Florida Courts Open To Discovery of Social Media Postings

by | February 11, 2015

Appeals courts in Florida are paving the way for how social media can (and cannot) be used in the courtroom. Legal practitioners who want to tap into this new source of evidence have often met with discovery disputes. Florida courts, however, are providing guidance to settle these debates.

In January, The Fourth District Court of Appeal made a precedent-setting ruling stating that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy on social networking websites. The decision came after a plaintiff in a slip-and-fall case was ordered to produce her Facebook photographs to Target Corporation, the defendant. The plaintiff’s argument was weakened by the very nature of social media accounts themselves when the judges pointed to the acknowledgment all Facebook account users must make when originally creating their accounts. Facebook explicitly does not guarantee privacy and users must acknowledge that their personal information may be shared with others.

The three-judge panel found the relevance of the photos far outweighed the plaintiff’s minimal expectation of privacy on social networking websites. The basic message is that social media is like other sources of evidence—relevant information is required to be disclosed and is not protected by the right to privacy.

This month, The Florida Second District Court of Appeal ruled that document requests—in this case Facebook postings—must seek information that is relevant to the claims or defenses of actions. During the litigation, the defendants sought and received an order for the plaintiff to produce postings in her Facebook account before or after the accident. The trial court issued this order. The plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Court arguing that none of the information in dispute related to the accident. The Court agreed with the plaintiff and overruled the trial court’s order.

The courts in Florida now have definitive rulings to follow with regard to what is discoverable in terms of the newly-emerging issue of social media. Before these rulings, the trial courts throughout the state of Florida varied significantly in terms of what was discoverable.

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