eDiscovery Daily Blog

Defendant’s Request for Social Media Data is Reasonably Calculated to Be Overbroad: eDiscovery Case Law

In Ehrenberg v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 16-17269 (E.D. La. Aug. 18, 2017), Louisiana Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld, rejecting the defendant’s request for the plaintiff’s social media data as “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence”, identified a level of social media data to be produced by the plaintiff that considered “weighing relevance and proportionality”.

Case Background

In this case where the plaintiff sued the defendant for additional damages to compensate her for all of her injuries and losses sustained when she was struck by a motor vehicle, after learning of numerous vacations taken by the plaintiff, the defendant requested complete social media data (“a complete copy of your post-accident…data link from your…account, including but not limited to messages, photos, wall posts, friends posts, your posts, metadata associated with photos, etc.) from the plaintiff’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.  The defendant filed a Motion to Compel when the plaintiff objected to the requests as “invasion of privacy and not relevant”.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge van Meerveld began her analysis by pointing out the defendant’s request was not in line with current rules:

“Although State Farm focuses its briefing on whether its requests are ‘reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,’ the Court must point out that this phrase does not guide the scope of discovery. The amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that went into effect in December 2015 deleted this language from Rule 26. That Rule now provides that ‘parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.’” 

Judge van Meerveld also noted that “In addition to being relevant, discovery must be proportional to the needs of the case.”  With that in mind, she ruled that “after weighing relevance and proportionality, including privacy considerations, as to Ms. Ehrenberg’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, the Court finds discoverable the following categories of information from the date of the alleged accident through the present:

  1. Posts or photos that refer or relate to the accident.
  2. Posts or photos that refer or relate to physical injuries that Ms. Ehrenberg alleges she sustained as a result of the accident and any treatment she received therefore.
  3. Posts or photos that refer or relate to other, unrelated physical injuries suffered or sustained by Ms. Ehrenberg.
  4. Posts or photos reflecting physical activity by Ms. Ehrenberg and/or which reflect a physical capability of Ms. Ehrenberg.
  5. Posts or photos that refer or relate to emotional distress or mental anguish that Ms. Ehrenberg alleges she sustained as a result of the accident and any treatment she received therefore.
  6. Posts or photos that refer or relate to any alternative potential emotional stressors experienced by Ms. Ehrenberg.
  7. Posts or photos that refer or relate to any vacations taken by Ms. Ehrenberg, including but not limited to the specific vacations referred to by State Farm in its Motion to Compel.”

Judge van Meerveld also stated that if the defendant were to discover evidence that the plaintiff had deleted social media posts (which the defendant had suggested happened), then “it may return to the Court to request relief.”

So, what do you think?  What should courts do (if anything) to make sure parties know the current Rules?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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