Zapproved Case Summary IconRhone v. Schneider Nat’l Carriers, Inc., No. 4:15-cv-01096-NCC, 2016 WL 1594453 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 21, 2016).

Because the defendant had already found, through its independent investigation, social media evidence of a personal injury plaintiff dancing in a manner inconsistent with her claimed injuries, the court ordered the plaintiff to provide a complete download of her Facebook account.

The plaintiff, Alecia Rhone, was a passenger in a vehicle that was rear-ended by defendant Schneider National Carrier’s truck, which was driven by defendant Dean Lilly. Rhone brought a lawsuit claiming that her “neck, back and spine, were seriously bruised, contused, swollen, aggravated, ruptured, mashed, wrenched, narrowed, compressed, subluxed, abraded, dislocated, strained, sprained and rendered stiff, sore and painful.” As a result, she stated that she would “continue to suffer great physical pain” from these “permanent and progressive” injuries in the future.

During discovery, Schneider requested information from Rhone’s “Twitter, Facebook or any other social media” accounts since the date of the accident, specifically her postings or “any and all photographs and/or videos of Plaintiff posted by Plaintiff.” Rhone objected, arguing that this information was irrelevant. Schneider investigated Rhone’s Facebook account and asked that she disclose “only that information related to [her] ability to work and to enjoy the ordinary pursuits of life.” Rhone replied that there was no relevant, discoverable information. Schneider brought this motion to compel production of a “Download Your Info” report from Rhone’s Facebook account from the date of the accident to the present

Initially, the court reminded the parties that discovery includes “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense.” Discovery therefore should be broadly construed, and information “need not be admissible at trial” to be discoverable. The court then ordered Rhone, who had not originally “disclose[d] the existence of any social media accounts,” to provide a complete list of her social media accounts during the relevant time frame.

Regarding the specific Facebook “Download Your Info” report, the court “recognize[d] that such a broad disclosure might not be appropriate in all circumstances.” Here, though, Schneider had found and printed hundreds of pages of Rhone’s Facebook activity and unearthed possible evidence that Rhone had deleted hundreds of additional pages. The court noted that within those pages, “Schneider’s independent examination has already uncovered relevant information,” most notably “comments and photos regarding physical activity such as dancing,” which would clearly be relevant in a personal injury claim. Rhone, on the other hand, provided no explanation for her objection that providing this report would be “overbroad or burdensome.” The court therefore, directed Rhone to provide the “Download Your Info” report but denied sanctions “at this time,” since there was not yet proof that Rhone deleted information.

Schneider also moved for a second deposition of Rhone, since Rhone’s counsel “obstructed” the first deposition and “improperly instructed his client not to answer questions,” including questions regarding her Facebook account. The court was unpersuaded by Rhone’s basis for the objections and refusal to answer but found the matter moot since the additional social media discovery warranted another deposition.

Rhone v. Schneider Nat’l Carriers, Inc., No. 4:15-cv-01096-NCC, 2016 WL 1594453 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 21, 2016).

Takeaways

Always do your homework. Here, the defendants prevailed because they had already found and printed 441 pages of material from Rhone’s Facebook account, including comments about her “twerking” that were clearly inconsistent with her claimed injuries. Without this detailed investigation—and the relevant information it revealed—the court might not have been prepared to order such a sweeping disclosure.