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Ciabattoni v. Teamsters Local 326

Superior Court of Delaware

May 29, 2018

Michael Ciabattoni
v.
Teamsters Local 326, et al.

          Albert M. Greto, Esquire Greto Law

          Kathaleen St. J. McCormick, Esquire Elisabeth S. Bradley, Esquire Young Conaway Stargatt &Taylor, LLP

          Dear Counsel:

         This is the Court's decision on Plaintiffs Motion to Compel Compliance with Subpoena dated December 13, 2017. The Court has considered Plaintiffs Motion, non-party Facebook, Inc.'s Opposition filed on December 27, 2017, and Plaintiffs subsequent Reply dated April 16, 2018. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs Motion to Compel is DENIED.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff has filed a motion pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 37 to compel discovery.[1] Plaintiff served a subpoena on non-party Facebook, Inc. on November 15, 2017 requesting "the identities of any and all owners, administrators, editors, moderators, analysts, and live contributors for the Facebook page 'Bring the Teamsters to FedEx Freight' between the dates of December 31, 2014 and January 9, 2015, and in particular the identity, IP Address, and all other information for the person(s) responsible."[2] Plaintiffs underlying lawsuit involves multiple claims involving posts made on the aforementioned Facebook page, including False Light Invasion of Privacy, Defamation of Character, Tortious Interference with Business Relationship, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Breach of Contract, Civil Conspiracy to Commit the Foregoing Counts, and Direct or Vicarious Liability of Teamsters Local 326.[3]

         Facebook, Inc. replied to the subpoena on November 24, 2017, [4] but Plaintiff claims that Facebook, Inc. did not comply with Plaintiffs request. Plaintiff claims that Facebook Inc.'s failure to respond has prejudiced Plaintiffs ability to prosecute his lawsuit and therefore requests the Court to issue an Order compelling Facebook, Inc. to provide full and complete responses to Plaintiff within twenty days or face sanctions.[5] Non-party Facebook, Inc. filed opposition on December 27, 2017.[6]

         The Motion has been re-noticed several times, most significantly to allow for the deposition of former Defendant Travis Eby, the listed former administrator for the Facebook group in question.[7] Mr. Eby was deposed on April 4, 2018. Following that deposition, the Court requested that Plaintiffs counsel provide an updated reply in light of any information received at that deposition.[8] That reply was filed on April 16, 2018.[9] Then, by letter dated May 14, 2018, counsel for non-party Facebook, Inc. informed the Court that they would be focusing their argument on the First Amendment protections under the standard set forth in Doe v. Cahill.[10] Facebook, Inc. would not pursue arguments based upon the Stored Communications Act "in light of the scope of information Plaintiff is seeking."[11]

         A hearing was held on May 15, 2018. Non-party Facebook, Inc. submitted additional materials for the Court's consideration.[12] Defendants' counsel, Jeffrey Weiner, Esquire, was present at the hearing to observe and did not take a position in regards to this Motion. Defendants' counsel only participated upon prompting by the Court if he wished to make a record or take a position regarding any of the arguments presented by Plaintiff or Facebook, Inc. On May 16, 2018, he submitted a transcript from Mr. Eby's deposition per the Court's request. On May 22, 2018, Plaintiffs counsel submitted additional correspondence for consideration.

         Contentions of the Parties

         Plaintiff argues generally that non-party Facebook, Inc.'s failure to respond to the subpoena has "prejudiced Plaintiffs ability to prosecute his lawsuit against Defendants."[13] Plaintiff counsel argues that he attempted to obtain the relevant information from the Facebook page's original administrator, Mr. Eby, but that Mr. Eby had relinquished all access and control over the Facebook page in question to another individual, Michael Thiemer. Non-party Facebook, Inc. contends that the identity of anonymous online speakers is protected by the First Amendment, and Plaintiff fails to meet the burdensome summary judgment standard articulated by the Delaware Supreme Court in Doe v. Cahill[14]to compel Facebook, Inc. to produce any identifying information.

         Standard of Review

         Discovery in a civil case is generally controlled by Delaware Superior Court Civil Rule 26.[15] "Parties may seek discovery of any non-privileged, relevant matter, as well as information reasonable calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible information."[16] However, Rule 26(b)(1) states that the Court shall limit the extent of discovery if it determines that:

The discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative ... is obtainable from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive . . . [or] is unduly burdensome or expensive, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, limitations on the parties' resources, and the importance of the issues at stake in the litigation.[17]

         In addition, parties must "take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to that subpoena."[18] For subpoenaed information, "[o]n timely motion, the Court shall quash or modify a subpoena if it . . . requires disclosure of privileged information or ...


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