University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name In re DreamHost FA-DC-0021
Docket / Court Special Proceedings Nos. 17 CSW 3438 ( State Court )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Trump Administration FOIA cases
Case Summary
On January 27, 2017, one week after the presidential inauguration, the Department of Justice served web hosting company DreamHost with a Grand Jury subpoena for records and a request to preserve records. Requests were about a website, (now defunct), hosted by DreamHost. The website ... read more >
On January 27, 2017, one week after the presidential inauguration, the Department of Justice served web hosting company DreamHost with a Grand Jury subpoena for records and a request to preserve records. Requests were about a website, (now defunct), hosted by DreamHost. The website was used to organize protesters at President Trump's inauguration in January of 2017. The subpoena requested information about people who registered with the website. DreamHost complied with the request, stating that they understood the information requested to be only about registrants to the website, not individual visitors who had not registered.

After DreamHost complied with the subpoena, an indictment dated about April 28, 2017 charged over 200 individuals who had protested during the inauguration.

DreamHost was then served with a search warrant, dated July 12, 2017, issued by the DOJ. The search warrant requested access to all information possessed regarding the identity of its owner and thousands of subscribers, including names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, business information, and credit card or banking information. The warrant further requested access to 1.3 million visitor IP addresses. DreamHost pushed back against the warrant for the untargeted nature of the information it requested, calling it "investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority" in a blog post it published on August 14, 2017. DreamHost believed that requesting information on people who merely visited a website was a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, and would have a chilling effect on free speech.

In response to DreamHost's opposition to the warrant, the DOJ filed a motion to compel DreamHost to turn over the requested information in the DC Superior Court on July 28, 2017. A court date was set to challenge the DOJ's records request. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Just before the court date, the DOJ filed a reply modifying its original request, excluding any unpublished media, including both text and photographs that appeared in unpublished blog posts, and HTTP access and error logs, which would have the effect of protecting visitors' IP addresses.

On August 24, 2017, Judge Morin accepted the DOJ's amended request. He confirmed that the DOJ had a valid interest in accessing the data, and he enforced the motion to compel. However, Judge Morin made several stipulations. The DOJ was ordered to present the court with a "minimization plan," to include all the names of all government investigators who have access to the information and a list of all methods used to process the data. Judge Morin then forbade the DOJ from releasing the information they collected to any other government agency.

On October 10, 2017, Judge Morin issued an order creating what it called "procedural safeguards" to ensure compliance with the First and Fourth Amendments. In addition to the previous stipulations of the amended information request, the order compelled DreamHost to redact any identifying information of any non-subscribers before handing over the records to the DOJ. The DOJ was ordered to file an itemized list of information which it believes constitutes DC's rioting statute (D.C. Code ยง22-1322) and name specific reasons why the data is relevant to their investigation. To obtain any non-redacted data, the DOJ must find probably cause that the data is "evidence of criminal activity."

DreamHost stated that they did not intend to appeal Judge Morin's order. The case now appears closed.

Rachel Carpman - 02/01/2019

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Unreasonable search and seizure
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Warrant or subpoena application
Defendant(s) DreamHost
Plaintiff Description Web hosting company DreamHost.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief restrictions on search warrant
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 01/27/2017
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
State Trial Court
FA-DC-0021-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
State Trial Court
Search Warrant
FA-DC-0021-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
State Trial Court
United States's Motion for Dreamhost to Show Cause
FA-DC-0021-0001.pdf | Detail
State Trial Court
Non-Party DreamHost LLC's Response in Opposition to United States' Motion for DreamHost to Show Cause
FA-DC-0021-0002.pdf | Detail
State Trial Court
Order in re: Dreamhost (2017 WL 4169713)
FA-DC-0021-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: State Court Website
State Trial Court
Order Regarding Dreamhost Warrant
FA-DC-0021-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
show all people docs
Judges Morin, Robert Court not on record show/hide docs
FA-DC-0021-0004 | FA-DC-0021-0005 | FA-DC-0021-9000
Wertheim, Ronald P. Court not on record show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Borchert, John W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FA-DC-0021-0001 | FA-DC-0021-9000
Kerkhoff, Jennifer (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FA-DC-0021-0001 | FA-DC-0021-9000
Phillips, Channing D (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FA-DC-0021-0001 | FA-DC-0021-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Aghaian, Raymond O. (California) show/hide docs
FA-DC-0021-0002 | FA-DC-0021-9000
Ghazarian, Chris (California) show/hide docs
FA-DC-0021-0002 | FA-DC-0021-9000

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