Information posted to social media accounts can be highly relevant in suits brought by individuals, but too often requesting parties ask for “any and all” content, rendering their requests overly burdensome and subject to objection. Especially now, with the December 2015 changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, courts are grappling with how social media discovery fits into this new world of proportional discovery. In the recent case of Rhone v. Schneider Nat’l Carriers, Inc., No. 4:15-cv-01096-NCC, 2016 WL 1594453, the court settled this question with a unique approach.
Rhone involved a personal injury action where the plaintiff claimed “severe physical injuries” after she was the passenger in a car struck by a truck owned by Schneider National Carriers. The plaintiff claimed her injuries would cause “great physical pain” in the future, and were “permanent and progressive.” After investigating what information was publicly available on the Internet, the defendant identified relevant content on the plaintiff’s Facebook account, and then made a broad request for copies of any postings, photos or videos made by the plaintiff to social media websites since the date of the accident. The plaintiff objected to the request (using an outdated “irrelevant and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” objection) and further said there was no relevant content related to the incident. Notably, the plaintiff failed to engage the defendant on whether there was a more tailored request it could respond to, or alternative method for disclosure.
This case is a reminder that courts now routinely recognize that social media can provide valuable relevant information. While courts will normally require targeted discovery requests, courts may find that broader requests are proportionate to the needs of the case if the requesting party can provide evidence supporting their need for the discovery sought.