United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Joint Motion
for Clarification of Court Order Dated January 4, 2017 [ECF
January 4, 2017, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to disclose all
social media of Plaintiffs and Michael Brown Jr. for the five
years preceding the events occurring on August 9, 2014.
Plaintiffs seek clarification of the order, specifically
asking whether Plaintiffs are required to disclose only the
information publicly available on their accounts or their
private, personal communications on Facebook Messenger.
Court's analysis of discovery does not change simply
because the request involves social media content. See
Giacchetto v. Patchogue-Medford Union Free Sch. Dist.,
293 F.R.D. 112, 114 (E.D. N.Y. 2013) (“the fact 
Defendant is seeking social networking information as opposed
to traditional discovery materials does not change the
Court's analysis”); Robinson v. Jones Lang
LaSalle Americas, Inc., No. 3:12-CV-00127-PK, 2012 WL
3763545 at *1 (D. Ore. Aug. 29, 2012) (“I see no
principled reason to articulate different standards for the
discoverability of communications through email, text
message, or social media platforms.”). The Court treats
a discovery request for social media content as it would a
request for emails, text messages, letters, or other
documents containing personal communications.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), “[p]arties
may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged,
that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party.”
This phrase “has been construed broadly to encompass
any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to
other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be
in the case.” Armstrong v. Hussmann Corp., 163
F.R.D. 299, 302 (E.D. Mo.1995) (quoting Oppenheimer Fund,
Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)). “A
district court is afforded wide discretion in its handling of
discovery matters.” Cook v. Kartridg Pak Co.,
840 F.2d 602, 604 (8th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted).
assert they have a right to privacy for messages sent
privately through Facebook Messenger. However, generally,
social media content is neither privileged nor protected by a
right of privacy. Mailhoit v. Home Depot U.S.A.,
Inc., 285 F.R.D. 566, 570 (C.D. Cal.
2012). Further, “a person's expectation
and intent  her communications be maintained as private is
not a legitimate basis for shielding those communications
from discovery.” E.E.O.C. v. Simply Storage Mgmt.,
LLC, 270 F.R.D. 430, 434 (S.D. Ind. 2010). “Even
personal diaries are discoverable if they contain relevant
information regarding contemporaneous mental states and
impressions of parties.” Reid v. Ingerman Smith
LLP, No. CV 2012-0307(ILG)(MDG), 2012 WL 6720752 at *2
(E.D. N.Y. Dec. 27, 2012). Additionally, any privacy concerns
of Plaintiffs are ameliorated by the parties' protective
order, which has been amended to include information
disclosed pursuant to this discovery request and has been
approved by the Court.
Court will compel Plaintiffs to produce all social media
content which has any relevance to this case, including
private messages sent through Facebook messenger.
“Although  the contours of social communications
relevant to a claimant's mental and emotional health are
difficult to define, that does not mean that everything must
be disclosed.” Simply Storage Mgmt., LLC, 270
F.R.D. at 434. “It is reasonable to expect severe
emotional or mental injury to manifest itself in some [social
media] content, and an examination of that content might
reveal whether onset occurred, when, and the degree of
distress.” Id. at 435.
the Court's previous order, this disclosure is limited to
the five years preceding August 9, 2014. Information relevant
to this case is broad, because Plaintiffs are seeking damages
for loss of love, companionship, affection, care and society,
loss of future support, conscious pain and suffering, and
compensatory damages for psychological damage. Thus, any
social media content concerning emotions, feelings,
Plaintiffs' mental state, the relationship between
Plaintiffs and Michael Brown Jr., relationships between
Plaintiffs and other family and friends, the events of August
9, 2014, Plaintiffs' parenting of Michael Brown Jr. and
other children, Plaintiffs' relationship with one
another, Plaintiffs' lifestyle before and after August 9,
2014, along with others, is all relevant. Plaintiffs need not
disclose the mundane conversations of everyday life such as
wishing a person a happy birthday, or asking how their day
is, unless of course those communications concern a witness
in this case or Michael Brown Jr.
Court expects Plaintiffs' counsel to take a broad, overly
expansive scope in determining what is relevant and what
should be disclosed to Defendants, and for Plaintiffs'
counsel to employ good faith in fulfilling the intent of this
Order. If after receiving the discovery, Defendants believe
Plaintiffs' counsel has not included everything relevant,
Defendants may request the Court require further disclosure,
or in camera review of the information not
disclosed. Plaintiffs' shall disclose the requested
discovery to Defendants within twenty days of this order.
parties have agreed, and the Court also agrees with them,
passwords for social media accounts need not be disclosed.
This would allow Defendants unfettered access to
Plaintiffs' social media accounts which is not permitted
under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Additionally,
Plaintiffs' counsel has informed the Court neither parent
has the password, nor access, to the social media accounts of
Michael Brown Jr. The Court understands Defendants will be
requesting a subpoena for that information.
an issue was raised at the hearing on this matter regarding
execution of releases for Michael Brown Jr.'s records at
Riverview Gardens School District and the St. Louis Special
School District. Plaintiffs must execute releases for both
school districts for all records, academic and medical,
without regard to age, for Michael Brown Jr.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Joint Motion for
Clarification of Court Order Dated January 4, 2017 [ECF No.
178] is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part.