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Can a Party to Litigation Object to a Subpoena Issued to a Non-Party Witness for Documents?

It happens often.  A subpoena is issued to a third party who isn’t part of litigation because that party might have documents that are useful in a lawsuit.  When responding to the subpoena, can a party to the litigation step in and object on behalf of the non-party witness?  The law is clear that a party has standing to challenge a subpoena issued to a non-party only “when it alleges a personal right or privilege with respect to, or has possession of, the materials subpoenaed.” See Platinum Air Charters, LLC v. Aviation Ventures, Inc., No. 205CV-01451-RCJ-LRL, 2007 WL 121674, at *2 (D. Nev. Jan. 10, 2007) (citing Jez v. Dow Chemical Co., Inc., 402 F.Supp.2d 783, 784–85 (S.D.Tex.2005)); First Am. Title Ins. Co. v. Commerce Assocs., LLC, No. 2:15-CV-832-RFB-VCF, 2017 WL 53704, at *1 (D. Nev. Jan. 3, 2017).  In other words, because the party is not the recipient of the subpoena, it has standing to challenge only where its challenge asserts that the information is privileged or protected to itself.  See Diamond State Ins. Co. v. Rebel Oil Co., 157 F.R.D. 691, 695 (D. Nev. 1994) (Jerry T. O’Brien, Inc. v. Securities and Exchange Commission, 704 F.2d 1065, 1068 (9th Cir.1983), rev’d on other grounds, 467 U.S. 735, 104 S.Ct. 2720, 81 L.Ed.2d 615 (1984), citing Donaldson v. United States, 400 U.S. 517, 523, 91 S.Ct. 534, 538, 27 L.Ed.2d 580 (1971)).

Where an objecting party fails to allege it has a “personal right or privilege with respect to the subject of the subpoena,” it lacks standing to challenge the non-party subpoena.  Dinkins v. Schinzel, No. 217CV01089JADGWF, 2017 WL 4183115, at *2 (D. Nev. Sept. 19, 2017).  Without proof of a personal right or privilege, it has no standing to object.  Acosta v. Wellfleet Commc’ns, LLC, No. 216CV02353GMNGWF, 2017 WL 5180425, at *5 (D. Nev. Nov. 8, 2017) (citing Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters v. Yoshimura, 2017 WL 738554, at *2 (D. Haw. Feb. 17, 2017) (quoting 9A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2459 (2d ed. 2007) and California Sportfishing Prot. All. v. Chico Scrap Metal, Inc., 299 F.R.D. 638, 643 (E.D. Cal. 2014)); Proficio Mortg. Ventures, LLC v. Fed. Sav. Bank, 2016 WL 1465333, at *3 (D. Nev. Apr. 14, 2016).

Further, courts have consistently rejected a party’s objection  that it has standing to object on the basis of the relevance of the requests contained in the subpoena.  Proficio Mortg. Ventures, LLC v. Fed. Sav. Bank, No. 2:15-CV-510-RFB-VCF, 2016 WL 1465333, at *2 (D. Nev. Apr. 14, 2016) (citing G.K. Las Vegas Ltd. P’ship v. Simon Prop. Grp., Inc., No. 2:04-CV-01199-DAE, 2007 WL 119148, at *3 (D. Nev. Jan. 9, 2007).

The party resisting discovery carries the heavy burden of showing why discovery should be denied.  NML Capital Ltd. v. Republic of Argentina, No. 2:14-CV-492-RFB-VCF, 2014 WL 3898021, at *6 (D. Nev. Aug. 11, 2014) (citing Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir. 1975)).  “It is … well established that the party [objecting to a subpoena] bears the burden of showing why a discovery request should be denied.”  Paws Up Ranch, LLC v. Green, No. 2:12-CV-01547-GMN, 2013 WL 6184940, at *2 (D. Nev. Nov. 22, 2013) (quoting Painters Joint Committee v. Employee Painters Trust Health & Welfare Fund, 2011 WL 4573349, at *5 (D. Nev. Sept. 29, 2011) (citing Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir. 1975)).  As such, even assuming a party has standing to bring such an Objection (it does not), one of the court’s primary inquiries must be whether the liberal standard of relevance is met.  Id.

It is well-established that a party’s objection to a subpoena issued to a third-party on the basis of relevancy in unfounded.  First Am. Title Ins. Co. v. Commerce Assocs., LLC, No. 2:15-CV-832-RFB-VCF, 2017 WL 53704, at *1 (D. Nev. Jan. 3, 2017); Proficio Mortg. Ventures, LLC v. Fed. Sav. Bank, No. 2:15-CV-510-RFB-VCF, 2016 WL 1465333, at *2 (D. Nev. Apr. 14, 2016); Morrison v. Quest Diagnostics Inc., No. 214CV01207RFBPAL, 2016 WL 362346, at *4 (D. Nev. Jan. 27, 2016) (citing Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Southeast Floating Docks, Inc., 231 F.R.D. 426, 429 (M.D. Fla. 2005); Washington v. Thurgood Marshal Acad., 230 F.R.D. 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2005)); G.K. Las Vegas Ltd. P’ship v. Simon Prop. Grp., Inc., No. 2:04-CV-01199-DAE, 2007 WL 119148, at *3 (D. Nev. Jan. 9, 2007) (citing Moon v. SCP Pool Corporation, 232 F.R.D. 633, 636–37 (C.D. Cal. 2005)).  Discovery is “the search for truth.”  Jaffee v. Redmond, 518 U.S. 1, 19 (1996) (citing United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 710 (1974)).  Liberal discovery serves “the integrity and fairness of the judicial process by promoting the search for the truth,” Shoen v. Shoen, 5 F.3d 1289, 1292 (9th Cir. 1993).  Therefore, when a party resists discovery, the resisting party “carries a heavy burden” to show why discovery should be denied.  Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir. 1975) (as cited in U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Banc de Binary, Ltd., No. 2:13-CV-992-MMD-VCF, 2015 WL 556441, at *1 (D. Nev. Feb. 11, 2015)).

          The rule providing for discovery of relevant matter contemplates discovery from persons who are not parties to the litigation. Thus, there is no general prohibition on discovery from nonparties to a lawsuit, and discovery should not be denied based merely on the nonparty status of the person subpoenaed.  Discovery of nonparties must be conducted by subpoena, rather than by the rules governing discovery of parties.

10 Federal Procedures, L. Ed. § 26:85 Discovery From Nonparties and Representatives of Parties (internal citations omitted).

About the Author

Jay Young is a Las Vegas, Nevada attorney. His practice focuses on business law, business litigation, and acting as an Arbitrator and Mediator.

Mr. Young can be reached at 702.667.4868 or at jay@h2law.com.