Seeking Emotional Distress Damages Does Not Automatically Make Social Media Posts Relevant and Discoverable, Court Holds

In Thurmond v. Bowman, No. 14-CV-6465W, 2016 WL 1295957 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2016), a Fair Housing Act case, the court discussed the discoverability of social media evidence in connection with a claim for emotional distress damages.

From the decision:

I disagree that the entirety of a plaintiff’s social media account is per se relevant to any claim for emotional distress damages. Of course, within the specific factual context of a given case, social media postings may be relevant to particular claims or defenses, including where social media posts may contradict claims of physical or emotional injury. … That said, a plaintiff’s entire social networking account is not necessarily relevant simply because he or she is seeking emotional distress damages. As some courts have cautioned, the relationship of routine expressions of mood [in a social media posting] to a claim for emotional distress damages is much more tenuous [than the relationship between a post reflecting engagement in a physical activity to a claim for physical injury damages]. … [B]ecause social networking websites enable users to craft a desired image to display to others, social scientists have posited that outside observers can misinterpret that impression[]. Moreover, routine status updates and/or communications on social networking websites are not, as a general matter, relevant to [a] claim for emotional distress damages, nor are such communications likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence regarding the same.”10 Id. For these reasons, many courts have declined to order wholesale production of a litigant’s social media accounts.

Applying the law, the court denied defendants’ motions for sanctions (based on plaintiff’s apparent deletion of posts her Facebook page) and for a preliminary injunction enjoining plaintiff from accessing her social media accounts during the litigation.