set aside any portion of a magistrate judge's non-dispositive ruling "where it has been shown that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Id.; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Local Rule 301.5.a. Under the clearly erroneous standard, the reviewing court is not to ask whether the finding is the best or only conclusion permissible based on the evidence, nor is it to substitute its own conclusions for that of the magistrate judge. See Tri--Star Airlines, Inc. v. Willis Careen Corp., 75 F.Supp.2d 835, 839 (W.D.Tenn. 1999). Rather, the court is only required to determine whether the magistrate judge's findings are reasonable and supported by the evidence. Id. It is not the function of objections to discovery rulings to allow wholesale relitigation of issues resolved by the magistrate judge." Buchanan v. Consol. Stores Corp., 206 F.R.D. 123 (D.Md. 2002).

B. Analysis

By an email dated October 13, 2012, counsel for Plaintiff sent defense counsel a proposed protective order, asserting that "[t]he depositions of your clients will include personal details that should not be divulged, and the same applies to my client." (ECF No. 48-4). Defense counsel did not consent to the proposed order. Nevertheless, in response to Plaintiff's supplemental interrogatories and requests for production of documents, submitted October 20, Defendant objected to multiple requests on the ground that "[t]his information is sensitive and contact information will only be disclosed if a protective order is entered by the Court calling for nondisclosure of the information by [Plaintiff]." (ECF No. 48-6, at 4).

Upon receipt of Defendant's supplemental discovery responses, Plaintiff's counsel sent defense counsel an email observing that Defendant had "on multiple occasions refused to enter into a protective order," and suggesting that counsel draft a proposed order to his liking. (Id.). Defense counsel responded:

Protective orders should be rarely entered and then only to protect on a specific factual issue, such as someone's personal financial information that is for attorney eyes only.

You appear to want a protective order of broad applicability to prevent anyone from learning anything about the details of our pretrial information, and that is not in the public interest and not designed to satisfy the requirements of Rule 26.

If you really believe that a protective order is called for by Rule 26 in this case, tell me specifically the facts that would cause annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense for anyone and tell me who the persons are who have such interests that need protection and what factual information you believe fills that requirement. (Id. at 3-4). When Plaintiff's attorney pointed out that Defendant's discovery responses indicated that a protective order was needed, defense counsel doubled-down on his prior position: "I have asked -- and I think more than once -- who the protective order is to protect and what Rule 26 objective is it aimed at. . . . Please tell me so I can understand why you think you need a protective order." (Id. at 3). Plaintiff's counsel responded:

I suggested that we agree on a protective order to make sure that neither Plaintiff's nor Defendant's private information gets published. Since you rejected my [prior proposed] protective order, and refused to answer discovery because there is no protective order in place, I asked you to suggest a protective order. (Id. at 2). Defense counsel replied, "At this point I do not ...

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