Social Media & Litigation:
Coloring Inside the Lines
What are the Most Well-Known Social Media Sites?
“Friending” the Opposing Party
You are defending a driver in an automobile accident. The
Plaintiff is represented. During the deposition of the Plaintiff,
you learn that she has a number of photographs of the accident
posted on her Facebook account. The pictures have not been
produced in discovery and, based on the description by the
Plaintiff, you believe that they will be very helpful to your case.
Can you send a "friend" request to the opposing party to view
• Rule 4.2 Communication With Person Represented By Counsel
– In representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of
the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by
another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other
lawyer or is authorized to do so by law or a court order.
• NY Rules of Professional Conduct defines “Computer-accessed communication” as
including communications made by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm through
the use of a computer or electronic devices, e.g, web sites, blogs, search engines,
email, banner ads, pop-ups, chat rooms, list servers, and IMs
• Friend requests are "communications among members." United States v. Drew,
259 F.R.D. 449 (C.D. Cal. 2009).
But…. Public Information is Different
• A lawyer representing a client in pending litigation may
access the public pages of another party's social networking
website (such as Facebook or MySpace) for the purpose of
obtaining possible impeachment material for use in the
litigation. NYSBA Opinion # 843 (09/10/2010). See also Yath v.
Fairview Clinics, N.P., 767 N.W.2d 34 (Minn. App. 2009).
• Viewing information that is accessible to the general public.
Oregon State Bar Legal Ethics Comm'n, Op. 2005-164 (August
“Friending” Adverse Witnesses
You are representing the Plaintiff in a very
contentious divorce matter. You find out that the
Defendant has a “close friend” that will have some
very helping evidence for your position, including
pictures. The pictures are posted on the adverse
witness’ social media site, but under private settings.
Can you send a friend request to an adverse witness?
• Model Rule 4.1(a) forbids a lawyer from making false statements of material fact to a third person.
Accordingly, failure to identify the true purpose of a contact with a third party constitutes a "false
statement" could violate this Rule.
• Model Rule 4.4(a) prohibits attorneys from gaining evidence in a way that violates the rights of another.
• Model Rule 8.4(c) bans conduct by a lawyer that involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
• Model Rule 1.2 prohibits attorneys from advising their clients to engage in fraudulent behavior.
• Model Rule 3.4 specifies that attorneys shall not perpetuate fraud.
• Model Rule 8.4 bars attorneys from hiring agents to engage in unethical practices.
Lawyers Cannot Obtain Content Via Deception
Unethical to “Friend” a party or witness under
false pretenses in order to gain access to Facebook
page, even through a 3rd party (pretexting)
Cannot “friend” a represented party
Philadelphia Bar–cannot “friend” without
disclosing purpose and association with lawyer
NY State Bar–can view public information, even of
a party to the litigation
NY City Bar–can “friend” using true name but
without disclosure –“truthful friending” –
encourages informal discovery
San Diego County Bar–the duty of an attorney
under the State Bar Act not to deceive extends
beyond the courtroom
•Philadelphia Opinion 2009-2
•NY State Opinion 843 (2010)
•NY City Opinion 2010-2
•SDCBA Legal Ethics Opinion 2011-2
Issuing Subpoenas to Facebook
An artist brought an action against a licensee for
breach of a license agreement to use the artist’s
artwork in garments. You represent the licensee,
and you served a third-party subpoena to
Facebook for the artist’s private messages and
wall postings. The artist’s privacy settings for his
Facebook page only allows his “Friends” to have
access to his page.
If the artist moves to quash the subpoena, will he
• The artist’s Facebook private messages are not subject to a subpoena duces tecum under
the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703(e), because they are not readily accessible
to the general public and therefore are inherently private. Crispin v. Christian Audigier, Inc.,
717 F. Supp. 2d 965 (C.D. Cal. May 26, 2010).
• SCA was enacted in 1986 as part of the larger Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
• The SCA deals with the voluntary and compelled disclosure of “stored wire and electronic
communications and transactional records” retained by third-party internet service
providers (ISPs). It also prohibits ISPs from divulging the contents of electronic
communications carried, stored, or maintained by the service.
• Largent v. Reed, No. 2009-1823, Court of Common Pleas of the Thirty-Ninth Judicial District
of Pennsylvania – SCA does not apply to individual plaintiffs, but to enumerated entities, so
a party can be required to provide access to his or her social media accounts
In civil matters, a court cannot issue a
subpoena to social media sites for the release
of communications relating to a third-party.
