DOJ Wins Subpoena Skirmish
Federal judge orders website to comply.
Fischer responded that the section in question did not apply to domain names and refused to turn over any requested information. Still, "out of caution," he deactivated the site.
In August, the government's legal team turned to the courts to enforce the administrative subpoena. Pointing to a 2006 case in the Second Circuit, prosecutors argued that administrative subpoenas that meet certain requirements "will be enforced" unless the subpoena's opponent "demonstrates that the subpoena is unreasonable, or issued in bad faith or for other improper purposes, or that compliance would be unnecessarily burdensome."
Fischer urged Chen to get straight to the case's merits, over the objection of the government. In her decision, Chen said it was not necessary to consider the complaint's accuracy and refused Fischer's request to determine the section's scope.
If it was "clear" the Social Security Administration Inspector General's Office was exceeding its authority with the subpoena, or was bringing up a "significant Constitutional issue," Chen said she might consider the merits of Fischer's case. "That is not the case here," she said.
"As demonstrated by [Fischer's] extensive and intricately reasoned brief and oral argument, the issue of whether Section 1140 covers URLs/domain names is a close question," Chen wrote. "As such, it is one that the agency should be permitted to interpret, and the [administrative law judge] to rule on, in the first instance."
Besides, a refusal to get to the merits now did not deprive Fisher of judicial review at a later date, Chen noted. Instead, she said, she was "guided by Second Circuit authority…to determine only whether" the government subpoena met all four requirements, which had occurred here.
Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.