While the phenomenon of social media continues to expand, so too does the courts’ understanding of the nexus between Facebook and discovery disclosures. As we have noted previously, the trend in both state and federal court has been to allow the defendant access to a claimant’s Facebook account for the purpose of challenging credibility. However, a recent decision from the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas has extended the doctrine in Pennsylvania to permit the plaintiff’s investigation of Facebook for evidence of the underlying incident.
In the case of Gallagher v. Urbanovich, the court considered a motion to compel access to the defendant’s Facebook credentials following a claim that the he sucker-punched a man during a work-sponsored soccer game. Although Pennsylvania judges have ordinarily required an initial review of the party’s public information before granting such discovery, the court in Gallagher agreed with the plaintiff’s contention that Facebook is simply another source for admissible statements made by an opponent and therefore allowed unbridled access to the defendant’s account. Additionally, the court’s order implicated the potential for spoliation issues and forewarned the defendant against destructing or altering the information contained on the site.
While Pennsylvania appellate courts have yet to comment on the appropriateness of Facebook disclosures, the expanse of Gallagher is certainly noteworthy. In the absence of a uniform approach, Gallagher may have the potential to create a new standard for the discovery of Facebook evidence when material to the actual incident.
Thanks to Adam Gomez, law clerk, for this post. If you have any questions or comments, please email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.