Trial court lacked jurisdiction in Florida dispute between professor, Russian bank

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that a state trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on a motion to quash in a Florida lawsuit involving an Indiana University professor and a Russian bank allegedly involved in a 2016 political hacking scandal.

In response to reports in 2016 that Russian hackers had infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s servers, 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. L. Jean Camp, an IU researcher and professor, discussed the data found on the “Domain Name System” with media organizations and posted its logs to her website.

Four years later, the bank filed a complaint in Florida against a series of John Doe defendants, alleging the defendants had “conspired to commit cyberattacks against the Bank in 2016 and 2017 in order to create DNA records that would ‘create the illusion of secret communications’ between the Bank and the Trump Organization.” It further alleged the defendants had pointed the researchers toward planted DNS evidence.

As part of its case, the bank served a Florida subpoena on Camp, via her attorney, in Monroe County. Camp filed a motion to quash, which the Monroe Circuit Court granted. However, neither the trial court nor the parties addressed the bank’s failure to comply with the Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act.

Thus, when the bank appealed the motion to quash, the Indiana Court of Appeals did not address the issue on the merits but instead determined the trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the motion.

“There is no indication that the claim falls within the general scope of authority conferred upon the Monroe Circuit Court by the constitution, and likewise, there is no statutory authority giving the Monroe Circuit Court authority to a consider a motion to quash a foreign subpoena,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote Wednesday in AO Alfa-Bank v. John Doe, et al. and L. Jean Camp, 20A-MI-2352.

“The record provided to us is devoid of any indication that the Bank submitted the Florida Subpoena to the Monroe County Clerk for the issuance of an Indiana Subpoena, which is the necessary act to invoke the jurisdiction of the Indiana Courts,” Tavitas wrote. “… The lack of domestication is a jurisdictional threshold, not a procedural error that can be avoided by waiver or consent of the parties.

“… Because the Bank failed to domesticate the Florida subpoena, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider Camp’s motion to quash,” Tavitas concluded. “Accordingly, the trial court’s order is void, and we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

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