APPLER v. MEAD JOHNSON & COMPANY, LLC
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 23 Motion for Protective Order. Appler will have thirty (30) days from this entry to respond to Mead Johnson's permitted Request. See Order for specifics. Signed by Magistrate Judge William G. Hussmann, Jr., on 9/24/2015. (NRN)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
LORI B. APPLER
MEAD JOHNSON & COMPANY, LLC
d/b/a MEAD JOHNSON and d/b/a
MEAD JOHNSON NUTRITIONALS,
ENTRY ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER
Plaintiff, Lori B. Appler (“Appler”), has sued Defendant, Mead Johnson
Company, LLC (“Mead Johnson”). Appler accuses Mead Johnson of unlawful
employment actions causing Appler to suffer numerous injuries. In response to
three of Mead Johnson’s interrogatory requests, Appler has filed a Motion for
Protective Order to limit the scope of discovery regarding Appler’s social media
accounts and activities. (Filing No. 23). The matter is fully briefed. (Filing No.
24; Filing No. 27; Filing No. 29). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff
Appler’s motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
On December 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint against Defendant,
alleging causes of action for violation of the ADA/ADAAA; for violation of the
ERISA; for retaliation; and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Plaintiff agreed to dismiss and no longer pursue her ERISA claim.
As to the remaining claims, Plaintiff contends she was fired because of
her narcolepsy or other sleep disorder and that Defendant refused to engage in
an interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations as required
by the ADA/ADAAA. In terms of damages for her emotional distress claim,
Plaintiff only claims garden-variety emotional distress as opposed to severe and
ongoing emotional distress.
Defendant is seeking, through interrogatories, to obtain Plaintiff’s social
media activity. Plaintiff objects to these requests as being overly broad and
burdensome. The interrogatories at issue are as follows:
Interrogatory No. 44: Provide all messages, photographs or
videos posted by Plaintiff, or by anyone on her behalf regarding
Defendant or any employees or former employees of Defendant on
any social networking site including, but not limited to, Facebook,
MySpace, LinkedIn, Vine, etc.
Interrogatory No. 45: Provide copies of any and all online
profiles, postings, messages (including, without limitation, tweets,
replies, retweets, direct messages, status updates, wall comments,
groups joined, activity streams and blog entries) photographs,
videos, and online communications that:
(a) refer or relate to the allegations set forth in the Complaint;
(b) refer or relate to any facts or defenses raised in the Answer;
(c) reveal, refer or relate to any emotion, feeling or mental state
in the last five (5) years; or
(d) reveal, refer or relate to events that could reasonably be
expected to produce a significant emotion, feeling, or
Interrogatory No. 46: Produce a download of Plaintiff’s
complete Facebook Profile. To do so, go to the Account Settings page
(arrow button located next to the “Home” button) and click the
“Download Your Information” button (located at the bottom of the
general settings page). Once the page loads, click the “Start My
Archive” button. Once Facebook verifies Plaintiff’s identity, an email
will be sent to Plaintiff advising that a zip file is ready for download.
Once the zip file is received, please produce it to Defendant. Plaintiff
is hereby put on notice that deleting anything from her account from
this point forward (including but not limited to posts, status
updates, mail messages, photographs, friends, links, etc.) is
considered spoliation of evidence and Plaintiff’s counsel has an
ethical obligation to ensure that all evidence is preserved.
Additionally, noting the fact that portions of Plaintiff’s profile might
be publically available is an insufficient response to this Request.
(Filing No. 24 at EFC p. 3-4). The Defendant also mentioned Interrogatory No.
10 in its response brief. (Filing No. 27 at EFC p. 2). But Plaintiff does not
mention this in her brief, and it seems that while Plaintiff has objected in her
response, she has also provided an adequate answer. Therefore, Interrogatory
No. 10 will not be discussed further.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 dictates that parties engage in broad,
liberal discovery encompassing
any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or
defense—including the existence, description, nature, custody,
condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things
and the identity and location of persons who know of any
discoverable matter. For good cause, the court may order discovery
of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.
Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the
discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).
