Pa. courts weigh in on social media

Two judges deny access to private pages
December 26, 2011 12:00 am

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Two Pennsylvania courts recently denied defense motions asking for access to plaintiffs' private social media pages, apparently evening up the social media scoreboard and giving plaintiffs some case law to counter a trio of opposing decisions.

In one case, a Franklin County judge denied an auto-accident defendant's motion asking for access to the plaintiff's social media pages because the request did not stem from information found on the plaintiff's public profile.

It appears to be the first decision in Pennsylvania to deal with social media discovery in which the defendant could not point to content available for anyone to see.

In the second case, a Luzerne County judge denied a defendant insurance company's request to gain access to its opponent's private Facebook and Myspace pages, but ordered the plaintiff not to delete the websites or any of the content.

The Franklin County decision, entered by President Judge Douglas W. Herman this month, and the Luzerne County ruling, which came without an opinion from Judge Joseph Van Jura, seem to buck a trend in which trial judges in the state favored similar defense motions.

Three courts have now ruled in favor of the party seeking discovery and three have found for the responding party. In every case, the party moving for discovery was the defendant.

In a four-page opinion in Arcq v. Fields, Judge Herman distinguished the ruling from another recent decision out of Franklin County.

In Largent v. Reed last month, the defendant established a basis for requesting access to the plaintiff's private Facebook page because of information available on the public page.

In that case, the information was a status update about going to the gym and pictures of the plaintiff "enjoying life with her family."

The decision becomes important because, absent such evidence to trigger discovery, the court has denied any private probe.

The ruling stemmed from an auto-accident in which plaintiff James A. Arcq alleged defendant Robert R. Fields was negligent. Mr. Arcq is seeking damages for continuing medical care, disfigurement, infertility and other ailments. He is also suing Fields' employer, Groves US LLC, according to Judge Herman.

Ben Present: bpresent@alm.com or 215-557-2315
First Published 2012-02-09 18:45:26
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