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Locke v. Swift Transportation Company of Arizona, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

February 4, 2019



          Lanny King, Magistrate Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Swift Transportation Company and Tevin Davis' motion to compel production of information and documentation related to the online activities, particularly the Facebook and others social media accounts of Plaintiff, Tiffany Locke, to which the Plaintiff responded in opposition; and Defendants replied. (R. 24, 30, 31). The Court referred the matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for ruling on all discovery motions. (R. 16 at 1).

         In their interrogatories and requests for production, Defendants requested a record of Plaintiff's social media activities, including a download of Plaintiff's Facebook account, for April 26, 2016 and the six month period afterwards relating to “Plaintiff's activities or mental status.” (R. 24-2)[1]. Plaintiff objected to these discovery requests on the basis of relevance and proportionality. (Id.) As required before filing any discovery motion, Defendants requested and obtained a joint telephonic conference. (R.16). Participating in the conference were Mr. Matthew Wright for the Plaintiff and Mr. Stockard R. Hickey, III, for the Defendants. During that conference, the Court granted Defendants leave to file a motion to compel. (R. 23).

         This court recently addressed a similar dispute in Roach v. Hughes, et al, 4:13-CV-00136-JHM-HBB, Docket #12 (W.D. Ky. May 7, 2014). In Roach, Magistrate Judge Brennenstuhl found that certain parts of social media activity are discoverable, provided there is a sufficiently specific reason for the discoverability of the information. The Court finds the legal analysis in Roach is appropriate for this case and the Court will GRANT Defendants' motion (R. 24) in part, and DENY it, in part.

         Governing Legal Standards

         I. Discovery under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 is broad in scope, with relevance being the determining factor in discoverability of information.

         The scope of discovery is necessarily broad with any information tending to shed light on the claims of any party being within the scope. “[T]he scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Information need not be admissible to be discoverable. Id.

         Relevance, like the scope of discovery, is necessarily broad. Any information that bears upon the likelihood of any issue that is or is likely to be raised in the case is relevant for purposes of discovery. “Relevant material for the purpose of discovery will encompass any matter that may bear upon, or reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear upon, any issue that is or likely may be raised in the case.” Roach, supra, (citing Invesco Institutional, Inc. v. Pass, 244 F.R.D. 374, 380 (W.D. Ky. 2007)). Stated differently, “a request for discovery should be considered to be seeking relevant information if there is any possibility that the information sought may be relevant to the claim or defense of any party in the action.” Id., (citing Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Kirk's Tire & Auto Servicenter, 211 F.R.D. 658, 663 (D. Kan. 2003)).

         Notably, “[t]he federal courts, even after the amendment of rule 26(b) in 2000 [to add a proportionality requirement], have continued to hold that ‘[r]elevance for the purpose of rule 26 is broadly construed.'” Id., (quoting Jade Trading, LLC v. United States, 655 Fed.Cl. 188, 190-91 (2005).

         The relevance benchmark does not allow for unlimited intrusions into private information. The “desire to allow broad discovery is not without limits and the trial court is given wide discretion in balancing the need and rights of both plaintiff and defendant.” T.C. ex rel. S.C. v. Metro Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 2018 WL 3348728 at *5 (M.D. Tenn. July 9, 2018) (quoting Scales v. J.C. Bradford and Co., 925 F.2d 901, 906 (6th Cir. 1991)). The Court has broad discretion when deciding upon the burdens and benefits of a proposed discovery motion. Surles ex rel. Johnson v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 305 (6th Cir. 2007).

         II. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34, the information requested must be described with “reasonable particularity.”

         Not all relevant information is within the scope of discovery. To be within the scope, the information requested must be described with “reasonable particularity” and must be “proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a-b). A party must be able to understand the information requested of it. “The test for reasonable particularity is whether the request places a party upon ‘reasonable notice of what is called or and what is not.'” Roach, supra, (Mailhoit v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 285 F.R.D. 566, 570 (C.D. Cal. 2012) (quoting Parsons v. Jefferson-Pilot Corp., 141 F.R.D. 408, 412 (M.D. N.C. 1992)). “All-encompassing demands that do not allow a reasonable person to ascertain which documents are required do not meet the particularity standard of Rule 34(b)(1)(A).” Roach, supra, (citing, In re Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. VI), 256 F.R.D. 151, 157 (E.D. Pa. 2009)).

         III. Discovery of Social Networking Site Content is still a novel and evolving issue under federal law.

         Social networking site content (“SNS”) is subject to discovery under Rule 34. To fall within the scope of discovery, SNS information must meet the relevance standard, and the burden of discovering the information must be proportional to the needs of the case. Put simply, social media ...

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