New York Court Grants Access to Private Facebook and MySpace Postings

Case CaptionRomano v. Steelcase, Inc. et al., Civil Action No.: 2006-2233, NYLJ 1202472439237
Court:  Supreme Court of Suffolk County, New York
Justice:  Honorable Jeffrey Arlen Spinner
Issue: Whether Defendant could Compel Access to Private and Deleted Material on Plaintiff’s Social Networking Pages?
Held: Yes, Defendants’ Motion to Compel Granted
Date Decided: September 21, 2010

Summary:
In what may be a precedent setting case, a New York Court gave the Defendant in a personal injury case access to Plaintiff’s current and historical Facebook and MySpace pages, including material that had been deleted and shielded from the general public by use of privacy settings.  In Romano v. Steelcase, Inc., et al., the Plaintiff was injured when she fell from a chair, claiming that due to the injury, she could no longer participate in activities she once enjoyed and that her overall quality of life had been significantly diminished.  She alleged that her injuries were permanent and that she had been confined to her home and bed as a result.  However, Defendant argued that a review of Plaintiff’s public portions of Plaintiff’s MySpace and Facebook pages contained evidence that Plaintiff was enjoying a very active lifestyle and had even vacationed in Florida since her injuries.

After Plaintiff refused to grant Defendant access to her historical information on MySpace and Facebook, the Defendant sought access via court order, arguing that because Plaintiff’s public postings revealed evidence contrary to her injury claims, there was a reasonable likelihood that the private portions of her sites would disclose even more evidence for impeachment.  

Both Plaintiff and Facebook opposed Defendant’s motion.  After a lengthy analysis, the Court found that the potential discovery of this evidence was both material and relevant to the issues of the nature and extent of her injuries, which she had placed in controversy by filing suit.  Specifically, the Court held: “Thus, when Plaintiff created her Facebook and MySpace accounts, she consented to the fact that her personal information would be shared with others, notwithstanding her privacy settings. Indeed, that is the very nature and purpose of these social networking sites else they would cease to exist.  Since Plaintiff knew that her information may become publicly available, she cannot now claim that she had a reasonable expectation of privacy.  As recently set forth by commentators regarding privacy and social networking sites, given the millions of users, ‘[i]n this environment, privacy is no longer grounded in reasonable expectations, but rather in some theoretical protocol better known as wishful thinking.’”
Id. at 7.

Plaintiff is appealing the decision.

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