Recently, a New York City public school teacher nearly lost her job after posting derogatory remarks on her private Facebook page about hating her students, whom she called “devil[‘]s spawns.” Although a hearing officer concluded that her employment should be terminated, the Supreme Court vacated that decision, which a unanimous panel of the Appellate Division affirmed.
Federal Judge in New Jersey Issues Adverse Inference Instruction Due to Plaintiff’s Failure to Preserve Facebook Information in Personal Injury Action
Recently, a federal judge in New Jersey imposed sanctions for a personal injury plaintiff’s failure to preserve his Facebook account. The Court concluded that it was “beyond dispute that Plaintiff had a duty to preserve his Facebook account,” and granted the defendant’s motion for an adverse inference instruction. The plaintiff allegedly suffered serious injuries at work, which purportedly left him permanently disabled, unable to work, and limited in his “physical and social activities.” The defendants sought the plaintiff’s Facebook information, alleging it related to damages, but the plaintiff declined to provide an authorization form for Facebook. During a settlement conference, the Magistrate Judge ordered the plaintiff to execute the appropriate form, and the plaintiff agreed to change his account password to allow defense counsel to access his Facebook page. Defense counsel then accessed his account and printed portions of the plaintiff’s Facebook page.
Magistrate Judge Orders Production of Social Media Discovery But Fashions Novel Protocol Designed to Protect Privacy Concerns
Where the requesting party makes a threshold showing of relevance, courts now routinely grant discovery of social media notwithstanding so-called “privacy objections.” Indeed, as one court recently noted, there is “no principled reason to articulate different standards for the discoverability of communications through email, text message, or social media platforms.” But on November 7, 2012, in EEOC v. Original Honeybaked Ham Co., Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado ordered all class members to produce social media discovery to the defendant subject to what the EEOC ultimately called a “somewhat unusual procedure.”
As we reported in the Gibbons E-Discovery Law Alert in May 2012, “Reg FD” could present a potential pitfall for those that post material non-public information via social media platforms. In early December 2012, that “pitfall” became a reality for Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings. In July 2012 Hastings published on his public Facebook page a 43-word post concerning viewership statistics, including that Netflix subscribers had watched one billion hours of video the previous month.
A recent decision in California, Mailhoit v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc. et al., Civ. No. 11-03892 (D.E. 105, C.D. Cal. Sept. 7, 2012) reiterates the limits to which social media information is discoverable. Consistent with Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) and 34, the Court made clear in the context of a motion to compel that “discovery requests for social networking site content must be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and describe the information to be produced with ‘reasonable particularity.'”
As followers of this blog know, we often bring you updates regarding the ever-changing world of social media, in particular, how it affects attorney ethics or judicial proceedings, or how it is used by financial services industry participants. Here, as the closing ceremonies for this year’s London Olympics have recently ended, we pause to reflect how the popularity of social media has “changed the game,” resulting in the world’s first “Social Media Olympics.”
The New York City Bar Association’s Formal Opinion 2012-2 examines whether ethical restrictions apply to attorneys who use search engines or social media websites for the purpose of researching jurors. While the Opinion does not oppose such research (provided no communication between an attorney and potential or sitting juror occurs), it broadly interprets “communication.” Although a “friend request” would obviously constitute a communication, the Opinion struggles with whether an inadvertent or unknowing notification or message to the juror, which was triggered by the attorney’s attempt to view a page or comments (such as what can occur when one views a person’s LinkedIn™ profile), should also be treated as a communication and thereby prohibited. Ultimately, the Opinion “takes no position” on that issue and instead, cautions attorneys to understand the technology at issue, refrain from engaging in deception to gather information, and promptly report any discoveries of juror misconduct that are gleaned from the research.
Having recognized the challenges regarding jurors’ use of social media in the courtroom, the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management requested that the Federal Judicial Center (“FJC”) survey district court judges to identify effective mechanisms to curtail this growing problem. In response, the FJC queried 952 district judges and issued Jurors’ Use of Media During Trials and Deliberations, which demonstrates that despite the various strategies devised, it is virtually impossible to prevent jurors’ use of social media and is equally difficult to detect each and every impropriety. This issue is not novel; in fact, this blog has previously reported on instances where jurors’ use of social media had a significant impact on a proceeding as well as suggestions on how to avoid such pitfalls. Click here for those postings.
Lester v. Allied Part 2: “Clean Up” of Compromising Social Media Evidence Can Result in Severe Sanctions
Though some practitioners might be in denial, the follow-up sanctions orders in Lester v. Allied Concrete Co. et al. dated May 27, 2011 and September 23, 2011 should leave no room for doubt that preservation of social media is as important as any other electronic data or discovery. Similarly, the penalty for intentionally destroying such evidence may reach beyond the purse strings.
Ooops, They Did it Again — Jurors Continue to Improperly Use the Internet, and Courts Struggle with Solutions
All over the country, courts are struggling with how best to prevent juror communications and/or research on the Internet, including on social media such as Facebook. What’s the solution? Thus far, there is no clear answer, as evidenced by a recent New Jersey case in which a juror dodged sanctions for contempt after researching a child sex-crime case involving a former pastor on the Internet — even after being instructed to refrain from such Internet research.