Privacy

Copying Documents = Conversion?

Prior to this case, Quintero Community Association (hereinafter “QCA”) sued Hillcrest Bank (hereinafter “HB”) under a variety of legal theories after plaintiffs sustained a loss in their investment. This is the only claim that remains. It is a claim of conversion, meaning that QCA is alleging that HB improperly took control of QCA’s property. The issue is that during an investigation into HB’s lending practices by the FDIC, an HB employee made a copy of all HB’s loan records on a portable harddrive. This employee also made a portable harddrive copy for HB’s own records. Later, the president of HB instructed the same employee to make yet another copy for HB’s attorney. QCA claims that HB violated its rights by making copies of its loan records. HB moved for summary judgment, claiming that QCA has no property interest in its records and that even if it did; HB’s copying of the records did not deny QCA its right of possession. In order to prevail on a conversion claim, plaintiff must prove that, “(1) it possesses a right in the goods or personal chattels; and (2) that the defendants exercised control over the goods or chattel to the exclusion of the plaintiff's right.” The court held that QCA does not have a property interest in HB’s records. The court reasoned that with intangible records, the plaintiff must have a present property interest in them, but here QCA merely has a right to privacy and no present property interest.  The court further ruled that HB never exercised exclusive possession over the bank records. Thus, even if QCA held a property interest in the records, HB’s actions do not constitute conversion because HB’s actions never interfered with QCA’s alleged rights to the documents. HB never asserted control over the documents in a way that excluded QCA from accessing them. QCA also argued that it is entitled to an adverse inference based on defendant’s alleged spoliation and in the alternative that it should be granted leave to amend its complaint to include a spoliation claim. The basis for the adverse inference claim is that HB allegedly encrypted the portable hard drives with the loan information in order to prevent QCA from accessing them. “[A] presumption of spoliation only arises when there is evidence of “intentional destruction indicating a desire to suppress the truth.” The court found that QCA did not meet its burden in demonstrating intentional destruction. Further, the court denied plaintiff’s request for leave to amend because it was not filed until two months after discovery closed, it would require further discovery and fees to be incurred by defendant, and the amendment would be futile.

Document Refinement and its Apparent Prejudices

On December 16, 2015, the Honorable Susan D. Wingenton granted GDC’s Motion to Quash Defendants William Baroni and Bridget Kelly’s subpoena duces tecum, which asked the GDC to produce “Any and all handwritten or typed notes, stenographic transcripts and audio and/or video recordings of witness interviews conducted by Gibson Dunn during its representation of the Office of the Governor of New Jersey from on or about January 16, 2014 to the present.”  Defendants also included a request to produce any and all metadata and document properties for all typed notes and interviews as well.  In her Opinion, Judge Wingeton took certain issue with the ethically questionable document preparation methods of the GDC, yet ultimately decided to grant the Motion to Quash.  The GDC had a somewhat perplexing response to Defendant’s first requests as to notes, transcripts and recordings of witness interviews conducted by the GDC during its representation of the OGNJ.  They claimed that no such materials currently existed.  Here, the GDC deviated from normative interview information collecting techniques; here witness interviews were summarized electronically by one attorney while the interviews were being conducted and then edited electronically into a single, final version.  This differed greatly from their former methods of practice, where contemporaneous notes were taken by GDC interviewers and that those notes were preserved after the summaries were completed.  By contrast, the GDC clearly intended that contemporaneous notes of the witness interviews and draft summaries would not be preserved, as they were overwritten during revisions and in preparing the final summary.  The Court found this to be “unorthodox” at the least, and noted its disapproval of their actions, likening them to have the same effect as deleting or shredding documents.  Unfortunately, however, the Court had no reason to doubt the GDC’s honesty with respect to their methods or their responses to Defendant’s request for documents.  The Court did sympathize with the both Baroni and Kelly, but granted the motion anyway. It is clear to see that the GDC’s actions, though ultimately condoned by the Court, were not done with the intent to deliver a full and honest discovery of the requested materials.  While the Court may have deemed such actions as legal, GDC’s document preparation methods raise many ethical implications, and could have clearly been used to destroy important information that Defendants here were entitled to.  Indeed, this method of refining interview summaries and information could have easily omitted details the defense may have found useful.  Doing so did not provide the defense with the transparent information they should have received by request; instead they had to make due with the GDC’s white-washing of the information.  In all, the GDC should have been more responsible and fair with the way it conducted and kept record of it’s interviews. This method of refining information can only seek to unfairly hurt their opposing counsel.  Garrett Keating received his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (2011) and majored in both Political Science and Public Policy and Law; he will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2016.  He has worked primarily in the legal fields of Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury, and Class Action law

