Where U.S. litigation discovery obligations were argued to be in conflict with foreign civil and criminal privacy statutes, many recent opinions found that discovery should proceed under the Federal Rules over the protest of the foreign data custodians. See, e.g., Gucci Amer., Inc. v. Curveal Fashion, No. 09 Civ. 8458, 2010 WL 808639 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 8, 2010) (compelling the third-party U.S. parent of a foreign bank to produce documents located at its subsidiary despite claims that such production was illegal under Malaysian law) discussed further in prior blog posts here and here. However, in SEC v. Stanford International Bank Ltd, the court departed from this pattern in finding that discovery should first proceed under the Hague convention “in the interest of comity.” Civil Action No. 3:09–CV–0298–N, 2011 WL 1378470 at *14 (N.D.Tex. April 6, 2011).

In this case, the court previously determined that R. Allen Stanford, his associates, and various entities under Stanford’s control (collectively “Stanford”) operated “a massive Ponzi scheme that stole approximately $8 billion from an estimated 50,000 investors scattered over more than 100 countries,” and accordingly, the Court appointed a Receiver to identify and take control of Stanford’s assets. Id. at *1. As third-party Société Générale Private Banking (Suisse) S.A. (“SocGen”) was believed to hold accounts belonging to Stanford, the Receiver sought to discover account records under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”). Id. at *2. SocGen, opposing discovery under the FRCP, argued that as the sought-after documents were located in Switzerland, compliance with the FRCP discovery request would “subject it and its employees to criminal, civil, and administrative penalties under Swiss law.” Id. Instead, SocGen argued that the Receiver should first utilize the discovery procedures of the Hague Convention, of which Switzerland is a signatory.

To determine under which mechanism discovery should proceed, the court applied the balancing of factors set out in Société Nationale Industrielle Aérospatiale v. U.S. District Court, 482 U.S. 522, 538, 107 S.Ct. 2542, 96 L.Ed.2d 461 (1987) (“Aérospatiale”) and Minpeco, S.A. v. Conticommodity Serv., Inc., 116 F.R.D. 517, 523 (S.D.N.Y. 1987). These factors include: (1) the importance to the litigation of the documents or other information requested; (2) the degree of specificity of the request; (3) whether the information originated in the United States; (4) the availability of alternative means of securing the information, (5) the competing interests of the nations whose laws are in conflict; (6) the hardship of compliance on the party or witnesses from whom discovery is sought; and (7) the good faith of the party resisting discovery under the Federal Rules. See id. at *4.

The court’s application of these factors was initially fairly typical. Factors 1, 2, and 4 were found to favor the Receiver, as the documents were “vital” to the receivership proceedings and not available anywhere else. In particular, the court noted that as it considered the Receiver to essentially be SocGen’s customer, the discovery request “constitutes no more than a bank customer asking for a copy of its own records.” Id. at *5-6, 8, and 11. Counseling the opposite conclusion, factors 3, 6, and 7 were found to favor SocGen, as the documents were only located in Switzerland; this defense was not raised in bad faith; and “comity counsels deference” to SocGen’s “potentially well-founded fear” that compliance with the discovery request under the Federal Rules could lead to prosecution. Id. at *7-8, and 12-13.

Where the Court’s analysis deviates significantly from other opinions is its consideration of the fifth factor, which in this case involves the competing interests of the U.S. and Switzerland. Whereas other courts found that U.S. discovery interests trumped foreign privacy concerns, the Stanford court found this factor to be neutral, after noting that any such balancing of interests would be “political” and “especially inapposite in this case, where the legislative authorities of both nations essentially have spoken by adopting the Convention.” Id. at *9.  Compare id. (“the Convention inherently, and adequately, balances the competing sovereign interests here because its use will benefit U.S. interests by providing the needed evidence, and protect Swiss interests by avoiding intrusions upon Swiss sovereignty.”) with Gucci, 2010 WL at *7 (“[T]he Court concludes that the United States interest in fully and fairly adjudicating matters before its courts . . . outweighs Malaysia’s interest in protecting the confidentiality of its banking customers’ records.”).

On balance, the Stanford court found that the comity factors weighed in SocGen’s favor “at least in the first instance.” Id. at *13. Accordingly, the Receiver was to proceed with discovery under the Hague Convention, but was not precluded from renewing its request for discovery under the FRCP should its efforts be unsuccessful. Id. at *13-14. In so holding, the court acknowledged that others relied on the discretion provided by the Supreme Court in Aérospatiale as a “green light to generally ‘discard[ ] the treaty as an unnecessary hassle.’” Id. at *3 (citing In re Automotive Refinishing, 358 F.3d 288, 306 (3rd Cir. 2004)). However, this approach “ignores Aérospatiale’s admonition to ‘exercise special vigilance’ in international discovery disputes . . . and exemplifies courts’ intrinsic ‘proforum bias’ warned against by . . . the Aérospatiale minority.” Id.

