Like most of you, we here at the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC have been watching the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (1:11-cv-01741) case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
To our surprise and against the 1+ year trend of the DC Court, earlier this month, Judge Bates went against the trend to remain silent about the validity of these cases and inquired about whether or not John Doe Defendants in the case actually lived in DC. In short, we understand that if the judge came to the conclusion that this is yet one more of John Steele’s mass bittorrent cases (but filed in DC as a result of forum shopping), then the judge would have likely come to the conclusion that the DC court did not have jurisdiction to try the case. As a result, he would have likely SEVERED AND DISMISSED the case, giving Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law, Inc., a story in itself) the opportunity to file against defendants in their home states. As you have read in previous posts, as a result of such a dismissal, Steele would have three years from the alleged date of infringement to file these lawsuits in defendants’ home states.
What no doubt concerned Steele (and what caused an overflow of conversations on the various bittorrent forums) is that six days ago, Judge Bates took the extra step and invited Doe Defendants to file motions to quash with the Clerk’s office, stating that they would be put under seal (meaning, hidden from view).
However, in spite of the judge’s invitation, I have not been advising people as to whether they should or should not file the motion to quash — and in fact I have been overly cautious about his invitation to do so — because historically, the District of Columbia Court has typically UNSEALED motions to quash when they deny them, leaving all the formerly sealed motions unsealed and naked for everyone to see.
The DC court has historically been AGAINST accused internet downloaders. Yes, we have certainly had our fair share of victories, but then again, many of the original cases are still alive (and because of this, plaintiffs have added perhaps thousands of new defendants to various DC cases, hence the new subpoena letters for older cases). I do not see why Judge Bates would be bold enough to go against former judges’ orders for essentially identical cases [See, Stare decisis (Anglo-Latin pronunciation: /ˈstɛəri dɨˈsaɪsɨs]) is a legal principle by which judges are obliged to respect the precedents established by prior decisions.], and the fact that Judge Bates was willing to go against Judge Beryl Howell and the others made me optimistic, but still cautious.
As much as this invitation to file appeared to signal a victory for the accused internet users, for whatever reason — political pressure, angry judges, etc. — today Judge Bates has essentially stepped down presiding over the case and he has handed the case over to Judge Facciola. This magistrate judge has seen bittorrent cases before, and in my opinion this could be a sad moment for the accused Does. To be clear, I understand that this transfer might not have been done with the permission or consent of Judge Bates. In fact, his order explicitly states, “Consent of the District Judge [him] is not necessary.” So perhaps we can piece together what has happened behind closed doors.
While it remains my opinion that this case suffers from issues of improper jurisdiction and improper joinder, Judge Bates is no longer making the decisions as to whether the case will be dismissed or not. Similarly, it is no longer clear whether it is in Does’ best interests to file the motions to quash, or whether they will suffer the same fate as all the other motions to quash filed in the DC court over the past year.
As for what defendants should do — I would probably wait and see what Judge Facciola does. Will he continue in Bates’ footsteps and kill the case? Or will he deny the motions to quash and move forward? We can only wait and see.