United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO
COMPEL AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO QUASH
S. Lasnik United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on "Plaintiffs' Motion
to Compel, " Dkt. #71, and defendants Lighthouse Law
P.S., Inc. and Patty Thammalaiviroj's "Motion for
Protective Order and to Quash the Subpoena Issued by
Plaintiffs on Google, Inc., " Dkt. # 85. Having reviewed
the parties' briefing, declarations, exhibits, and the
remainder of the record, the Court finds as follows.
Allstate Insurance Co., Allstate Indemnity Co., Allstate Fire
& Casualty Insurance Co., and Allstate Property and
Casualty Insurance Co. (together, "Allstate")
allege that defendants Patty Thammalaiviroj, an attorney
licensed in California, and Chong "Joseph" Kim, a
non-lawyer residing in Washington State, created and operated
a sham law firm, defendant Lighthouse Law P.S., Inc.
("Lighthouse"), for the purpose of profiting from
fraudulent insurance claims. In December 2016, the parties
stipulated to dismissal with prejudice of all claims against
Mr. Kim and his wife, Jane Doe Kim. Dkt. # 92. In addition to
the two motions considered here, Allstate has moved for
partial summary judgment on its claims of unlawful practice
of law and Washington Consumer Protection Act violations
against Ms. Thammalaiviroj and Lighthouse. Dkt. # 88.
Allstate's Motion to Compel
claims that defendants Thammalaiviroj and Lighthouse have
failed to fulfill their discovery obligations and seeks an
order under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a) compelling full responses to
Allstate's discovery requests. Under the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, parties may generally obtain discovery
regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any
party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of
the case. Information need not be admissible at trial to be
relevant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). During discovery, a party
served with interrogatories must respond fully, or else state
with specificity its objections, within 30 days. Fed.R.Civ.P.
33(b)(2). Similarly, a party served with requests for
production must comply within 30 days. Fed.R.Civ.P.
34(b)(2)(A). The party seeking discovery may move for an
order compelling disclosure or discovery after good-faith
attempts to obtain compliance without court action have been
unsuccessful. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1).
argues that defendants Thammalaiviroj and Lighthouse have
failed to respond fully to Allstate's interrogatories and
requests for production, even after multiple discovery
conferences and notices of deficiency. Allstate seeks
information regarding defendant Thammalaiviroj's personal
finances, businesses, and properties; copies of all records
related to the accounting, formation, ownership, and/or sale
of Lighthouse; all emails related to Lighthouse from
September 29, 2011 to October 31, 2015; the employment
agreement with Mr. Kim, if any; copies of all of
Lighthouse's employee, independent contractor, and client
files; and Lighthouse's tax, payroll, and credit card
have apparently agreed to produce all relevant,
non-privileged materials responsive to these requests; the
sticking point appears to be a dispute over which materials
are indeed relevant and non-privileged. Ms. Thammalaiviroj
further argues that most of the requested materials are
outside of her custody and control, as she
“disassociated” herself from Lighthouse in April
2015. Lighthouse declines to provide materials that it claims
are available through the Secretary of State's office, or
information that it believes Allstate already possesses.
Moreover, defendants both assert, without citing any legal
authority, that certain financial records are exempt from
discovery because of a constitutional right to privacy. Dkt.
materials sought, including documents and information related
to the sale of Lighthouse, appear to be relevant, as the
ownership and finances of Lighthouse are two of the central
issues in this case. See Oppenheimer Fund., Inc. v.
Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (noting that the scope
of relevant discovery “has been construed broadly to
encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could
lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or
may be in the case”). While parties may be compelled to
produce tax returns only if the returns are relevant and the
information contained in them is not “readily
attainable” elsewhere, returns “do not enjoy an
absolute privilege from discovery.” Sneller v. City
of Bainbridge Island, No. C07-5338RBL, 2008 WL 4534364,
at *1 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 7, 2008) (citing Premium Serv.
Corp. v. Sperry & Hutchinson Co., 511 F.2d 225, 229
(9th Cir. 1975)). Defendants have not asserted that their tax
returns contain information that is readily attainable
elsewhere; indeed, Lighthouse claims that it has already
produced tax records from 2012-14. Dkt. # 74 at 8. And
defendants' legally tenuous privacy concerns are
unwarranted given the stipulated protective order already in
place, which covers “[d]ocuments containing financial
information (i.e. bank accounts, loan or investment accounts
number [sic], credit card numbers).” Dkt. # 46.
may assert specific, applicable privileges in a privilege
log, but they may not avoid their discovery responsibilities
wholesale by invoking an amorphous right to privacy, by
alleging that Allstate already possesses the requested
information, or by claiming a general attorney-client
privilege. Allstate's motion to compel is granted to as
to defendants Thammalaiviroj and Lighthouse.
Defendants' Motion to Quash Subpoena
defendants Thammalaiviroj and Lighthouse seek a protective
order and an order quashing Allstate's subpoena of
Google, Inc. Dkt. # 85. The subpoena requests records
associated with @lighthouselawps.com email accounts, and
defendants argue that the information sought is confidential,
privileged, irrelevant, and shielded from subpoena by the
Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C.
discovery, a party may subpoena a non-party for relevant and
proportional discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45. Rule 45(d)(3) sets
out specific circumstances in which a court must quash or
modify a subpoena, such as where the subpoena requires
disclosure of privileged information. Here, defendants ask
the Court to quash Allstate's subpoena on the grounds
that Google's compliance would require disclosure of
privileged or otherwise protected matter. Fed.R.Civ.P.
has standing to quash a subpoena issued to a third party only
where the party asserts a “legitimate privacy interest
in the material sought.” See Abu v. Piramco Sea-Tac
Inc., No. C08-1167RSL, 2009 WL 279036, at *1 (W.D. Wash.
Feb. 5, 2009). Defendants assert a privacy interest in all of
the material requested from Google, as the accounts belong to
former Lighthouse employees and may include privileged
information regarding Lighthouse clients. The Court finds
that Lighthouse has standing to quash this subpoena.
the substance of defendants' motion to quash, the Court
concludes that the SCA does prevent Google from complying
with the subpoena. The SCA prohibits an entity
“providing an electronic communication service to the
public” (hereinafter, “communications
providers”) from knowingly divulging “the
contents of a communication while in electronic storage by
that service.” 18 U.S.C. § 2702(a)(1). Similarly,
the SCA prohibits an entity “providing remote computing
service to the public” (hereinafter, “computing
providers”) from knowingly divulging “the
contents of any communication which is carried or maintained
on that service . . . on behalf of, and received by means of
electronic transmission from . . . a subscriber or customer
of such service.” 18 U.S.C. § 2702(a)(2)(A).
Neither can computing providers knowingly divulge
communications carried or maintained on that service
“solely for the purpose of providing storage or
computer processing services to such subscriber or customer,
if the [computing] provider is not authorized to access the
contents of any such communications for purposes of providing
any services other than storage or ...