By Jason Cashio
Is a defendant entitled to rummage through the desk drawers and closets in a plaintiff’s home as part of discovery in a civil case? Most would agree this is beyond the scope of standard discovery.
A United States District Court Judge used this logic to limit the discovery of plaintiff’s social media accounts when the defendant sought complete access to plaintiff’s entire social media records. In Ogden v. All-State Career School, –F.R.D.–, 2014 WL 1646934 (W.D. Pa. 2014), an employee sued his employer for subjecting him to a hostile work environment as well as retaliation, in violation of Title VII. Plaintiff’s employer moved to compel production of the employee’s entire social media records, demanding access to or production of complete copies of all social media accounts. Although courts have permitted discovery of social media, such as Facebook records, when it is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, the court noted that “it is the nature of the claims and defenses and not merely the form of medium that define the bounds of relevancy and courts have declined to permit far-roving discovery into social media accounts where the inquest does not meet the basic tenants of Rule 26.” The court concluded that ordering plaintiff to permit access to or produce complete copies of his social media accounts “would permit defendant to cast too wide a net and sanction an inquiry into scores of quasi-personal information that would be irrelevant and non-discoverable. Defendant is no more entitled to such unfettered access to plaintiff’s personal email and social networking communications than it is to rummage through the desk drawers and closets in plaintiff’s home.” As such, parties are not entitled to “unfettered access” to social media accounts. Rather, the proper method for obtaining relevant information is to serve limited requests for production for information related to the claims or defenses involved in the case.