So how do we get the information legally and
No “Social Media” Privilege Exists
• Courts can and do issue discovery orders compelling a party of a lawsuit to
grant an opposing party access to his or her Facebook page.
McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., 2010 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 270
Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, Inc., No. CV-09-1535 (Northumberland Co., May 19, 2011)
Troubling privacy rights implications in criminal cases: USA v. Lakha, N.D. Ga., 1:10cr451 –
Sexual assault victim required to share Facebook materials with defense counsel and judge for
Romano v. Steelcase Inc., 30 Misc. 3d 426, 907 N.Y.S.2d 650, 2010 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4538, 2010
NY Slip Op 20388 (2010)
Largent v. Reed, No. 2009-1823, Court of Common Pleas of the Thirty-Ninth Judicial District of
Pennsylvania, Franklin County Branch
Offenback v. LM Bowman, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66432, No. 1:10-CV-1789 (M.D. Pa. June
EEOC v. Simply Storage Mgmt., LLC, 270 F.R.D. 430 (S.D. Ind. 2010)
McCann v. Harleysville Ins. Co., 78 A.D.3d 1524 (N.Y.S.2d 2010)
No Fishing Expeditions!
• The mere existence of a social media profile does not entitle a party to gain
access to all materials on the site.
• Must provide threshold showing that publicly accessible portions of social
networking site contain information suggesting that further relevant postings
are likely to be found by access to the non-public portions)
Piccolo v. Paterson, No. 2009-04979 (Bucks Co., May 5, 2011)
Mackelprang v. Fid. Nat'l Title Agency of Nev., Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
2379, 99 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 997 (D. Nev. Jan. 9, 2007)
Kennedy v. Norfolk S. Corp., No. 100201437 (Pa. C.P. Phila. Jan. 15,
EEOC v. Simply Storage Mgmt., LLC, 270 F.R.D. 430 (S.D. Ind. 2010)
Tompkins v. Detroit Metro. Airport, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5749 ( E.D.
Mich. Jan. 18, 2012)
Davenport v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20944
(M.D. Fla. Feb. 21, 2012)
• Rules of Civil Procedure generally provide for liberal discovery
• Social Networking content is not shielded from discovery simply because it’s
“locked” or “private”
• No fishing expeditions
• Postings on social networking sites that are inconsistent with statements in
discovery often result in the private portions of those sites being ruled discoverable
• The proper method of obtaining discovery of social media is to serve properly
limited requests for relevant information. The producing party should err in favor of
production if there is any doubt over relevance. A refusal to produce could be
grounds for sanctions.
• Court may decline to review materials in camera if requested: 1) strain on court
resources, 2) unfair to require Court to guess at what may be germane to case.
Key Takeaways from Opinions on Discovery of Social Media Site Content
• How do you know (or how can you prove) it was there if party/witness does not consent to
• Beware spoliation sanctions, however: Lester v. Allied Concrete Company , No. CL08-150,
Cir. Ct. Charlottesville, Va. = $522k against attorney, $180k against client
• Although Facebook “caches” users’ pages, that information won’t be available directly
because of the SCA if the user deletes the page in contemplation of litigation or after
discovery requests. No way under the current law to access deleted information UNLESS
specific order of court is obtained directing party to consent to site’s production of deleted
pages. See Romano v. Steelcase.
• If party does consent to production from Facebook, costs are significant for production:
Facebook charges “a mandatory, non-refundable processing fee” of $500 per production
request, an additional $100 fee for notarized declarations and an extra $200 fee for
• And the biggest issue of all…. Authentication
Some courts are providing instruction on how to authenticate…
Genworth Financial Wealth Management Inc. vs. McMullan, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
53145 (D. Conn. June 1, 2010) (District court outlined in detail the procedures that
the computer forensic specialist should follow)
United States v. Williams, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 1347 (4th Cir Jan 21, 2010)
Schreiber v Schreiber, 2010 NY Slip Op 20271 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2010) (Court provided
detailed instructions on the protocol for cloned hard drives.)
