eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Rejects Defendants Motion Seeking Limitless Access to Plaintiff’s Facebook Account: eDiscovery Case Law

We haven’t had a good social media request case in a while – here’s one that compares to other cases we’ve covered in the past…

In the class action In re Milo’s Kitchen Dog Treats Consolidated Cases, Civil Action No. 12-1011 (W.D. Penn. April 14, 2015), Pennsylvania Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly denied the defendants’ Motion to Compel Unredacted Facebook Data File and Production of Username and Password, disagreeing that the discovery of one highly relevant Facebook entry justified the defendants to be “somehow entitled to limitless access to her Facebook account”. Judge Kelly did order the plaintiff to produce previously produced redacted Facebook pages to the Court unredacted so that an in camera inspection could be conducted to confirm that the redacted information was truly privileged.

Case Background

In this case, based on the discovery of the posting on the plaintiff’s Facebook page in which she indicated that another brand of chicken jerky dog treats caused the harm to her dog, the defendants were of the belief that there could be other relevant information on her Facebook account. The defendants sought that information in their Second Request for production, asking the plaintiff to produce “the Facebook Data and Facebook Data File of Lisa Mazur and/or Lisa Pierwsza Mazur.” Despite the fact that the defendants’ request was unlimited and objected to by the plaintiff as inherently overbroad, she nevertheless responded to the request and provided 648 pages of Facebook data, albeit redacted. The Facebook data provided contained information indicating that Plaintiff purchased dog treats other than Defendant’s brand, as well as conversations the plaintiff had with others about the dog treat brand and the case.

The defendants argued that it was improper for the plaintiff to unilaterally decide what should be redacted complaining that the location of certain redactions were “suspect” and contended that they were entitled to unfettered access to Plaintiff’s Facebook account including her username and password. Citing Largent v. Reed, 2011 WL 5632688, (Pa. C.P. Franklin Co. Nov. 8, 2011), Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, Inc., No. CV-09-1535, 2011 WL 2065410 (Pa. Comm. Pl. May 19, 2011) and McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., No. 113-2010 CD (C.P. Jefferson, Sept. 9, 2010), suggesting that “these cases stand for the proposition that Facebook accounts are always subject to unrestricted access once a threshold showing of relevance has been made”.

Judge’s Ruling

Referencing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), Judge Kelly stated that “Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery, and the extent to which discovery may be compelled, are matters consigned to the Court’s discretion and judgment. A party moving to compel discovery bears the initial burden of proving the relevance of the requested information.”

With regard to the three cases cited by the defendants, Judge Kelly noted that they were “factually distinguishable from the instant case and, in this Court’s view, do not require the limitless access to Plaintiff’s Facebook account data advocated by Defendants.” In Largent v. Reed, for example, the plaintiff had refused to provide any Facebook data, whereas the plaintiff here produced 648 pages from her Facebook account. Judge Kelly also observed that pictures of the plaintiff “enjoying life with her family” in Facebook would not near as relevant as they would be in a personal injury litigation like Largent.

Agreeing with the plaintiff’s argument, Judge Kelly stated that “having already provided Defendants with Facebook data relevant to the case, Defendants have failed to make any showing that further production of her Facebook records would result in the dissemination of any more relevant information than has already been provided.” She therefore denied the defendants motion to compel.

With regard to the redactions, the plaintiff had redacted a conversation with another purported class member in the case because their conversation revolved around “specific advice given by class counsel as to the litigation and its progress”. Because of the dispute over the validity of the redactions, Judge Kelly decided “out of an abundance of caution”, “that the best course is to have Plaintiff produce the claimed privileged documents to the Court so that an in camera inspection can be conducted. In this manner, any truly privileged information will remain protected and Defendants can proceed confident that they have received all the relevant and non-privileged information from Plaintiff’s Facebook data.”

So, what do you think? Was that the correct decision or should the judge have treated this case like the three cases cited by the defendant? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.