Kathleen Romano sued Steelcase, Inc. for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when she fell from her office chair. Romano alleged that, as a result of the fall, she suffered restricted movement of her neck and back and “pain and progressive deterioration with consequential loss of enjoyment of life.”
As part of its defense, Steelcase sought to obtain copies of Romano’s Facebook and MySpace profiles-both the portions that were publicly available and those that Romano had marked as private using the sites’ privacy settings. To obtain the profiles, Steelcase served both sites with subpoenas.
But Facebook objected to the request on the basis that it cannot release a user’s profile information without the user’s consent because to do so would be in violation of the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”). Romano refused to provide her consent and sought to quash the subpoena on several privacy-related grounds.
Defendant: Facebook Profile May Contain Evidence Contrary to Claims
Steelcase argued in response that, based on the public portions of Romano’s Facebook and MySpace profiles, there was reasonable grounds to believe that Romano, contrary to the claims asserted in her lawsuit, actually “has an active lifestyle and can travel and apparently engages in many other physical activities inconsistent with her claims in this litigation.” For example, Steelcase reported that the plaintiff’s public Facebook profile showed the plaintiff “smiling happily in a photograph outside the confines of her home despite her claim that she. . . is largely confined to her house and bed.”
Plaintiff: Private Facebook Content Is Protected
Romano countered that she “possesse[d] a reasonable expectation of privacy in her home computer.” Steelcase’s claims of relevancy, she argued, were based only on “speculation and conjecture” and characterized the discovery request as a “blatant attempt by defendant to intimidate and harass” her. The wholesale release of all private messages on her Facebook and MySpace account would give Steelcase access to “wholly irrelevant information as well as extremely private information.”
Court: Private Information Doesn’t Belong on Facebook
But the New York Supreme Court wasn’t buying it. Instead, the court ruled, precluding Steelcase from accessing Romano’s profiles “would condone [her] attempt to hide relevant information behind self-regulated privacy settings.” he court found that the fact that, based on the publicly available portions of Roman’s profiles, it was reasonable to conclude that the private portions of her profiles “may contain further evidence such as information with regard to her activities and enjoyment of life, all of which are material and relevant to the defense of this action.”
The court also rejected Romano’s argument that the release of the information would violate her Fourth Amendment right to privacy because, by joining the sites, she consented to the possibility 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 or they would cease to exist.”
Romano v. Steelcase Inc., 2006-2233 (N.Y. Super. Sept. 21, 2010).