Facebook Archives off limits in Wrongful Death Case....for now.
In 2013, Catherine Cong Ye was struck by a tractor trailer leased by Cliff Viessman, Inc. and driven by Kevin Goettl. She was 24 years old. A wrongful death case naming Goettl and Viessman was filed in Cook County, Illinois. The complaint alleges that Ye was standing on the sidewalk on Randolph Street near Halsted Street in Chicago when Goettl exited the Kennedy Expressway. The complaint further alleges that the truck went up on the sidewalk as Goettl attempted a right turn and struck Ye. The defendants removed the case to federal court. The case was assigned to Judge John Zee who referred discovery matters to U.S. Magistrate Judge Gilbert.
During discovery, the defendants requested a “complete archive” of the Facebook pages of both Ye and her family. The family, understandably declined to to provide the information. The defendants filed a motion with Judge Gilbert seeking production of the Facebook material. Gillbert, in his ruling, noted that a party may be compelled to produce the information if the party seeking it “makes a threshold relevance showing” – i.e. shows that the information is relevant to a contested issue in the case. And, Gilbert noted that the archives might contain information concerning Ye’s relationship with her family and the grief and suffering they suffered due to her death – all of which would be relevant. But, Gilbert noted, the requests by the defendants were not limited to communications between Ye and her family. Similarly, the requests had no limitation as to the topics discussed. Finally, there was no time limitation in the requests.
Gilbert decided that the requests were not designed to uncover only relevant information and denied the motion, without prejudice – leaving the possibility that he may require the plaintiffs comply with a more narrow request. The defendants have indicated they intend to file a more limited request for the archives. Plaintiff’s counsel, Mike Maher, could not be reached for comment.