In a Discovery Request, Can a Party Gain Autonomous Access to the Opposing Party’s Social Media Accounts? Not Necessarily, a Party Is Only Entitled To Discovery To the Extent That the Information Is Relevant To Litigation

This case involves an employment discrimination claim that the plaintiff, Anthony Smith, levied against his former employer, Hillshire Brands, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The plaintiff was an employee of Hillshire Brands and in a letter dated August of 2013, he was given time off of work under the FMLA until February of 2014, but Smith’s employment was terminated in September of 2013.  During the course of this suit, both parties became engaged in various discovery disputes, one of which is the subject of this order dated June 20, 2014. The defendant served the plaintiff with documents requests, which would show the plaintiff’s activity on social media websites. The defendant’s request was, Request No. 15: All documents constituting or relating in any way to any posting, blog, or other statement you made on or through any social networking website, including but not limited to Facebook.com, MySpace.com, Twitter.com, Orkut.com, that references or mentions in any way Hillshire and/or the matters referenced in your Complaint. Request No. 18: Electronic copies of your complete profile on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter (including all updates, changes, or modifications to your profile) and all status updates, messages, wall comments, causes joined, groups joined, activity streams, blog entries, details, blurbs, and comments for the period from January 1, 2013, to present. To the extent electronic copies are not available, please provide these documents in hard copy form. In response to these document requests, the plaintiff refused to provide his complete profile on social media websites because most of the information had no relevance to the defendant’s claims or defenses in this case. So, the defense filed a motion to compel and stated the social media profile could offer a diary of the plaintiff’s activities, thoughts, mental condition, and actions, which relate to the plaintiff’s claims for emotional distress. Also, the defendant claims the information stored in the plaintiff’s profile may provide insight as to whether the plaintiff abused his FMLA leave, which was cited as the reason for his termination. The legal standard for discovery requires that any information sought to be relevant. This seems ambiguous, but luckily, the Federal Rules of Evidence provide further details regarding what is relevant. Rule 26 requires any document requests to be tailored so that it appears to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The court here states that allowing the defendant unfettered access to the social media profiles of the plaintiff would allow the defense to case “too wide a net for relevant information.” The court here cites another case, Ogden v. All-Star Career School, 2014 WL 1646934, at *4 (D. Kan. 2014), which stated, Ordering plaintiff to permit access to or produce complete copies of his social networking 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. In addition to the problem of casting “too wide a net,” the court also stated that social network activity might not be as relevant to an emotional distress claim as one might think. The reason is that a severely depressed person may have a good day or several good days and choose to post about those days and avoid posting about moods more reflective of his or her actual emotional state. As a result of this analysis the court granted the defendant’s document request as it relates to only information that references the plaintiff’s emotional state and potential reasons for that emotional state. Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently Daniel is serving as counsel in the Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

Protection For Blogs Can Stop Discovery On Personal Blogger Information!

This case involves ACT, a career guidance service firm that assists job seekers throughout their job search, suing Daniel Drasin, the administrator of a blog known as Random Convergence. According to ACT, Drasin exercises editorial control over the blog. ACT complains that the blog disparage ACT's services and damages ACT's business and reputation. On March 11, 2013, Magistrate Judge Kristin Mix granted ACT's motion to serve third party subpoenas on Drasin, demanding that he produce the name and contact information for each of the people who posted disparaging remarks on Drasin’s blog. On April 18, 2013, Drasin, then self-represented, filed a third-party motion to quash the subpoenas, stating that they violated the bloggers’ rights to First Amendment right to anonymous speech. He also argued that most individuals who posted comments on the Blog did so anonymously, and he explained that he had no records of those who chose to remain anonymous. The court sided with Drasin and quashed the subpoena. The court found that the Subpoena imposes two types of burden on Drasin. First, in order to comply with the subpoena, Drasin must surrender his personal hard drives to ACT for up to thirty days. Personal computers generally cannot function without their hard drives, so this requirement would force Drasin to spend up to thirty days without the use of his personal computer. Second, forcing Drasin to surrender his hard drives to ACT would give ACT access to Drasin's personal files. Moreover, ACT has alternative means to obtain the information it seeks, such as serving a subpoena on Google. The court also found persuasive that the benefits of the Subpoena appear to be minimal, as there is no indication in the record that Drasin possesses any information that would be relevant in the Colorado Action beyond that which he has already provided. The takeaway message is that subpoenas can be quashed if discovery imposes an undue burden, if the information is irrelevant to the action, and if there are other avenues from which the information can be obtained.   Rebecca Hsu, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focuses her studies in the area of Patent Law, with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She is also certified in Healthcare Compliance, and has worked in Compliance at Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals, Inc.  Prior to law school, she graduated cum laude from UCLA and completed graduate work in Biomedical Science. She has co-authored two medical science research articles, as well as completed fellowships through UCLA Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In addition to awards for her academic achievements, Rebecca has been honored by awards for her community service with disadvantaged communities. In her spare time, Rebecca regularly practices outdoor rock climbing, and can be found camping in the Adirondacks. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

