Court Determines Proper Scope of Discovery re Request For Social Media Account History
In Gordon v. T.G.R. Logistics, Inc., Case No. 16-CV-00238-NDF. (D. Wy. May 10, 2017), Defendant sought an order requiring Plaintiff to produce electronic copies of the complete account histories for her two Facebook accounts.
This action arose from a vehicle accident on June 28, 2015. Plaintiff was driving in her vehicle on US Highway 309 in Lincoln County, Wyoming, and was in the process of making a left-hand turn when her vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer rig owned and operated by Defendant. Plaintiff alleges that the accident caused her numerous physical injuries, traumatic brain damage, and emotional harm of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. In its discovery motion, Defendant asserted that Plaintiff’s Facebook account histories are relevant and necessary to its defense of the damages claimed by Plaintiff.
Plaintiff responded that Defendant’s request for the entirety of her Facebook account histories is objectionable under FRCP 26. Plaintiff claims the request is unduly burdensome, lacks relevance and is overly invasive of Plaintiff’s privacy.
The Court outlined three components in determining the appropriate scope of discovery under Rule 26(b)(1): (1) is the information privileged; (2) is it relevant to a claim or defense; and (3) is it proportional to the needs of the case. The Court then went on analyze these components relative to the facts and claims in the case.
The Court particularly focused on analyzing the element of proportionality, and observed that the effort to maintain proportionality is at odds with modern exponential data growth. The Court further observed that quick and inexpensive retrieval of information is not co-extensive with lack of burden – that discovery can be burdensome even if inexpensive. As observed by the Defendant, there would be very little time or expense involved in terms of cost in generating the production of the complete histories of Plaintiff’s Facebook accounts. However, the content and scope of such information has the potential to generate additional discovery or impact trial testimony, and creates risk that fear of humiliation and embarrassment will dissuade injured plaintiffs from seeking recovery for legitimate damages or abandon legitimate claims.
The Court also recognized that the Defendant has a legitimate interest in discovering information relative to the claims and damages Defendant is being asked to pay. Discovery of information in social media which may reveal that a plaintiff is lying or exaggerating his or her injuries should not be protected from disclosure.
Defendant modified its overly broad initial request (the complete histories of the accounts), and offered to limit the request for the account histories to the time period of three years prior to the accident to present time. In making this request, Defendant asserted it needed a certain amount of information regarding Plaintiff’s emotional state prior to the accident to make a defense against Plaintiff’s damages claims. The Court found that the Defendant was still casting the net too wide in making the request for account history prior to the accident.
However, the Court was not convinced that Plaintiff had produced all relevant account information which was generated after the accident.
The Court partially granted Defendant’s Motion to Compel Discovery. Plaintiff was ordered to produce all post-June 28, 2015 Facebook history and photos which relate to Plaintiff’s significant emotional turmoil, any mental disability or ability, or relate significant events which could reasonably be expected to result in emotional distress. The Plaintiff was further ordered to produce all post-June 28, 2015 Facebook history and photos which address or relate to the accident and its aftermath or any of her resulting physical or emotional injuries. The Plaintiff was also ordered to produce all post-June 28, 2015 Facebook history and photos which relate or show the Plaintiff’s level of activity.
The Defendant’s Motion to Compel Discovery was denied in all other respects.