A recent case out of Indiana ruled that a bullied student was not compelled to produce all of his social media content in a suit against his school district.
While he attended Lake Central High School, plaintiff endured being bullied, and later alleged that the school district was complicit in allowing his mistreatment, which caused physical and emotional damages. The Defendant school district “served the plaintiffs with Interrogatories, Requests for Production, and Requests for Admissions.” Plaintiffs answered portions of the requests but withheld undisclosed portions of his “Facebook profile, music, videos, withheld recordings in the plaintiff’s possession, and a privilege log.”
According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may “obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things.” Plaintiff argued that his production was sufficient and in accordance with FRCP 26. On the other hand:
“Defendants argue that they are entitled to full disclosure of [plaintiff’s] social media records because it relates to his claims of bullying and harassment and that the discovery requests seek information that is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
The court compared this case with E.E.O.C. v. Simply Storage Management, LLC, and noted that for documents produced in discovery must be relevant. The court decided that the scope of relevance in this case should be:
“any profiles, postings, or messages… for the relevant time period “that reveal, refer, or relate to any emotion, feeling, or mental state, as well as communications that reveal, refer, or relate to events that could reasonably be expected to produce a significant emotion, feeling, or mental state.””
This is an incredibly vague statement: how many comments completely lack emotion? The court held that the materials previously produced by the plaintiff were satisfactory, except for one piece of withheld information: “an ‘official music video’ called ‘Y.G.R.N.’ by ‘doctaa D.’” FRCP 34(b)(1)(A) “requires that a request for electronically stored information “must describe with reasonable particularity each item or category of items to be inspected.”” The court decided that the defendants had met their burden and plaintiffs must produce the music video in discovery.
The case serves as a reminder that while social media posts are discoverable, parties cannot just request everything without any parameters. Yet, by the same token, the rule from this case seems too vague to escape future challenges.