Lorraine v. Markel Am. Ins. Co., 241 F.R.D. 534 (D. Md. 2007)
Commonwealth v. Purdy, 459 Mass. 442 (Mass. 2011) (emails on shared computer
regarding prostitution ring)
BUT, others object to the potential for fraud
Griffin v. State, 2010 Md App. LEXIS 87 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. May 27, 2010) (police
officer not permitted to authenticate printout of MySpace pages in murder trial)
Look for increasing awareness of potential fraud and challenges in authentication
How do we know who posted that update?
Waiver of Attorney-Client Privilege or Work
Product Doctrine Protection
The presence of a third-party during
will generally negate the privilege
McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway,
Inc., 2010 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec.
Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., 2010
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119271 (N.D. Cal.
Oct. 22, 2010)
Kintera, Inc. v. Convio, Inc., 219 F.R.D.
503 (S.D. Cal. 2003)
Stern v. O’Quinn, 253 F.R.D. 663 (S.D.
You are preparing for trial. The week before the trial
begins you receive the list of potential jurors. Due to
the likelihood of potential bias against your client,
you want to research the potential jurors by Googling
their names and/or “Facebooking" them.
Can you Google the jurors names and/ or Facebook
• You may even have a duty to do so as long as no contact is
made with the juror. Johnson v. McCullough, 306 S.W.3d 551
– Litigants should not be allowed to wait until a verdict has
been rendered to perform a Case.net search for jurors'
prior litigation history when, in many instances, the search
also could have been done in the final stages of jury
selection or after the jury was selected but prior to the
jury being empanelled. Johnson v. McCullough, 306 S.W.3d
• American College of Trial Lawyers, Annotated Code of Trial
Conduct Rule 19(b) (2005).
But Be Careful!
• Model Rule 3.5: Impartiality And Decorum Of The Tribunal
• A lawyer shall not:
– (a) seek to influence a judge, juror, prospective juror or
other official by means prohibited by law;
– (b) communicate ex parte with such a person during the
proceeding unless authorized to do so by law or court
– (d) engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.
• The Rule still applies whether you hide your identity or not.
Monitoring the Jurors Communications During Trial
You are in trial on a major case. During a
break, you see one of the jurors typing on her
Blackberry in the bathroom. You know that
the juror is an active social media user
because of voir dire, and you suspect that she
is “tweeting” during trial.
Can you monitor the juror’s communications
Juror Social Media Use Consequences
• Juror No. 5 blogged throughout the public corruption trial of a former PA state senator.
Philadelphia Daily News, Mar. 16, 2009. The defense moved for a mistrial but the court
denied the motion and Sen. Fumo eventually was found guilty.
• Car accident case in Tarrant County, Texas, wherein juror attempted to “friend” the
defendant. Juror was removed from jury and was held in contempt. Trial continued
without that juror.
• Mistrial results in Florida when 9 of 12 jurors admitted to doing research on the case
during the trial.
• State v. Montas, Ind. No. S-149-11: NJ juror held in contempt for internet research
leading to mistrial
• Beginning in 2012, California jurors who tweet during trial or deliberations can be
sentenced to jail time.
jurorno5 Stay tuned for a big
announcement on Monday everyone!
about 7 hours ago via web
You and your friend went to the same law school and
the two of you passed the bar at the same time. Your
friend just got appointed as a judge. You are a
litigator, and you are frequently in court. You both
have Facebook pages.
Can you and the judge be “friends” on Facebook?
“Friending” the Judiciary
It Depends on Where You Practice
Kentucky, New York, and Ohio
A judge may be a “friend” on a
social networking site with a
lawyer who appears as counsel
in a case before the judge.
Judges’ Membership on Internet-Based Social
Networking Sites, Formal Judicial Ethics
Opinion JE-119 (Ky. Jan. 20, 2010)
New York Ethics Opinion 08-176 (NY Jan. 29,
Board of Commissioners on Grievances and
Discipline Opinion 2010-7 (Ohio Dec. 3, 2010)
Advisory Comm. on Standards of Jud. Conduct,
No. 17-2009 (S.C. Jud. Dept. Oct. 2009
Appearance of lawyers who may
appear before the judge as “friends”
on a judge’s social networking page
conveys the impression that these
lawyers “friends” are in a special
position to influence the judge
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion No.
2009-20 (Fla. Nov. 17, 2009)
Subjected a judge to disciplinary
proceedings for posting comments
on an attorney's Facebook "wall"
during and regarding an active
In re Terry, No. 09-234 (N.C. Jud. Standards
Comm'n Apr. 1, 2009).
