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Court Compels Plaintiff to Provide Social Media Account and Activity Data: eDiscovery Case Law

Court Denies Defendant’s Motion to Overrule Plaintiff’s Objections to Discovery Requests

In Waters v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., No. 15-1287-EFM-KGG (D. Kan. June 21, 2016), Kansas Magistrate Judge Kenneth G. Gale granted the defendant’s motion to compel the plaintiff to produce account information associated with his social media accounts as well as postings from the dates he missed work in conjunction with his injury claims against the defendant.  Judge Gale also granted most of the components of the plaintiff’s motion to compel against the defendant for various discovery requests.

Case Background

In this personal injury case against the plaintiff’s former employer, both parties filed motions to compel against the other.  The defendant asked for the plaintiff to list the names/account names “associated with [his] Facebook and Twitter accounts” and also initially asked for a broad category of information relating to the plaintiff’s social media presence.  After the plaintiff objected, the parties conferred and the defendant limited the scope of its requests to “all social network postings, messages, and photographs that he sent or received” on the work dates he claims he missed as a result of his injuries.  The plaintiff argued that the defendant’s requests for social media data were overly broad, irrelevant, and not proportional to needs of the case.

The plaintiff’s motion to compel related to discovery requests regarding prior injuries suffered by the defendant’s employees, notifications regarding defects or hazards on the defendant’s locomotives, prior notification of safety hazards or injuries relating to water on walkways, statements regarding the plaintiff’s claims, photos of the locomotive in question, and inspection and maintenance reports for the subject locomotive.  The defendant logged various objections to those requests.

Judge’s Ruling

In addressing the defendant’s motion to compel, Judge Gale stated:

“The Court finds that Defendant’s requests are relevant on their face. As stated above, unless a request is improper on its face, ‘the party asserting the objection has the duty to support its objections.’  Plaintiff has failed in this regard. To the contrary, the Court finds that the requests are highly relevant on their face as they seek evidence which could be germane to the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries and damages and state of mind.

Plaintiff has also failed to establish the overbreadth of Defendant’s requests. Following attempts to confer with Plaintiff, Defendant willingly narrowed the scope of the requests at issue. The Court does not agree that the access Defendant seeks to Plaintiff’s social media postings and messages is ‘unfettered’ when Defendant has limited the temporal (i.e. days Plaintiff missed work) and/or substantive subject matter scope of the requests”.

As a result, Judge Gale granted the defendant’s motion to compel.

Not all news was bad for the plaintiff; however, as Judge Gale granted his motion to compel regarding prior injuries and notifications, statements regarding the plaintiff’s claims and inspection and maintenance reports for the subject locomotive.  Only the plaintiff’s request for photos of the locomotive in question was denied.

So, what do you think?  Was the scope of the defendant’s request appropriate or was it overbroad?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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