COURTS OF COMMON PLEAS

CIVIL PRACTICE

Discovery • Social Networking Web Site • Motion to Compel • Relevant Information

Arcq v. Fields, PICS Case No. 11-4637 (C.P. Franklin Dec. 7, 2011) Herman, J. (6 pages).

The court denied defendants’ motion to compel information about plaintiff from social networking Web sites since defendants failed to show any reasonable basis for believing that access to plaintiff’s profiles would yield any information relevant to this case. Motion to compel denied.

Plaintiff and defendant Robert R. Fields were involved in a motor vehicle accident on June 26, 2006. Thereafter, plaintiff filed this negligence action against Fields and his employer, Groves US LLC, seeking damages for the personal injuries he suffered in the accident.

Here, the court of common pleas considered defendants’ motion to compel information from plaintiff’s social networking Web site profiles. Defendants sought information about plaintiff contained in social networking profiles such as MySpace, FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

As the court observed, plaintiff stated at a deposition that he was incapable of participating in certain activities as a result of the accident. Defendants’ motion alleged that “[p]laintiff has put his medical, physical, mental, and social conditions at issue in this case.”

The court noted the void of either binding or persuasive authority on the issue, but considered certain cases which provided guidance, including McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway Inc. , 2010 WL 4403285 (C.P. Jefferson Sept. 9, 2010), and Zimmerman v. Weis Markets , 2011 WL 2065410 (C.P. Northumberland May 19, 2011). Defendants sought to compel plaintiff to grant them access to his social networking profiles in light of the reasoning contained in these and other cases. “We find that there lies one glaring, distinguishing factor that prevents us from doing so: Defendant’s request is not the result of viewing the public portion of Plaintiff’s profile[,]” the court stated.

The court emphasized that in the cases cited by defendants, the parties had viewed the public portion of the opposing parties’ social networking profile, which contained relevant information and, thus, had some reason to believe that the private portion might contain information as well.

The requests at issue in such cases were reasonably calculated to yield information that would lead to admissible evidence. By contrast, defendants in this case had not alleged any basis for believing that plaintiff’s social networking profiles contained any information relevant to this case.

In fact, defendants did not even seem certain that plaintiff was a member of any social networking Web sites, the court observed. As such, it did not appear that defendants had any basis upon which to seek such information.

“While it is not an absolute necessity that a plaintiff have a public profile before a defendant can be given access to the private portion, it is necessary that defendant have some good faith belief that the private profile may contain information.”

Since defendants had no reason to believe so, the court denied defendants’ motion to compel. The court also distinguished its holding from that in Largent v. Reed , No. 2009-1823 (C.P. Franklin Nov. 8, 2011), wherein the court held that no privilege exists to protect information on a social networking profile.