In an employment dispute, the Defendant sought access to the Plaintiff’s Facebook profile and personal computer. The case had involved several discovery disputes challenging the Plaintiff’s discovery productions. Potts v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38795, 5-9 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 20, 2013).
Among the discovery requests, the Defendant requested “Facebook and/or other social media data” and “Any computers or digital storage devices used by either Plaintiff during and after her employment with Defendant.” Potts, at *3.
The Plaintiff explained they had produced her day planner, documentation of “write-ups” and “store visits” from her employment and all emails relevant to the case. Potts, at *3-4.
The Plaintiff challenged the request for full access to the Facebook profile, arguing that the Defendants had failed to make a “threshold showing that publicly available information on [Facebook] undermines the Plaintiff’s claims.” Potts, at *4-5, citing Thompson v. Autoliv ASP, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85143, 2012 WL 2342928, *4 (D. Nev. June 20, 2012).
The Plaintiff also objected to the request for the computer as unduly burdensome, because she had “produced” the relevant information from the computer. Potts, at *4.
The Court held that that Defendants did not make a showing that the Plaintiff’s public Facebook profile contained information that would reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Potts, at *7. The Court based its findings on the Plaintiff’s discovery productions and case law. Id. The Court cited the following in their decision:
[M]aterial posted on a ‘private Facebook page, that is accessible to a selected group of recipients but not available for viewing by the general public, is generally not privileged, nor is it protected by common law or civil law notions of privacy. Nevertheless, the Defendant does not have a generalized right to rummage at will through information that Plaintiff has limited from public view. Rather, consistent with Rule 26(b) . . . [and decisional law] . . . there must be a threshold showing that the requested information is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Otherwise, the Defendant would be allowed to engaged in the proverbial fishing expedition, in the hope that there might be something of relevance in Plaintiff’s Facebook account.
Potts, at *6-7, citing Tompkins v. Detroit Metro. Airport, 278 F.R.D. 387, 388 (E.D. Mich. 2012).
However, the personal computer was another story.
The Court agreed the physical production of the computer could lead to admissible evidence, however the parties were ordered to “agree to a word search of Plaintiff’s computer by an agreed neutral party.” Potts, at *8.
Bow Tie Thoughts
Discovery requests are a mix of art and science. Drafting requests requires an attorney to consider the possible sources of ESI, analyze the case facts and draft the reasonably tailored request for discovery. This is easier said than done.
Attorneys really need to be thoughtful in drafting requests for electronically stored information on social media. Done too broadly, it can be the moral equivalent of demanding an MRI in a breach of contract case. At the end of the day, the requests must be for relevant ESI.
Personal computers are another story. A requesting part simply does not get to forage for evidence through someone’s computer. Courts put safeguards in place to avoid privacy from being invaded, such as neutral examiners and the opportunity for privilege review before production.
A good practice is to image a personal computer after a triggering event to preserve any possible relevant information. Costs for such imaging have come down considerably, ranging between $300 to $500 for service providers. This is a very worthy investment compared to the costs of motion practice or defending spoliation claims. Analysis of the contents, searching and processing will drive the cost up; however, talk with the service provider on how they charge for these services. It might be hourly or a flat rate.
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 from 2013 to 2016 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.