Judge Rachel Bloomekatz, nominated by President Biden to the Sixth Circuit, wrote a unanimous opinion that upheld a lower court order denying a burdensome subpoena by My Pillow and its president Michael Lindell to a Michigan county for voluminous information about the 2020 election. The order also required My Pillow to pay the costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the county. The December 2023 decision was in Lyons v My Pillow, Inc.
What happened in this case?
After numerous charges by Mike Lindell and My Pillow that its voting machines had “helped rig the 2020 election,” Dominion Voting Systems sued them for defamation, In searching for evidence that could support his claims, Lindell sent subpoenas to 38 countries across the country that had nothing to do with the litigation but had used Dominion equipment in 2020, demanding extensive information about the election. Kent County Michigan was one such county.
Judge Bloomekatz described the subpoena as having “astonishing breadth and generality.” The documents and other information subpoenaed by Lindell encompassed 22 categories. They included, for example, copies of “any document, report or spreadsheet that was produced in relation to the November 2020 election,” as well as extensive electronic information. As written, the subpoena would include, for example, “all purchase agreements” for any computers, not just Dominion, even if ordered “ten years before the 2020 election.” The county election administrator estimated that the subpoena demanded “2.5 gigabytes of data,” or “the equivalent of 250,000 emails.” The county estimated that collecting and reviewing the information “would cost $625,000 and approximately 80 hours” or more of employee time. This did not even include the costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars to recertify or purchase new equipment after Lindell got access to it, as well as the fact that the sensitive information demanded “could compromise the security of future elections.”
Lindell subpoenaed Kent County on September 6, 2022, demanding full compliance 24 days later. The county wrote several letters seeking to pare back or obtain more time to comply with My Pillow’s demands, but it refused. After warning My Pillow, Kent County filed a motion in federal court to quash the subpoena. The lower court granted the motion, and also “sanctioned” Lindell and My Pillow by “ ordering them to pay the county’s costs and attorney’s fees incurred by opposing the subpoena. Lindell and My Pillow appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
How did Judge Bloomekatz and the Sixth Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?
Judge Bloomekatz wrote a unanimous opinion that upheld the lower court in every respect, including the sanctions against Lindell. Based on the facts above and the law, she wrote that the lower court was “well within its discretion” to quash the subpoena. She noted the subpoena’s “massive reach into information irrelevant to the underlying suit,” and agreed with the district court that the subpoena “could not be written more broadly and is entirely devoid of specificity.”
She also rejected Lindell’s arguments against the sanctions imposed on him. because of the undue burdens imposed on the county. Bloomekatz explained that there was no “merit” to Lindell’s claim that sanctions were inappropriate because the county had not yet undergone the burden of actually complying with the subpoena. This argument, she wrote, could lead to “absurdly circular results,” requiring a subpoena recipient to first incur the costs of complying with a burdensome subpoena “and then convince a court to quash it” and order sanctions. This result, she explained, “would defeat the protections” for nonparties like Kent County “embedded” in the federal rules concerning subpoenas.
Judge Bloomekatz’s ruling is obviously important to provide relief to Kent County and its voters and taxpayers, and may also help the 25-plus other counties confronted by Lindell’s subpoenas. It also stands as an important example of action by federal judges against burdensome and abusive litigation tactics such as those pursued by litigants like Lindell. In addition, the ruling is an important reminder of the significance of promptly confirming high-quality Biden nominees like Judge Bloomekatz to our federal courts.