While it is unclear the extent to which this approach will be followed by other courts in the future, this opinion illustrates that it is possible for litigants and third parties to successfully navigate cross border discovery conflicts even where privacy interests are at stake.

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Photo of Nolan Goldberg Nolan Goldberg

Nolan M. Goldberg is a partner in the Litigation Department, co-head of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Litigation Group, and a member of the Patent Law Group. His practice focuses on technology-centric litigation, arbitration (including international arbitrations), investigations and counseling, covering a range…

Nolan M. Goldberg is a partner in the Litigation Department, co-head of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Litigation Group, and a member of the Patent Law Group. His practice focuses on technology-centric litigation, arbitration (including international arbitrations), investigations and counseling, covering a range of types of disputes, including cybersecurity, intellectual property, and commercial.  Nolan’s understanding of technology allows him to develop defenses and strategies that might otherwise be overlooked or less effective and enhances the “story telling” that is critical to bringing a dispute to a successful conclusion.

Nolan is a registered patent attorney before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office; and an International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Certified Information Privacy Professional, United States (US CIPP) and Certified Information Privacy Technologist (US CIPT).


Nolan’s electrical engineering background, coupled with a litigation and risk management-centric focus, allows him to assist companies in all phases of incident response. Nolan often acts as a bridge between the technical and legal response teams (both inside and outside forensic consultants). Nolan uses this deep familiarity with the company and its systems to defend the company in litigations, arbitrations and regulatory investigations, including before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and before various State’s Attorneys General, including Multi-State investigations.

Nolan has worked on incidents that range from simple phishing attacks on e-mail accounts by cyber-criminals to intrusions by (formerly) trusted inside employees to complex technical breaches of hosted systems by state-sponsored advanced persistent threats (APTs). These incidents have involved both client systems, and systems of a vendor of a client that hosted its data.

It is often the case (both in response to an incident and for other reasons) that a company will want to undertake an assessment of its security posture, but has concerns about the discoverability of any such analysis.  Accordingly, Nolan also frequently assists companies’ scope and conduct privileged security assessments, including “dual purpose” assessments where privileged analysis are also used for ordinary-course purposes.

Commercial Disputes

Nolan also assists companies with commercial disputes, particularly in cases where there is a technology component, including disputes arising from hosted software agreements; outsourcing and managed services agreements; software and technology development agreements and the dissolution of joint ventures.  When these disputes cannot be amicably resolved, Nolan has litigated them in State and Federal Court and in arbitrations, including international arbitrations.

Intellectual Property

Nolan’s work has included numerous patent and trade secret litigations and negotiations, primarily in cases involving computer and network-related technologies. In particular, the litigations have involved at least the following technologies: hosted software; telecommunications, computer networking; network and computer-related security hardware and software; microprocessors, voice-over Internet protocol (“VoIP”); bar code scanners  financial business methods and software, including securities settlement, fail management and trade execution and reporting software; data compression; handheld computers; pharmaceuticals; cardiac electro-stimulatory devices and prosthetics.

Nolan also has experience prosecuting patent applications before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in encryption, CMOS, HDTV, virtual private networks (“VPN”), e-commerce, XML/XSL, financial instruments, semiconductor electronics, medical device technology, inventory control and analysis, cellular communications, Check 21 and business methods. Nolan also has conducted numerous freedom-to-operate searches, written opinions, and counseled clients in the areas of bar code scanners, imaging, book publishing, computer networking, business methods, Power Over Ethernet (“PoE”), and digital content distribution.

He has assisted in evaluating patents for inclusion in patent pools involving large consumer electronics and entertainment companies concerning CD and DVD technology.

Computer Forensics and Electronic Discovery

Nolan is often called upon to develop e-discovery strategies to be used in all types of litigations, with a particular focus on selecting appropriate tools, developing proportionate discovery plans, cross border electronic discovery, managing the overall burden and cost of the electronic discovery process, and obtaining often overlooked electronic evidence, including computer forensics. He also assists clients to develop and implement information management programs to reduce expense and risk, meet compliance obligations, and tame e-discovery burdens.

Thought Leadership

Nolan has authored numerous articles and given numerous presentations on emerging issues and trends in both technology and law, and has often been called upon to comment on various media outlets including Business Week, IPlaw360, IT Business Edge, CIO.com, Forbes, and The National Law Journal.

Prior to practicing law, Nolan was a computer specialist at Underwriters Laboratories (UL).