In previous posts, the contributors to this blog have commented on the ever-changing status of Pennsylvania law regarding whether a defendant is entitled to gain access to a plaintiff’s Facebook pages. In the most recent decision on this issue, Judge William J. Manfredi of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas denied a defendant’s request for access to a plaintiff’s Facebook pages. Martin v. Allstate Fire and Cas. Ins. Co., No. 110402438 (C.P. Phila, Dec. 13, 2011).
At first glance, this decision seems to be a huge win for plaintiff’s, cutting against the growing trend in Pennsylvania of allowing access to social media websites. However, upon closer inspection, this may not be the case. Judge Manfedi’s ruling seems to center around the fact that the defendant failed to identify any information contained on the plaintiff’s Facebook site that would warrant further discovery. In other words, this ruling will not serve to prevent defendants from gaining access to Facebook where they are able to identify such information.
The bottom line is it is still incredibly important to be careful what you post on Facebook and also to monitor what is being posted about you. A seemingly innocent post by a friend on your wall or a comment on a photo may be enough to allow a defendant to gain full access to your Facebook site. It is also advisable to adjust your Facebook privacy settings to limit the amount of information that is visible to the public.
At Stark & Stark, we always make it a point to discuss the use of Facebook, and other social mediums, during our initial client interview and intake process. We counsel our clients to be very careful as to what they post on these sites and remind them that this information could be obtained by the defendants. We also instruct our clients not delete or alter any existing posts.
In previous posts, I have written about the ever-evolving status of Facebook discovery in Pennsylvania. To briefly summarize, Pennsylvania Courts have generally held that the party seeking discovery of Facebook contents must make a threshold showing of relevance that an individual’s Facebook account is likely to contain relevant information before conducting further discovery. Such a showing is most commonly made through the discovery of relevant information within an individual’s public Facebook profile. A recent decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania lends some clarity regarding the limits of Facebook discovery even after a threshold showing of relevance has been made.
In the case of In re Milo’s Kitchen Dog Treats, Civil Action No. 12-1011 (WD PA 2015), a class of Plaintiffs alleged that their dogs were harmed by treats manufactured by Milo’s. One such Plaintiff, Lisa Mazur, posted a Facebook entry on her public profile in which she allegedly blamed another manufacturer’s dog treat for the harm to her dog. Upon discovering this, Defendants sought further information from Mazur’s private Facebook profile.