Home Depot’s “Extremely Broad” Request for Social Media Posts Denied – eDiscovery Case Law

By: Doug Austin

In Mailhoit v. Home Depot, CV 11 03892 DOC (SSx) (C.D. Cal.; Sept. 7, 2012), Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal ruled that the three out of four of the defendant’s discovery requests failed Federal Rule 34(b)(1)(A)’s “reasonable particularity” requirement, were, therefore, not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and were denied.

Case Background

The plaintiff had been a manager of the defendant's store in Burbank, California, and filed a suit against her employer after being fired, charging unlawful discrimination based on gender, as well as failure to accommodate her known physical disability.  The plaintiff testified at her deposition that she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, depression and isolation, and has cut herself off from communication with friends because of Defendant’s alleged wrongdoing.  The defendant argued “that it is entitled to Plaintiff’s communications posted on social networking sites (“SNS”) such as Facebook and LinkedIn to test Plaintiff’s claims about her mental and emotional state.”

Defendant’s Motion to Compel

The defendant filed a Motion to Compel Further Responses to Defendant’s Request for Production of Documents, which included a request for (among other things):

“Any profiles, postings or messages (including status updates, wall comments, causes joined, groups joined, activity streams, blog entries) from social networking sites from October 2005(the approximate date Plaintiff claims she first was discriminated against by Home Depot), through the present, that reveal, refer, or relate to any emotion, feeling, or mental state of Plaintiff, as well as communications by or from Plaintiff that reveal, refer, or relate to events that could reasonably be expected to produce a significant emotion, feeling, or mental state”.

The defendant also requested “[t]hird-party communications to Plaintiff that place her own communications in context”, “[a]ll social networking communications between Plaintiff and any current or former Home Depot employees” and any pictures posted to the plaintiff’s profile or otherwise linked via tagging.

Judge Rules against Defendant in Three of Four Categories

Judge Segal noted that “while a party may conduct discovery concerning another party’s emotional state, the discovery itself must still comply with the general principles underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that govern discovery.  A court can limit discovery if it determines, among other things, that the discovery is…unreasonably cumulative or duplicative”.  Since Rule 34(b) requires the requesting party to describe the items to be produced with “reasonable particularity”, Judge Segal ruled that “three of the four categories of SNS communications sought by Defendant fail Rule 34(b)(1)(A)’s ‘reasonable particularity’ requirement”, only granting the defendant’s request for social networking communications between Plaintiff and any current or former Home Depot employees.

So, what do you think?  Should the defendant’s requests have been denied, or were they “unreasonably cumulative”?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Thanks to the Ride the Lightning blog for the tip on this case!

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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About the Bloggers

Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins, President and CEO of CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years of experience leading customer focused companies in the litigation support arena. Brad has authored many articles on litigation support issues, and has spoken before national audiences on document management practices and solutions.

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Doug Austin

Doug Austin, Professional Services Manager for CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years experience providing legal technology consulting and technical project management services to numerous commercial and government clients. Doug has also authored several articles on eDiscovery best practices.

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Jane Gennarelli

Jane Gennarelli is a principal of Magellan’s Law Corporation and has been assisting litigators in effectively handling discovery materials for over 30 years. She authored the company’s Best Practices in a Box™ content product and assists firms in applying technology to document handling tasks. She is a known expert and often does webinars and presentations for litigation support professionals around the country. Jane can be reached by email at jane@litigationbestpractices.com.

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