Facebook Discovery Permitted in New York

Social network data is the new frontier of pre-trial discovery.  Our adversaries upload, download, tweet and post.  For some unexplained and seemingly generational reason, some people are almost compelled to share intimate details of their personal lives through their use Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.

The goal of obtaining Facebook data is easy to state but harder to implement.  The courts balance the need for material and relevant information of one party against the expectations of privacy of the other.

In D’Agnostino v. YRC Inc., the defendant developed a sound plan to obtain plaintiff’s social media postings.  Rather than serve an early document demand seeking all of the plaintiff’s Facebook postings, the defense attorney first deposed plaintiff and gained valuable admissions that plaintiff routinely posted concerns about her feelings and emotions both before and after her accident.  Once the trap was laid at plaintiff’s deposition, the defense attorney sprung into action and demanded all plaintiff’s social media postings and photographs concerning any mental, emotional or physical condition suffered by plaintiff regardless of whether posted by her or others before and after her accident.

In a well reasoned opinion, the court held that plaintiff put her physical and mental condition in issue when she filed her lawsuit. Further, plaintiff admitted that she routinely posted about her feeling and emotions on Facebook.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the defendant satisfied the two prong test for obtaining an opponent’s social media postings by: (1) specifically identifying what material was sought; and (2) establishing a factual predicate for seeking such evidence.

D’Agostino is hardly the last word on the discovery of social media postings in New York. It is an important lens into how the trial courts are dealing with discovery in this area and provides a practical roadmap to how a defense lawyer can lay the proper foundation to obtain this valuable discovery.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com