Social media content presents a unique challenge for courts due to its
relative novelty and their ability to be shared by someone besides the original
poster, and the multifarious privacy settings that may be constructed to allow
specifically limited viewing. Nonetheless, a court may compel production of a
party’s Facebook information if the party seeking disclosure makes a threshold
relevance showing. See Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Simply Storage
Mgmt., LLC, 270 F.R.D. 430, 434-35 (S.D. Ind. 2010) (“EEOC”); Potts v. Dollar
Tree Stores, Inc., 2013 WL 1176504 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 20, 2013); Tompkins v.
Detroit Metro. Airport, 287 F.R.D. 387, 388 (E.D. Mich. 2012).
The challenge arises in applying traditional discovery rules and
standards to the new amorphous context that is social media. While the
relevancy bar for discoverable content is liberal, it is not limitless; the basic
limits of discovery still apply. Mailhoit v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 285 F.R.D.
566, 571 (C.D. Cal. 2012) (discovery requests should “put a ‘reasonable person
of ordinary intelligence’ on notice of which specific documents or information
would be responsive to the request, [in order] to satisfy Rule 34(b)(1)(A)'s
requirement that production requests be stated with reasonable particularity”);
Simply Storage, 270 F.R.D. at 434 (“Discovery of SNS [social networking sites]
requires the application of basic discovery principles in a novel context”);
Davenport v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 3:11-CV-632-J-JBT, 2012 WL
555759, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 21, 2012) (A request for discovery [of SNS
content] must still be tailored . . . so that it ‘appears reasonably calculated to
lead to the discovery of admissible evidence”) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1)).
The court must evaluate each of the Interrogatories at issue to fully rule
on Plaintiff’s Motion for Protective Order. Each concerns the same competing
issues of discovery and privacy, but the relevancy, burden, and over breadth
analysis differs for each—as does the court’s finding.
Interrogatory No. 44
Because this request is limited to SNS content that involved Defendant
and Defendant’s employees, the request in Interrogatory No. 44 is narrowly
tailored enough to pass muster. It is limited to clearly target content that is
relevant and that will lead to admissible evidence. This request is very similar
to requests that other courts have held were proper and permissible. See e.g.
Mailhoit, 285 F.R.D. at 572 (“Category 3, which requests all SNS
communications ‘between Plaintiff and any current or former Home Depot
employees, or which in any way refer . . . to her employment at Home Depot or
this lawsuit,’ adequately places Plaintiff on notice of the materials to be
produced and is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible
Although the request is not explicitly limited by time, it is inherently
limited by the time Plaintiff had contact with Defendant and its employees and
by the time she was employed by them. Plaintiff has also not alleged that
production will be unduly burdensome, and it does not on its face appear so.
Therefore I will not consider this as a potential reason to reject the request.
Plaintiff’s request for a Protective Order as it relates to Interrogatory No. 44 is
Interrogatory No. 45
As worded, this Interrogatory seems to ask “the Plaintiff (or her counsel)
to scour the world wide web and find [nearly any and all SNS content that
concerns] . . . this case no matter who posted, tweeted or blogged about this
case.” (Filing No. 24 at EFC p. 3-4). The scope of the request is extremely vague
Subpart (a) asks the Plaintiff to produce SNS content that “refer[s] or
relate[s] to any facts or defenses raised in the Complaint,” and subpart (b) asks
for the same with regard to the Answer. To respond to this, Plaintiff would have
to produce all SNS content that may somehow be relevant to its own case, but
also to sift through Defendant’s Answer and produce all SNS content that was
implicated by Defendant’s responses and general denials. This is not an
appropriate burden to shift to the Plaintiff through discovery. It does not
provide fair notice of what is required and asks for far beyond what is
Further, other courts have seen and rejected requests similar to those
made in subparts (c) and (d). I agree with these courts and echo their
sentiments. As the court in Mailhoit said, this type of request could lead to the
production of ridiculously irrelevant SNS content:
[While requests for SNS content] relating to “any emotion,” could be
understood to encompass only communications containing specific
emotive words (which the request does not identify), the category
would still arguably require the production of many materials of
doubtful relevance, such as a posting with the statement “I hate it
when my cable goes out.” The second part of the category, which
seeks communications relating to “events” that could “reasonably be
expected to produce a significant emotion,” is similarly vague and
overbroad. Arguably, watching a football game or a movie on
television is an “event” that may produce some sort of “significant
emotion,” but it is unclear whether Plaintiff would be required to
produce messages relating to such activities.
