Tuesday, November 11, 2014

There's No Implied Consent Under the Stored Communications Act, But Coerced Consent Is AOK

Negro v. Superior Court, No. H040146 (D6 as modified Nov. 18, 2014)

Generally, the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701–12, prohibits the provider of an electronic communications service from divulging the contents of communications stored on its service. This is why you ordinarily can’t subpoena Google for the contents of your opponent’s gmail account, which is just what the real party did in this writ case.

There is an exception, however, for when the subscriber gives its consent. But the consent cannot be implicit. It must be real consent-in-fact. Thus, to the extent the trial court here denied a motion to quash based on implicit consent by the subscriber, it erred.

That said, courts have nevertheless recognized that parties to litigation can be compelled by the court to give their consent, even though that doesn’t jibe with the concept of consent as commonly understood. Here, after the petitioner’s motion to quash was denied, he was ordered by a Florida court to consent to Google’s disclosing his gmail to the real party—his opponent in that litigation. He abided by the order, so there was effective consent to require Google to produce the documents. 

Finally, the court rejects Google's argument that the Act immunizes it from participating in third party discovery. Thus, the court here declines to issue a writ requiring the trial court to quash the subpoena.

As a side point, the subscriber’s consent was provided after he filed his writ petition in this case. In relying upon the evidence of consent as a basis to deny the writ, the court notes an exception to the general rule that the record is static on appeal. An appellate court proceeding in mandate can consider all relevant evidence, including facts not existing until after the petition was filed, particularly when the additional evidence may validate an action that would otherwise have to be set aside. Something to keep in mind when engaged in writ practice in a fast-moving and still developing case.

Writ granted, but only to require the trial court to correct its basis for denying the motion to quash.

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