When Do Private, Personal Devices Become Discoverable During Litigation?

Last summer the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois decided a case that allows your old boss into your home.  Well . . . not literally.  Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown granted a motion to compel discovery for a plaintiff-employer over objection of defendant-employee.  The plaintiff, Network Cargo Systems U.S.A., Inc. claimed that its former employee, Caroline Pappas, stole proprietary technology and destroyed other electronic data upon termination.  Plaintiff denied the request, and consented to limited discovery.  After expedited discovery took place, plaintiff returned to the court requesting that an independent technology investigator be granted access to all of Ms. Pappas’s electronic devices. The court ordered defendant’s counsel to “determine what electronic devices [Pappas] used between 4/1/13 [2 months before termination] and 2/14/14 [the hearing date].” Network Cargo Sys. U.S.A., Inc. v. Pappas, No. 2014 WL 1856773 *2 (N.D. Ill. May 7, 2014).  A week later, counsel indicated six devices: two personal computers, an iPad, an iPhone, a Blackberry (which was returned to Network), and a work laptop provided by defendant’s new employer. After the court’s order, the parties agreed to split the cost of imaging three personal devices: the personal computers and the iPad.  Once the imaging was performed by the independent consultant, it was determined that three previously undisclosed flash drives had been connected to defendant’s personal computers during the relevant time frame.  Id.  The plaintiff demanded immediate access to those flash drives, as they may contain relevant evidence. The court agreed, even though the initial connection of the flash drives to the personal computers happened months after the employee was terminated from Network.   The court insisted that plaintiff pay the full cost of imaging the additional devices, though, stating “[t]he likelihood that Pappas was using these flash drives to transfer Network’s confidential information would seem to become more remote with the passage of time.” Id. at *3. Defendant Pappas was forced to turn over flash drives and personal computers.  While the target of the investigation is possible stolen proprietary material, through forensic imaging the independent consultant had access to each and every file on the device.  Perhaps Pappas can take solace in the fact that her iPhone wasn’t subject to discovery, as the device likely contains more sensitive data than just high scores to Candy Crush. Kevin received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Scranton (2009), and will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  Prior to joining the Seton Hall community, Kevin worked as an eDiscovery professional at two large “white-shoe” law firms in Manhattan. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Is An Employer Permitted To Monitor and Review An Employee’s Internet Activity and Usage?

