Argumentative & Prejudicial Social Media Exhibits

In a case originating from a police shooting, the Plaintiffs included in their complaint a screen capture of the shooting officer’s MySpace page.  Rice v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32831, 11-13 (M.D. La. Mar. 29, 2011).

The MySpace page included a 1960s era photo of Clint Eastwood in Old West gunslinger attire with the caption, “How I feel most of the time!!!!”.  Rice, at *4.  The image was captured a week after the shooting.  Rice, at *3.

The Defendants brought a motion to strike the section of the Complaint pertaining to the MySpace profile pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(f), which allows a Court to strike from a pleading “any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.”  Rice, at *6.

The Court struck the MySpace related paragraphs and exhibit, because 1) it was “merely argumentative and prejudicial” and 2) did not “add to the substantive allegations of the complaint.”  Rice, at *11.

The Court further explained the MySpace exhibit was “particularly prejudicial,” because there was no evidence linking it to the police officer as his MySpace profile.  Rice, at *11-12.  As the Court explained:

Deputy Arnold’s name is nowhere on the page, and defendants represent to the Court that the photograph on the page is not of Deputy Arnold or of any other defendant in this case and has no connection to the incident at issue in this case whatsoever.

Rice, at *12.

The Court determined the allegations centered on the MySpace Exhibit was simply “name calling,” which was inappropriate in the pleadings.  Rice, at *12.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Social media enables people to live public lives.  If in a lawsuit, it is a given the parties will not only be searched on Google or Yahoo, but in Facebook and MySpace for informal discovery.  However, just because someone is posting information online does not mean it is relevant.

Additionally, information gathered online is still bound by rules of pleading and evidence.  Even if the above MySpace information had not been struck from the complaint, there would have been evidentiary issues with authentication, hearsay, and the prejudicial effect outweighing the probative value of the evidence.

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.