A couple of weeks ago, we reported that, under pressure from the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber, we were headed to New York to see the Broadway production of Orwell’s 1984. Publicity surrounding this spectacle focused on audience members fleeing, fainting, and/or vomiting during the torture scene. Incautiously well-fed (Vietnamese/Thai food from a singularly memorable Hell’s Kitchen bistro) and more than a bit apprehensive, we made our way into the theatre, where the assault on our senses began with a disconcerting background hum that continued until the curtain rose. Whereupon ensued two hours of blinding flashes of light, lots of crashing sounds, plenty of blood, and some pretty cool dental torture. We did not vomit, faint or flee. And we liked the show more than we expected to, though we typically lean toward “happy” – the lauded and wonderful but lamentably short-lived recent revival of Finian’s Rainbow at Lincoln Center was right up our alley.
We thought about 1984 as we read today’s case. We are old enough to remember when a defendant had to hire a private investigator to play “Big Brother” and tease out deception in a plaintiff’s account of her limitations following an injury. Nowadays, so-called “social media” have stepped in, in large measure, to fill those shoes, and discovery requests now commonly seek production of and access to those resources.
In In re: Cook Med., Inc., IVC Filters Mktg., Sales Practices & Prod. Liab. Litig., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149915 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 15, 2017), the court addressed several discovery motions in a bellwether case approaching trial. First, as a sanction for the plaintiff’s failure to produce a privilege log, the defendants sought an order holding that the plaintiff had waived all privilege objections. The court denied the motion, finding that “a blanket waiver is not an appropriate sanction when the party seeking protection makes a good faith showing that the requested material is privileged.” 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149915 at *3.
Second, the defendants sought to compel responses to discovery requests to which the plaintiff had objected as overbroad because the defendants had defined “you” to include the plaintiff, her attorneys, and her representatives. The court said that this “fail[ed] to move” it because (we love this) “half of the interrogatories and responses in question do not even contain the word ‘you.’” Id. at *4. Motion granted.
Third, the court properly held that the plaintiff waived objections she had failed to assert in her discovery responses, although it declined to order the plaintiff to produce all requested materials (which included emails between the plaintiff and her attorneys) irrespective of claims of privilege.
Fourth, the court addressed the defendants’ motion to compel the plaintiff to produce her Facebook profile and various posts in native file format though she had already produced them in PDF. The court declined to order production of all of the requested materials in native format and held that the defendant would be required to make a showing of its need for the metadata in the native file of any particular post.
Finally, the court turned to the scope of the defendants’ social media requests, which, it noted, had occupied much of the space in the parties’ briefs. First, in their brief, the defendants sought to compel the plaintiff’s social media log-in credentials, including her passwords. Noting that the defendants already possessed the plaintiff’s usernames, the court held that the original interrogatory did not expressly seek passwords; as such, it declined to “compel a response to an interrogatory that does not exist.” Id. at *10. But it dropped a footnote emphasizing that it would not likely have compelled the plaintiff to disclose her passwords in any event because it “struggle[d] to see how such staggering access [to the plaintiff’s private accounts] would be proportional to the needs of the case.” Id. at *10 n.6. The court elaborated, “The requesting party does not have an unfettered right to rummage through the responding party’s social media,” without a showing of relevance and appropriate limits on content and time period. Id. at *11.
To wit, the defendants next moved to compel the plaintiff’s private social media data related to her travel, social activities, medical conditions, and alleged damages. Noting that, because the plaintiff claimed loss of enjoyment of her life, depression, and continuing medical issues, the defendants would have been entitled to compel a response to interrogatories seeking the same information, the court granted the defendants’ motion.
Finally, the court declined the defendants’ request for screenshots of all of the plaintiff’s social media webpages from the date of her implantation with the defendants’ device to the present date, holding that the request was doomed by the lack of a content limitation. The court explained, “If the motion were granted, Plaintiff would have to turn over a screen shot of every private message she sent to anyone on any topic simply because she sent it after implantation.” Id. at *13.
In the end, an attenuated cautionary tale for anyone planning to sue anyone: while a court may not hand the opponent the figurative keys to your entire online life, postings that can be tied to your claims will find their way into your opponents’ hands, whether you posted them “privately” or not.
By the way, we just got tickets for the upcoming revival of Carousel, starring Jessie Mueller, whom we loved in Beautiful and Waitress. There will be no bloody tooth-pulling, and there will definitely be a show-stopping rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” We can’t wait.