On March 10, 20108, Marc Liebeskind began working at Rutgers Facilities Business Administration Department.  By March 28 of that year, Liebeskind was terminated for lacking the basic skill set needed to perform his job in addition to having a poor attitude while on the job. Liebeskind’s supervisors had suspected he was spending an unreasonable amount of time on non-work related activities on his work computer. Having doubts about Liebeskind’s work performance, his supervisors reviewed the browsing history on Liebeskind’s computer by using an application called IEHistoryView. It is important to note that this search only entailed browsing history, and there is no evidence that Liebeskind’s supervisors were granted any access to his personal or password-protected information and accounts. After his termination, Liebeskind filed suit against Rutgers University and his supervisors, claiming invasion of privacy, among other claims. On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, which ruling struck down all claims that Liebeskind’s privacy was violated as a result of his supervisors’ investigating the browser history on his computer. The appellate court referenced the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Stengart ruling, which had set the precedent for an employer’s right to monitor employee Internet activity and usage. Closely followed in previous eLessons Learned posts, the 2010 Stengart ruling held that an employee’s email communication with her attorney, using a company-issued computer, but via a personal, password-protected email account was held to be protected by the attorney-client privilege. However, the court’s decision to uphold Stengart’s privacy was not intended to forbid employers from monitoring employees’ actions on company-issued computers or devices in the future. In Stengart, New Jersey’s highest court stated: “Companies can adopt lawful policies relating to computer use to protect the assets, reputation, and productivity of a business and to ensure compliance with legitimate corporate policies.” As noted in Liebeskind, Rutgers’ “Acceptable Use Policy for Computing and Information Technology Resources” was in effect during the time of Liebeskind’s employment. This policy expressly stated that an employee’s privacy “may be superseded by the University’s requirement to protect the integrity of information technology resources, the rights of all users and the property of the University.” Additionally, Rutgers University “[r]eserve[d] the right to examine material stored on or transmitted through its facilities.” Unlike the findings in Stengart, the court established that Liebeskind did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” In addition, the court agreed that Rutgers had a “legitimate interest in monitoring and regulating plaintiff’s workplace computer.” All companies can learn from this case and the policies in place at Rutgers that protected its right to monitor and search an employee’s computer. One of the most important lessons to be learned here is the need for a written internet usage policy. At the very least, these written policies should mandate that employees are expected to use the Internet and their work issued computers for work related activities only. Additionally, the possible disciplinary actions for any violation of this policy should be made available to employees. As seen in in this case, the existence of an internet usage policy and the reserved right of a company to monitor its employee’s Internet activity is the key to eliminate an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

Want to Keep Your Dirty Laundry Private? Don’t Air It On An Employer-Issued Communications Device

Facts of the Case The employee in this case was not some floozy with limited knowledge of how the world works. Rather, he was a veteran sergeant of the Ontario, California, police force and a member of its S.W.A.T. team. In 2001, the Ontario Police Department (OPD) issued alpha-numeric pagers to his team in order to facilitate communications between members, which, as you can imagine, would be extremely useful in the field and efficient at the office. OPD then put in place a “Computer Usage, Internet and E–Mail Policy” which the employee signed a statement that said he had read and understood the policy. It expressly reserved the right to monitor all of the network activity, which included e-mail and Internet use. Additionally, the policy said that there should be no expectation of privacy when using the network. The problem was that the computer policy did not cover text messaging, at least expressly, since the pagers were contracted out to a company called Arch Wireless. Therefore, all communication passed through their network, and a copy of all communications was retained on their servers after delivery. However, the OPD made it clear to all of its employees, in a meeting that the employee attended, that the messages sent on the pagers were to be treated as e-mails, meaning that they were subject to the same computer policy. As it turned out, the employee exceeded his monthly text character allotment, almost immediately, and for a period of a few months. He paid for those overages, but the OPD decided that enough was enough. The police chief launched an investigation, ostensibly in order to determine whether the employees were being forced to pay out of pocket for overages on work-related messages due to an overly-restrictive character limit, or if the messages were personal. Transcripts of the messages from the previous 2 months were obtained, and revealed material that was personal, and some sexually explicit, in nature. The employee was then disciplined. Claims by the Employee The employee essentially brought two claims: 1) that the OPD violated the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and 2) his Fourth Amendment privacy rights, by obtaining and reviewing the transcripts of the messages. The first claims was not before the Supreme Court on its merits, since the lower court decided that Arch Wireless was forbidden to turn over the transcripts, and this was not contested. However, the Fourth Amendment claim was alive and well. As with most Fourth Amendment claims, the crux of the issue is whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy that was violated. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of people to secure against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government of their stuff. This has been applied to the government acting as an employer as well. The analysis of such claims, however, was the subject of dispute among the Supreme Court justices in a case called O’Connor v. Ortega. In that case, the plurality opinion of the Court said that the question of whether an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy is to be decided on a case-by-case basis. If there is an expectation of privacy, is an intrusion on that reasonable under the circumstances. Justice Scalia said that there is a blanket expectation of privacy for government employees, but the employers can search to retrieve work-related materials, etc. Here, the Court expressly punted the issue of whether there was, or is, an expectation of privacy for communications made on electronic equipment owned by a government employer. The Court cited the difficulty in predicting how the expectation of privacy will be shaped by the rapid changes in the dynamics of communication and information transmission. Instead, the Court cautioned “prudence” to avoid deciding this important issue, and instead decided the case without it. The Court stated that even if the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his messages, and therefore protected by the Fourth Amendment, the “search” done by OPD didn’t necessarily violate it. The “special needs” of the workplace were said to be an exception to the rule that all warrantless searches are automatically unreasonable. There was a reasonable ground for assuming that the search was necessary for a work-related purpose, not just to invade the employee’s privacy. Rather, their interest was to ensure the employees were not paying out of pocket for work-related expenses. Therefore the review of the transcripts was reasonable. Also, the employee should not have expected that his messages were going to remain private under all circumstances, since he was told that the messages were subject to auditing. Additionally, the scope of the search was reasonable as well, since it did not reveal the details of the employee’s life, since the private messages in the search sample were redacted. Ultimately, the sergeant should have known better than to air his dirty laundry on a government-issued communications device. Although the Court avoided deciding whether there is an expectation of privacy, they made it pretty clear that if there was a well-distributed policy, and if the review of the messages is ostensibly for work-related issues, that such a “search” will be permissible. Akiva Shepard received his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014. Akiva has worked for a New York State Supreme Court Judge in Kings County and for a NJ real estate firm. 