285 F.R.D. at 571-72.
Interrogatory No. 45 is not a reasonable discovery task for Plaintiff to
undertake. See e.g. Mailhoit, 285 F.R.D. at 571-72 (“Without more specific
guidance, Category 1 is not “reasonably particular.” . . . Defendant fails to
make the “threshold showing” that the request at issue is reasonably
calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence”). This request is too
vague to fairly put Plaintiff on notice of what needs to be produced and is
“cast[ing] too wide a net for any information that may be relevant and
discoverable.” Mackelprang, No. 2:06-CV-00788-JCM, at *7. Further, I am not
persuaded that the request rationally seeks relevant evidence, especially in
relation to the enormous burden of production that the request would put on
Plaintiff.1 As a result, this request falls far from the standards required by Rule
While the most recent amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure will not take effect until
December, 2015, I find the new language of Rule 26(b)(1) to be instructive, if not yet binding
legal authority. That language will say, in part, that “Parties may obtain discovery . . .
proportional to the needs of the case, considering . . . whether the burden or expense of the
proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.”
It is possible to imagine a more narrowly tailored version of this
request—perhaps one that addressed only content authored by the Plaintiff
and was limited to a reasonable amount of time—that would be permissible.
Interrogatory 45 as written, however, is far from such a request. Resultantly,
Plaintiff’s request for a Protective Order as it relates to Interrogatory No. 45 as
currently drafted is GRANTED.
Interrogatory No. 46
Interrogatory No. 46 asks for “a download of Plaintiff’s complete
Facebook Profile.” (Filing No. 24 at EFC p. 3-4). The request goes on to provide
instructions for making such a production. The process is undeniably simple,
and far from burdensome. The process takes a few minutes, and one simply
waits for a download to complete, at which time one receives an email. There is
essentially no cost involved in making the production, especially assuming that
an electronic version could be produced rather than a hard copy printed. The
download comes already separated into categories and files of a user’s Profile
There is no way to limit what is downloaded by content type or time. Any
limitation in that regard would need to be done manually after the download is
complete, by deleting categories or by screening each category of data and
deleting sections. While limiting the content produced may preserve some of
Plaintiff’s privacy, it will cost her in the time and money spent editing for the
sake of those preservations. Redaction of information is where a burden of
production would arise. See e.g. Stallings v. City of Johnston City, No. 13-CV422-DRH-SCW, 2014 WL 2061669, at *3 (S.D. Ill. May 19, 2014) (“Stallings
states it took an attorney and a paralegal one week to print, redact, and
compile the 500 pages of Stallings' Facebook activity.”).
Discovery of an entire Facebook Profile pits two competing ideas of
privacy and discovery rights against each other. On the one hand, “SNS
content is neither privileged nor protected by any right of privacy,” which would
suggest it should be discoverable. Davenport, 2012 WL 555759 at *1. Yet, on
the other hand, a “Defendant does not have a generalized right to rummage at
will through information that Plaintiff has limited from public view.” Tompkins
v. Detroit Metro. Airport, 278 F.R.D. 387, 388 (E.D. Mich. 2012). Since the
entire download and production of Plaintiff’s Facebook profile would include a
lot of information not available to the public (and would even include
information not readily accessible to the Plaintiff without her independent
production of this download), consideration of her privacy interests becomes
This is not to say that content set to certain high privacy standards is
foreclosed from discovery. To the contrary, courts have decided that even
“material posted on a “private” Facebook page . . . is generally not privileged,
nor is it protected by common law or civil law notions of privacy.” Tompkins,
278 F.R.D. at 388. Even personal diaries “are discoverable if they contain
relevant information regarding contemporaneous mental states and
impressions of parties.” Zakrzewska v. New School, 2008 WL 126594, at *2
(S.D.N.Y.2008) (granting discovery of plaintiff's diary because “it would be
unfair . . . to permit a plaintiff claiming emotional distress to block discovery of
facts that may shed important light on whether any emotional distress actually
was suffered”); Rexford v. Olczak, 176 F.R.D. 90, 93 (W.D.N.Y.1997) (finding
Defendant entitled to obtain Plaintiff's diary where her “contemporaneous
account of meetings, conversations and other events central to the issues of
this case provide relevant evidence that may be useful”).
