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Social Media Requests Without “Reasonable Particularity” Struck

Posted on October 26th, 2012

The case of Howell v. Buckeye Ranch, Inc., No. 2:11-cv-01014-GLF-MRA (S.D.Ohio Oct.1, 2012) involved an employment discrimination claim based on sexual harassment. As is the case in many sexual harassment cases of late, defendants sought expansive discovery including all of the plaintiff’s user names and passwords for each of her social media accounts. Plaintiff claimed the requests were overbroad, unduly burdensome and based on mere speculation. Defendants responded that the requests are relevant as to whether the alleged sexual activities occurred and as to the plaintiff’s emotional state.

Although data contained within social media accounts is generally discoverable and is not privileged or protected based on privacy rights, courts may still limit discovery requests that are overbroad or that seek irrelevant information. The court denied the requests and recommended that defendants issue interrogatories and request for production of documents that specify the particular information relevant to a claim or defense. Then, plaintiff’s trial attorney could access the private social media accounts to comply with the specific requests.

The court also noted that the plaintiff was then on notice that defendants considered her social media accounts fair game for discovery, and as such, she has a duty to preserve all information and evidence contained within the accounts. The court warned her that if she has deleted information since the discovery requests, she must disclose the deletions so defendants could attempt to recover the data.

Other courts have dealt with social media discovery requests by invoking the “reasonable particularity” requirements of Rule 34(b)(1)(A), which states that requests must describe the data to be produced with “reasonable particularity” and specify the time, manner and place of inspection. See also Mailhoit v. Home Depot U.S.A., 2012 WL 3939063 (C.D. Cal.), a similar employee discrimination case that also struck down similar overbroad social media account requests.

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