Does the Government Need a Warrant to Access Cell Phone Tracking Information? Third Circuit Says “No.”

Big Brother is always watching and listening.  If there’s one lesson to take away from the recent NSA scandals it’s that the government is not only capable of tracking your every digital move, but also acting on that capability.  Now, according to the Third Circuit, the government can use the broad language of the Stored Communications Act to force cell phone providers to turn over a criminal suspect’s phone’s historical location data. In a lengthy and drawn-out criminal investigation, the Third Circuit became the first federal court of appeals to decide a crucial issue that required balancing a cell phone user's privacy rights with a law enforcement agency’s needs to acquire potentially vital information.  The government attempted to use the Stored Communications Act to force a suspect's cell phone company to turnover cell site location information or CSLI.  Hoping to prevent an unjust and unwarranted intrusion or breach of a citizen's privacy expectations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a response in opposition to the government’s efforts.  The Third Circuit was then forced to determine whether or not the government could obtain this information without first establishing probable cause or acquiring a warrant. The information at issue in the matter is commonly kept by all phone companies and service providers as part of their routine business operations.  Every time a call is made via a cell phone, signals are transmitted via nearby cell phone towers.  These towers then collect and store data that can later be used to establish the general area where the individual was located when making the call at issue.  The information would not provide the exact location of the cell phone at the time of the call, but would instead allow the government to infer as to where the party where was located.  Even though this would seem like a minor distinction, in the eyes of the court it is incredibly important because it weakens any argument that the cell phone acts as a tracking device which would raise significant Fourth Amendment concerns under Supreme Court precedent. According to the exact language of the Stored Communications Act, a court can order the disclosure of this information if the government “offers specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of a wire or electronic communication, or other records or other information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”  18 U.S.C. § 2703.  The government argued that it met this burden because the information it was seeking was relevant and material to an investigation of narcotics trafficking and other violent crimes.  The EFF attempted to combat these claims by arguing that to obtain the information the government must obtain a warrant by establishing probable cause. Ultimately, however, the court held that the information was in fact obtainable by the government without a warrant or probable cause under the language of the Stored Communications Act.  According to the court, the Act’s language provided a specific test to determine whether an order granting the discovery of such information should be granted.  If Congress wanted to implement a warrant requirement, it could have specifically done so.  Instead, Congress chose the lesser standard of specific and articulable facts. The court, however, also went on to hold that the Act’s language actually granted a magistrate judge discretion as to whether or not to require a warrant showing probable cause.  Because the Act states that an order “may be issued” rather than requiring it, a judge deciding whether or not to allow access to such information could require a showing of probable cause. Additionally, the court established that a cell phone customer does not voluntarily share his or her location information with a service provider because the customer is probably unaware that their providers are in fact collecting and storing this historical information.     Although the Third Circuit’s holding is strictly limited to the collecting of historical cell phone location information, the decision ultimately has far-reaching consequences.  In the field of electronic discovery, privacy is an ongoing topic of debate, especially with the recent revelations of the massive amounts of data the government is in fact already collecting.  Because electronically stored information can provide a bevy of potentially vital information in easily manipulated formats, law enforcement agencies will continue to access it wherever possible.  Courts will continually be asked to balance individual privacy concerns with the broad policies of discovery. Jeffrey, a Seton Hall University School of Law graduate (Class of 2014), focused his studies primarily in the area of civil practice but has also completed significant coursework concerning the interplay between technology and the legal profession.  He was a cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut in 2011, where he received a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurial Management. 

