A recent case filed in the Southern District Court of Indiana dealt with the difficult issue of discovery of social networking site information on Facebook and MySpace. As discovery of social media is a relatively new frontier, the court had a difficult decision to make in determining the scope of discovery. It will be interesting to see what trends in court decisions develop as more and more cases involve social networking sites and information.
On April 16, 2010, Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) asked for a discovery conference after Defendants Simply Storage Management, LLC and O.B. Management Services, Inc. requested production of two of the claimants’ “internet social networking site (SNS) profiles and other communication from their Facebook and MySpace.com accounts” and “information about the claimants’ prior employment since 2003.” Defendants’ production request resulted from Plaintiff’s filing against Simply Storage for “sexual harassment by a supervisor.” Claimants Tara Strahl and Joanalle Zupan cited “anxiety” and “post traumatic stress disorder” stemming from the alleged sexual harassment. EEOC disputed the production of SNS information “on the grounds that the requests [were] overboard, not relevant, unduly burdensome” and would “harass and embarrass the claimants.” EEOC instead asked for production to be “limited to content that directly addresses or comments on matters alleged in the complaint.”
The court had a difficult decision to make; namely, “to define appropriately broad limits—but limits nevertheless—on the discoverability of social communications in light of a subject as amorphous as emotional and mental health.” In determining a ruling, the Court considered Rule 26(b) which states, “For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved….” It also determined the following:
-SNS content is not shielded from discovery simply because it is ‘locked’ or ‘private.’ …a person’s expectation and intent that her communications be maintained as private is not a legitimate basis for shielding those communications from discovery….
-SNS content must be produced when it is relevant to a claim or defense in the case.
-Allegations of depression, stress disorders, and like injuries do not automatically render all SNS communications relevant…
Finally, the Court ruled that, “It is reasonable to expect severe emotional or mental injury to manifest itself in some SNS content, and an examination of that content might reveal whether onset occurred, when and the degree of distress.” In determining the scope of production, the Court decided that “any profiles, postings, or messages (including status updates, wall comments, causes joined, groups joined, activity streams, blog entries)…that reveal, refer or relate to any emotion, feeling, or mental state” are relevant and should be produced. On the matter of information relating to the claimants’ prior employment, the Court determined that Defendants had not shown how the information was relevant to their case and therefore, Plaintiff was not required to produce the information.