No Matter Your Privacy Setting, Facebook and MySpace Accounts Are Not As Private As You May Like

One of the most important parts of a civil lawsuit is the discovery phase. During this stage of the lawsuit, parties to the action are able to request documents, and ask questions of their adversaries in order to compile evidence necessary to support their case at trial. The advent of social media in recent years has forced courts to determine whether information posted on sites like Facebook and MySpace is discoverable.

A recent Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, case (McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc.) addressed whether one’s Facebook or MySpace account must be made accessible when a formal request is made to the court. Despite his unwillingness to do so, the Court ordered Plaintiff, McMillen, to provide his Facebook and MySpace usernames and passwords to the attorneys for the Defendants. The Court’s Order also specifically forbid McMillen from taking any action to delete or alter any existing information contained in his accounts.

Is this surprising? No, not really.

Generally speaking, the court will allow a party to obtain any relevant information that is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. In Pennsylvania, this general rule is subject to few privileges which are narrowly construed by the Courts (i.e. the attorney-client privilege). Where a privilege is properly asserted, it acts to exclude otherwise discoverable information.

These general principles of discovery are neither new nor novel; however, their application by the Jefferson County Court is demonstrative of how the law adapts to handle 21st century technology. Photos, status updates, profile information, invitations, friend requests, and even messages between users, are all potentially discoverable. Now more than ever, it is important to monitor your online presence and ensure that the information you share is of the type that you intend to make public.

    New Jersey Supreme Court Applies Common Sense in Child Abuse Case

    A lower court finding of abuse and neglect was recently overturned in the case of a New Jersey stepmother who occasionally slapped and regularly garnished the wages of her 16-year-old stepdaughter to pay the bills. Writing for the Court, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia noted, “The parental decisions made within this family unit may not have been exemplars of stellar parenting, but they need not rise to the level of Title Nine violations.” In issuing its opinion, the highest court in New Jersey is sending a clear message to judges throughout the state: allow parents to raise their children.

    Defendant, stepmother, occasionally slapped her stepdaughter across the face, primarily because of sexual activity. It is reported that she also took $50 a month from the teen’s paycheck to help pay the family’s utility bills.

    These actions do not rise to the level of abuse and neglect, and requiring a teenage child to contribute to the household expenses is not a reason for removing the child from the home. Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said, “A slap in the face of a teenager as a form of discipline—with no resulting bruising or marks—does not constitute ‘excessive’ corporal punishment within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b).”

      Why The Mortgage Foreclosure “Robo-Signing” Scandal May Be Good News For Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

      Large banks initiate mortgage foreclosure proceedings against tens of thousands of homeowners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey each month. To begin the foreclosure process, the bank must file a lawsuit against the homeowner in court. Until recently, a homeowner’s defense in mortgage foreclosure usually proved to be futile. Generally, by the end of the foreclosure process, the house is sold at a sheriff sale, the bank ends up with money to satisfy the outstanding debt, the attorneys get paid, and the homeowner is left without a home.

      Recent media coverage has placed six New Jersey banks (some national banks) in the spotlight over allegations that the banks participated in robo-signing activities. Robo-signing is the automatic generation of entire documents. These banks allegedly directed their employees to sign stacks affidavits without actually examining any of the underlying robo-signed documentation that was automatically generated using the bank’s database.

      If the allegations are found to be true, the banks and their attorneys potentially face civil and criminal liability, as well as harsh sanctions and fines—but that is not why I choose to post on this topic. Rather, these alleged robo-signing activities may allow many homeowners in mortgage foreclosure cases to mount a successful defense against the bank.

      As discussed, robo-signed documents are generated by a computer based on the data within the bank’s system. It necessarily follows that, where the bank’s data is incomplete or erroneous, those inaccuracies are included in the robo-signed documents. Inaccuracies that went uncorrected because of the bank’s failure to review the documents before filing with the court may translate into deficiencies within the bank’s claim; many of which can be difficult or even impossible for the bank to overcome.

      Now more than ever, if a homeowner is facing foreclosure, they should consult a knowledgeable attorney who handles mortgage foreclosure cases so that all of the relevant documents can be properly scrutinized.

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