To Shred or Not To Shred

“Follow the document policy!” Those were the words repeated many a time by Arthur Anderson to Enron’s employees during the pending SEC investigation. Those simple words led to a jury’s finding Anderson guilty of witness tampering through the act of persuading his employees to destroy relevant documents. The jury found Anderson guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(b)(2)(A) and (B), which makes it a crime to “knowingly us[e] intimidation or physical force, threate[n], or corruptly persuad[e] another person . . . with intent to . . . cause . . . ” that person to “withhold” documents from, or “alter” documents for use in, an “official proceeding.” The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision. However, the Supreme Court reversed this decision determining that the jury instructions were improper. The Court focused on “what it means to ‘knowingly . . . corruptly persuad[e]’ another person ‘with intent to ... cause’ that person to ‘withhold’ documents from, or ‘alter’ documents for use in, an ‘official proceeding.’” The Court held that this language required a proof of consciousness of wrongdoing. The Court additionally found that the jury instructions provided by the district court did not adequately outline the requirement for the consciousness of wrongdoing. Besides not including the proper intent, the district court also misapplied the “corruptly” definition by leaving out the word “dishonestly” and inputting “impede” in place of “subvert or undermine.” “These changes were significant. No longer was any type of “dishonest[y]” necessary to a finding of guilt, and it was enough for petitioner to have simply “impede[d] the Government's fact-finding ability.” In addition, the Court noted that jury instructions did not require any finding of a nexus between the “‘persua[sion]’ to destroy documents and any particular proceeding.” Even though it is illegal to directly persuade someone to destroy documents in the face of a pending litigation, the Court wanted to emphasize that there is a requirement of knowledge about both a pending proceeding and the materiality of the documents to be found guilty of violating the witness tampering statute. Overall, because of the inaccurate jury instructions, the Court here reversed the decision so another jury could hear the evidence along with proper instructions in making their decision. Though this decision seems to make some room to get out of the witness tampering statute, it is always best to have a proper document retention policy and to not persuade any form of destruction.

How Can You Check if Your Insurance Customer is Faking an Injury? Get Evidence Before Requesting Access to Their Social Media!

A growing trend in insurance disputes is a demand for insurers to have access to the claimant’s social media content.  In January 2013, the District of Montana had to consider whether to compel a woman to produce all of her social media photos.  The court did not grant this request and the decision serves as a good example of what is, or is not, an effective way to request this information. In Keller, one of the plaintiffs claimed she injured her head, neck, and back in an automobile accident when the vehicle she was driving was struck from behind. Her mother also suffered injuries in the accident.  At the time of the accident, they were insured under an automobile liability policy issued by the defendant. The plaintiffs made a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under the policy. The defendant, under Federal Rule 37, moved for an order compelling the plaintiffs to respond to discovery requests for the production of their social network site content.  The defendant’s rationale for the request was the plaintiffs alleged a “host of physical and emotional injuries.”  In respect to the mother, the defendant argued “there is no good reason for her to shield information that might shed light on her or her daughter's injuries.”  This is the language of the request: Request for Production No. 18: Please produce a full printout of all of Plaintiff [driver]’s social media website pages and all photographs posted thereon including, but not limited to, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Tagged, Meetup, myLife, Instagram and MeetMe from August 26, 2008 to the present. Request for Production No. 19: Please produce a full printout of all of Plaintiff’s [mother's] social media website pages and all photographs posted thereon including, but not limited to, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Tagged, Meetup, myLife, Instagram and MeetMe from August 26, 2008 to the present. As you can imagine, the court felt these requests were overbroad.  It is well settled that social media content is discoverable, but the requestor must make a threshold showing that publicly available information on those sites undermines the plaintiff’s claims.  The defendant did not come forward with any evidence that the content of either of the plaintiffs’ public postings in any way undermined their claims in this case. Absent such a showing, the defendant was not entitled to delve carte blanche into the nonpublic sections of the laintiffs' social networking accounts, let alone all of them. This case should serve as a lesson to other insurance litigants.  You should only request access to social media accounts if you can make a threshold showing that the social media content will be relevant and hold admissible evidence.  Otherwise you will rightly be admonished for undergoing a “fishing expedition” and your requests will be promptly denied.

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