Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Motion to Compel Facebook Discovery Denied in Lycoming County Case

Here's a Facebook Discovery decision -- the first one seen here in a while.  

To date, there still has not been any notable Pennsylvania appellate court decisions addressing this issue.  There are a slew of state and federal trial court decisions on the issue, many of which can be viewed on Tort Talk.

Please note that you can always review Facebook Discovery decisions on the Tort Talk Facebook Discovery Scorecard by going to www.TortTalk.com and scrolling down the right hand column until you get to "Facebook Discovery Scorecard" and click on the date under that.

In the case of Harkey v. Stojakovich, No. CV-19-1295 (C.P. Lycoming Co. Oct. 26, 2020 Linhardt, J.), Judge Eric R. Linhardt of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas addressed a Defendant’s Motion to Compel Facebook Discovery from a Plaintiff in a tractor trailer accident case. 

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Defendant tractor trailer driver and the tractor trailer driver’s company after the tractor trailer driver was involved in an accident with the Plaintiff who was operating the motorcycle.

During the course of discovery, the Defendants filed a Motion to Compel, including with respect to demands for copies of all of the Plaintiff’s social media postings. The defense asserted that all of the Plaintiff’s social media postings were relevant and discoverable because the Plaintiff claimed that he suffered physical disability, loss of life’s pleasures, difficulty walking, and loss of earnings as a result of the accident.

According to the record, the Plaintiff’s social media postings allegedly showed the Plaintiff taking multiple trips after the accident, including motorcycle rides. The social media post also showed the Plaintiff engaging in work at a restaurant and bar. 

Judge Linhardt noted that there was no appellate guidance on point and that the issue of the discoverability of social media postings had not been previously addressed in Lycoming County.   

Judge Linhardt reviewed cases from other Pennsylvania trial courts and reiterated the rule that, generally speaking, the parties seeking discovery of the non-public information on a party’s social media account is required to show a “factual predicate” that the sought after information could be relevant by demonstrating that relevant information has been posted on the publicly available portions of the website. 

However, the court ruled that, while the Defendants made a threshold showing that the Plaintiff’s social media account information could be relevant of the case at hand, the defense requests for the production of all of the postings from the Plaintiff’s social media sites lacked the requisite particularity for discovery requests necessary to avoid undue embarrassment and burden upon the Plaintiff and potential third parties.

As such, the defense Motion to Compel was denied in this instance.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Dec. 22, 2020).

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