Proof of Service, Facebook-Style
You have just taken on a new case against a very elusive internet
mogul. He has no known residential address, and because of
the nature of his business, is able to avoid having a business
address. In other words, personal service is impossible and
service by traditional means of publication is unlikely.
Can you serve the defendant through Facebook or other social
Depends on Where You Are….
• United States
– Mpafe v. Mpafe, Hennepin County, MN No. 27-FA-11-3453: Authorized
service of divorce proceedings on defendant, who was believed to have left
the country, by email, “Facebook, Myspace or any other social networking
site.” Order stated that while the court allowed service by publication in a
legal newspaper, it was unlikely the respondent would see it. “The traditional
way to get service by publication is antiquated and is prohibitively expensive,”
Judge Kevin Burke wrote. “Service is critical, and technology provides a
cheaper and hopefully more effective way of finding respondent.”
– Rio Props. v. Rio Int'l Interlink, 284 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir. 2002): Email service
upon foreign Internet gambling business was appropriate alternative service
– Concerns are as follows:
• Infrequent users
Australia - MKM Capital Property Limited v Corbo and Poyser, No. SC 608 of 2008
Canada - Knott v. Sutherland (Feb. 5, 2009) Edmonton 0803 002267 (Alta.Q.B.M.)
New Zealand - Axe Market Gardens v Craig Axe CIV: 2008-485-2676
United Kingdom - Blaney v Persons Unknown (October 2009)
Allowed: Generally must demonstrate both an inability to serve the defendant
through a more traditional medium, and that service through social media offers
a reasonable chance of success.
Other Litigation-Related Social Media Tips
Service of Subpoenas:
• Find a picture of your witness on Facebook and send it to your process server.
• Find out who their employer is on Facebook and serve them at work.
• Monitor their wall to see if they announce their current location - Foursquare
• Adverse Party: Can lead you to other fact witnesses
• Opposing Counsel: Locate information on experience, education,
recommendations, links to blogs and other social media accounts, associations,
professional distinctions and awards
• Opposing Experts: Discover possible links between counsel and expert; can be
used for cross-examination
January 30, 2015Law Firm Marketing Today35
• Letter to Client Regarding Use of Social Media Sites:
• COMMENT: Privacy's Role in the Discovery of Social Networking Site Information, 64 SMU L. Rev. 1433 (2011)
• ARTICLE: DON'T BE A TWIT: AVOIDING THE ETHICAL PITFALLS FACING LAWYERS UTILIZING SOCIAL MEDIA IN
THREE IMPORTANT ARENAS - DISCOVERY, COMMUNICATIONS WITH JUDGES AND JURORS, AND MARKETING, 20
Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 297 (2011)
• Alexander "Sandy" Y. Thomas, Maureen C. Cain, Emma Lenthall, and Louise Berg, Social Media in Action in
Litigation, Evidence & Privilege, Legal Bytes - http://www.legalbytes.com/tags/waiver-of-the-workproduct-doct/
• Network Interference: A Legal Guide to the Commercial Risks and Rewards of the Social Media Phenomenon
(2nd Edition) Reed Smith,
• Our Pleasure to Serve You: More Lawyers Look to Social Networking Sites to Notify Defendants - Magazine - ABA
• Nadine R. Weiskopf, Tweets and Status Updates Meet the Courtroom: How Social Media Continues to be a
Challenge for E-Discovery in 2011, http://www.lexisnexis.com/eMarketing_WCS_graphics/145833/Social-Media-
• Evan B. North, Comment, Facebook Isn’t Your Space Anymore: Discovery of Social Networking Websites, 58 U.
Kan. L. Rev. 1279, 1308 (2010) (noting social networking websites’ effect on discovery).
• Orin S. Kerr, A User’s Guide to the Stored Communications Act, and a Legislature’s Guide to Amending It, 72 Geo.
Wash. L. Rev. 1208, 1212-13 (2004).
January 30, 2015Law Firm Marketing Today36
Using Social Networking Sites as Informal Discovery Tools
American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, February 12, 2011
Min Cho, Holland & Knight
Victoria Mitchell, Holland & Knight
Lisa McManus, LexisNexis
Stacie Winkler, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, & Berkowitz, P.C.
This program is based in part on the following CLE:
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