Rather uniquely, this case also has facts that would make a substantial
production of Plaintiff’s SNS content more relevant than normal. There have
been cases in the past that dealt with production of SNS content in order to
provide evidence of mental and emotional health, which is at issue here. See
e.g. Simply Storage, 270 F.R.D. at 436 (“For example, pictures of the claimant
taken during the relevant time period and posted on a claimant's profile will
generally be discoverable because the context of the picture and the claimant's
appearance may reveal the claimant's emotional or mental status.”). Courts,
including this one, have allowed the production of SNS content to evince a
Plaintiff’s mental stages and changes in it when that is at issue. See e.g.
Higgins v. Koch Dev. Corp., No. 3:11-CV-81-RLY-WGH, 2013 WL 3366278, at *2
(S.D. Ind. July 5, 2013) (finding it reasonable that Plaintiff’s “Facebook content
may reveal relevant information as to the extent their injuries have impacted
their ‘enjoyment of life, ability to engage in outdoor activities, and
employment,’” and since Plaintiff’s “losses in these areas directly impacts [sic]
the appropriate damages award, the court finds this information relevant” to
discovery); Ogden v. All-State Career Sch., 299 F.R.D. 446, 449 (W.D. Pa. 2014)
(citing to Mackelprang v. Fid. Nat. Title Agency of Nevada, Inc., No. 2:06-CV00788-JCM, 2007 WL 119149, at *8 (D. Nev. Jan. 9, 2007)) (“The court . . . also
ruled that the defendant was entitled to discover information relevant to the
Plaintiff's alleged emotional distress and her mental condition, which she had
placed at issue in the case. The court observed that the proper method for
obtaining such information was to serve limited requests for production . . .”).
Since plaintiff’s mental and emotional state are a factual issue in this case,
production of at least some SNS content would be reasonable, as it would
reveal evidence relevant to factual disputes in the case.
But here, the Plaintiff’s narcolepsy and inability to be at work by a
certain early morning time are also at issue. A full production of Plaintiff’s
Facebook Profile would reveal the times she is active online, so obviously
awake. Though it may not be dispositive evidence of Plaintiff’s ability to be at
work by the earlier times (as she claims she was unable to do because of her
narcolepsy, see Filing No. 1 at EFC p. 4-5), this information could be used as
evidence to the point. See contra Palma v. Metro PCS Wireless, Inc., 18 F. Supp.
3d 1346, 1348 (M.D. Fla. 2014) (finding that whether or not an opt-in Plaintiff
made a Facebook post during work hours or about work had no bearing on
total hours worked or whether their job position qualifies for an exemption
under the FLSA, so denying the request for SNS content). In this case, a much
broader production of Plaintiff’s SNS content can be said to be “relevant to any
party’s claim or defense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Despite Plaintiff’s privacy
interest, I find that a production of Plaintiff’s Facebook activity is generally
reasonable in this case. See Davenport, 2012 WL 555759 at *2 (finding “the
potential relevancy of such photographs outweighs any burden of production or
privacy interest therein”).
However, there are certain categories of the full Facebook Profile that I
find are not sufficiently relevant to overcome Plaintiff’s privacy interests. Their
production is therefore not merited. A full list of the categories produced by
this download can be found on Facebook’s Help Center Website. Of these
categories, I find Plaintiff does not need to include the following in the
download produced: Credit Cards, Facial Recognition Data, IP Addresses,
Phone Numbers, Family, and Religious Views. The last two of these categories
may, in some cases, be publically viewable, but I find there is a protected
privacy interest in this type of information and it has no relevancy here.
Therefore, it does not need to be produced.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the categories with high
privacy concerns, or that should be excluded in every case. This analysis is
highly specific to the evidence that will be relevant to the facts at issue in this
case. The issue at hand of producing SNS content does not seem to be one
ready for a bright-line rule, and it may never be. In any case, this is certainly
not the proper case to establish such a rule. A weighing of the relevancy and
necessity of information requested, the burden of production, the privacy
interests at stake, and other concerns mentioned in Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 26(b)(1) does seem, at a minimum, necessary to make a proper
ruling on this type of discovery issue.
After considering these concerns, I find that, with the exception of the
categories named above, Plaintiff’s request for a Protective Order as it relates to
Interrogatory No. 46 is DENIED.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Protective order is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Appler will have thirty (30) days from
this entry to respond to Mead Johnson’s permitted Request.
IT IS SO ORDERED the 24th day of September, 2015.
Served electronically on all ECF-registered counsel of record.
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