We update our cheat sheet devoted to ediscovery for defendants differently than the others. Because of the broad nature of the topic – these cases arise in a wide variety of non-drug/device contexts – other personal injury, employment, civil rights, occasionally even criminal litigation. That means we have to research them separately to find what we need to include. That is more taxing than our usual routine because it means looking through hundreds of cases to find the ones that are: (1) on point, and (2) favorable to our side of the “v.” Thus, it has been a while since we last updated, but we just did it now. The new opinions are below, and every one of them either allows access to a plaintiff’s social media activity or imposes sanctions (often for spoliation) on plaintiff for resisting such discovery.
Once again, although we’ve read all the relevant social media discovery cases, we include only the good ones – because we don’t believe in doing the other side’s research for them. A couple of words to the wise arising from the rest are appropriate. First and foremost, if you’re representing a defendant and are considering making a broad request for social media discovery at the very outset of the case – DON’T. Without anything more solid than generalized suspicions as reason for a deep dive into an opponent’s social media, courts are not impressed and are likely to treat it as a “fishing expedition.” Most of the time a blanket social media discovery demand will succeed only when the defendant has caught the plaintiff in a lie – with contradictory public social media evidence − or the plaintiff has attempted to delete or otherwise hide social media activity. The key word is “investigate.” Once the tip of the spear penetrates a plaintiff’s shenanigans, the rest follows more easily.
Second, in the absence of such hard evidence, the defense is well advised to start small, with less intrusive discovery. Instead of asking for everything at once, check with an ediscovery specialist and consider proposing sampling – 5% or 10% of all posts – as something less intrusive, but statistically likely to find contradictory evidence if it exists. An active social media user (the type most likely to generate useful information) will usually have published thousands of posts and other types of entries. In that situation, sampling is very likely to reveal something significant present in a plaintiff’s social media. The sampling can then support a broader discovery demand.
With those caveats, here is the latest favorable set of cases in which defendants have successfully engaged in discovery of plaintiffs’ electronic activities:
- Shawe v. Elting, 157 A.3d 142 (Del. Feb. 13, 2017). Plaintiff properly sanctioned for deliberate and reckless deleting email and text messages by being ordered not only to pay all expenses of recovery but also a percentage of defendant’s total counsel fees, due to the spoliation complicating the conduct of the litigation general.
- State v. Johnson, 2017 WL 1364136 (Tenn. Crim. App. April 12, 2017). Although the Shared Communications Act prohibited criminal defendants from obtaining a witness’ social media content from social media platforms, the defendant had established good cause to obtain such evidence directly from the witnesses who were social media users. They are not privileged. The subpoenae to the witnesses were not oppressive.
- Lawrence v. Rocktenn CP LLC, 2017 WL 2951624 (Mag. W.D. La. April 19, 2017). Plaintiff must produce all text messages, photographs and videos that concern: (1) plaintiff’s physical capabilities; (2) that allegations in the complaint; (3) emotional distress; (4) any decline in plaintiff’s marriage; (5) alternative causes of the injuries; and (f) plaintiff’s activities during the claimed period of disability.
- Flowers v. City of New York, 55 N.Y.S.3d 51 (N.Y. App. Div. June 20, 2017). Evidence from plaintiff’s public social media contradicted the plaintiff, thereby justifying discovery from plaintiff’s private social media accounts, including deleted material, relating to the same subject matter. Plaintiff shall provide a release to obtain material, including metadata, from the provider.
- Walker v. Carter, 2017 WL 3668585 (S.D.N.Y. July 12, 2017). Plaintiff sanctioned for failure to produce relevant text messages. Must pay defendant’s increased attorney’s fees.
- Ottoson v. SMBC Leasing & Finance, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 2992726 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2017). Plaintiff sanctioned for failure to preserve text messages and emails concerning the events at issue. The jury will be instructed on an adverse spoliation inference.
- Jones v. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Gerardo Hernandez, 2017 WL 3525259 (Mag. S.D. Cal. Aug. 16, 2017). Plaintiff must produce a GPS-based map generated by his fitness watch.
- Ehrenberg v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 2017 WL 3582487 (Mag. E.D. La. Aug. 18, 2017). With respect to social media, plaintiffs must produce posts and photos: (1) relating to the accident, (2) relating to all physical injuries whether or not caused by the accident, (3) reflecting plaintiff’s physical activity, (4) relating to plaintiff’s emotional distress; (5) relating to alternative emotional stressors; (6) concerning plaintiff’s vacations.
- Calleros v. Rural Metro, Inc., 2017 WL 4391714 (Mag. S.D. Cal. Oct. 3, 2017). In class action over alleged deprivation of rest breaks, defendant is entitled to social media discovery of any activity plaintiffs engaged in while on company time.