Student injured during tennis match must show relevance of rival’s social media posts

A New York high school student who was sued for allegedly hurting a classmate during a tennis match must show why information on the classmate’s private social media accounts is relevant to his defense against the suit.

Litigants cannot go on a “fishing expedition” for information and must have a good-faith basis to request access to another party’s private social media accounts, Judge Joseph J. Maltese of the Richmond County Supreme Court said.

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Defendants Nicholas Altieri, Altieri’s parents and St. Joseph by the Sea High School in Staten Island have not shown a good-faith basis for this request, the judge said in his opinion.

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He therefore denied the defendants’ motion to compel production of plaintiff John Fawcett Jr.’s social media accounts, saying they must uncover more facts about what occurred to show why the social media information is relevant.

He also denied a motion for a protective order filed by Fawcett and his parents.

Both sides, however, may file renewed motions after they conduct depositions, Judge Maltese said.

According to the opinion, Fawcett and his parents sued Altieri, his parents and the school for assault and battery, negligence, and loss of services.

Their complaint alleges Altieri negligently and recklessly punched Fawcett, injuring his right eye during a tennis match at the high school.

The defendants requested access to Fawcett’s current and historical social media website pages, including his accounts with Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and Flickr accounts, which were not publicly accessible, the opinion said.

They argued that this information was discoverable, the opinion said, and that New York Rule of Civil Procedure § 3101 allows for “disclosure of all matter material and necessary in the prosecution or defense of an action.”

In response Fawcett and his parents filed a motion for a protective order to prevent the defendants from accessing the information, arguing it is not relevant to defend against the assault-and-battery allegations, the opinion said.

“To accept such an argument would ignore the defendants’ right to seek discovery relating to the damages John Fawcett Jr. sustained as a result of this altercation,” the judge said.

New York appellate courts have allowed for broad discovery once a plaintiff sues for loss of enjoyment of life, the opinion said, noting that Fawcett’s privacy settings on his accounts do not affect this analysis.

Fawcett specifically asserts that Altieri’s actions affect him socially, educationally, economically and in the way he pursues recreation, Judge Maltese noted.

Now, the test becomes whether producing this content would violate Fawcett’s privacy rights, the opinion explained.

Under this standard, the defendants must show “with some credible facts that [Fawcett] has posted information or photographs that are relevant to the facts of the case at hand,” Judge Maltese said.

“[D]epositions must be conducted before one can properly determine whether the plaintiff should be compelled to produce social media records and, conversely, whether the defendants should be precluded from accessing this information,” he said.

Fawcett et al. v. Altieri et al., No. 100008/12, 2013 WL 150247 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Richmond County Jan. 11, 2013).