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Defendant Not Entitled to “Delve Carte Blanche” Into Plaintiff’s Social Media Accounts

Posted in Data Privacy Law or Regulation, Social Networking

Keller v. National Farmers Union Property & Cas. Co., 2013 WL 27731 (D. Mont. January 2, 2013)

A federal court in Montana has held that a plaintiff in an insurance dispute was protected from having to turn over all of her social media content to her litigation opponent. The court’s decision helps define the contours of discoverable information in cases involving social media evidence.

Plaintiff was injured in an auto accident and sued defendant insurance company after it refused to pay medical bills. Defendant served a production request seeking, among other things, “a full printout of all of [plaintiff's] social media website pages and all photographs posted thereon . . . from August 26, 2008 to the present.” Plaintiff objected to the request on grounds it was overly burdensome and harassing.

Defendant moved to compel production of the social media content. The court denied the motion.

The court examined a number of recent decisions in which litigants have sought broad access to their opponents’ social media content. It noted that Romano v. Steelcase, Inc., 907 N.Y.S.2d 650 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2010) demonstrated how social media evidence may be relevant to claims involving a plaintiff’s alleged injuries. And it looked to E.E.O.C. v. Simply Storage Management, LLC, 270 F.R.D. 430 (S.D. Ind. 2010) to observe that such material is not protected from discovery merely because a party deems the content “private.”

Defendant argued that because plaintiff alleged a “host” of injuries, her social media accounts “may very well undermine or contradict” those allegations. But defendant could not point to any publicly available content (e.g., photos showing plaintiff engaging in strenuous activity) to support that contention.

The court found defendant had not come forward with evidence that plaintiff’s public postings undermined her personal injury claims. Guided by Tompkins v. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, 278 F.R.D. 387 (E.D. Mich. 2012), which held that one does not have a “generalized right to rummage” through his or her opponents’ social media content, the court held that defendant was not “entitled to delve carte blanche into the nonpublic sections of [plaintiff's] social networking accounts.”

  • Barrister Karl Obayi

    Interesting decision. We are beginning to have the fine lines for social media discovery clearly established. This is good for practitioners. There appears to be consistency in almost recent court decisions on the scope of social media discovery. In summary,  “generalized right to rummage” .

    Karl Obayi
    http://www.itsolicitors.com