eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Facebook Content Discoverable Yet Again

It seems most, if not all, of the cases these days where discoverability of social media is at issue are being decided by courts in favor of the parties seeking to discover this information.  Here’s another example.

In Largent v. Reed, 2011 WL 5632688, (Pa. C.P. Franklin Co. Nov. 8, 2011) the court ruled that the plaintiff’s Facebook information was discoverable as being relevant and not privileged and ordered the plaintiff to turn over her Facebook login information to the defendant within 14 days, giving the defendant a 21-day window to inspect the plaintiff’s Facebook profile (after which she was allowed to change her password).

In this case, one of the plaintiffs claimed that a motorcycle accident caused by the defendant left her with chronic physical and mental pain. During a deposition of one of the plaintiffs, the defendant learned that she had a Facebook account and had accessed it as recently as the night before the deposition.  The defendant had reason to believe that the plaintiff had posted pictures of herself on Facebook enjoying life with her family as well as a status update about going to the gym. Accordingly, the defendant filed a Motion to Compel, demanding that the plaintiff provide her Facebook username and password to enable the defendant to demonstrate that the plaintiff’s injuries aren’t as bad as she claimed.

The defendant cited two cases where discovery of social network content was granted: 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).  The plaintiffs responded with two cases where courts denied discovery of Facebook material: Piccolo v. Paterson, No. 2009-4979 (Pa. C.P. Bucks May 6, 2011) and Kennedy v. Norfolk S. Corp., No. 100201437 (Pa. C.P. Phila. Jan 15, 2011).

The court considered the following factors in ruling for the defendant:

  • Relevancy: Since the plaintiff claimed that “she suffers from, among other things, chronic physical and mental pain” and that the defendant claimed that the plaintiff’s “formerly public Facebook account included status updates about exercising at a gym and photographs depicting her with her family that undermine her claim for damages” the court ruled that the information sought by the defendant is “clearly relevant”.
  • Privilege and Privacy: The court noted that there “is no confidential social networking privilege under existing Pennsylvania law” and that there is “no reasonable expectation of privacy in material posted on Facebook”.
  • Stored Communications Act of 1986 (SCA): While the SCA places limits on the government’s ability to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose information about their users, only one court has addressed whether Facebook is an entity covered by the SCA: Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (C.D. Calif. May 26, 2010).  In that case, it was ruled that the information being sought directly from Facebook (and other social networking sites) was protected under the SCA, but this court ruled that the SCA does not apply in this case because the plaintiff “is not an entity regulated by the SCA.”
  • Breadth of Discovery Request: The court noted that the plaintiff’s contention that the defendant’s motion is “akin to asking her to turn over all of her private photo albums and requesting to view her personal mail” is “mistaken” as content posted on Facebook is not private.  So, such a request would not “cause unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, burden or expense” as the cost to investigate the plaintiff’s Facebook information would be borne by the defendant.

As a result, the court ruled in favor of the defendant and ordered the plaintiff to turn over her Facebook login information to the defendant within 14 days.  Hopefully, the plaintiff doesn’t resort to tampering with the content on their Facebook page.

So, what do you think?  Assuming relevance, should all parties be required to produce social media information? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at eDiscovery Daily and CloudNine Discovery!