COA reaffirms trial court lacked jurisdiction in Florida suit between IU professor, Russian bank

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reaffirmed its prior holding that a Monroe County trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction in a Florida case between a Bloomington professor and a Russian bank centered on an alleged 2016 political hacking scandal.

Issues began when a group of researchers discovered data allegedly showing “repeated interactions” between the Trump Organization and AO Alfa-Bank, one of Russia’s largest privately owned commercial banks. The data followed 2016 reports that Russian hackers had infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s servers.

Jean Camp, an Indiana University researcher and professor, discussed some of the data with media organizations and posted the logs to her website.

AO Alfa eventually filed a complaint in Florida against numerous defendants, alleging they had planted evidence and “conspired to commit cyberattacks against the Bank in 2016 and 2017 in order to create … records that would ‘create the illusion of secret communications’ between the Bank and the Trump Organization.”

Camp was the recipient of one of the bank’s subpoenas in Monroe County and subsequently filed a motion to quash, which the Monroe Circuit Court granted. But because neither the trial court nor the parties addressed the bank’s failure to comply with the Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act, the Indiana Court of Appeals did not address the issue on the merits and instead found that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the motion.

On rehearing, the bank argued that it used the foreign subpoena procedure authorized by the Monroe County Board of Judges. The appellate court noted the Board of Judges had ordered the Monroe County Clerk’s Office not to issue a Monroe County cause number for foreign subpoenas and that such subpoenas were to be served by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office without a Monroe County cause number.

“If the Bank’s contentions regarding the Board of Judges are correct, then the Board of Judges has improperly instituted a procedure that conflicts with the Act, which specifically requires the foreign subpoena to be submitted to the Clerk and requires the Clerk to ‘promptly issue a subpoena,’” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate court.

“Subject matter jurisdiction is conferred upon a court ‘by the constitution or by statute,’ not by a procedure instituted by a county’s Board of Judges. … The procedure instituted by the Board of Judges does not confer subject matter jurisdiction upon the trial court,” Tavitas continued.

As such, although the panel granted rehearing to address the bank’s contention, appellate judges held fast to their original ruling in a Friday decision, reaffirming in AO Alfa-Bank v. John Doe, et al. and L. Jean Camp., 20A-MI-2352.

The panel likewise found that Camp, who filed a cross-petition for rehearing, never requested that the trial court quash the foreign subpoena based upon the bank’s lack of compliance with the act and lack of jurisdiction.

“Whether a trial court could quash a foreign subpoena based upon a lack of compliance with the Act and lack of jurisdiction is a matter not presented by the facts here. We decline Camp’s invitation to add dicta to our original decision,” Tavitas concluded. “… Having clarified the issues raised in the Bank’s petition for rehearing and Camp’s cross-petition for rehearing, we reaffirm our original opinion in all respects.”

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