Outraged Dad Says Law Firm and Insurer Snooped on Injured Girl's Facebook Page
CLEVELAND (CN) - A father claims in court that a law firm and an insurer hired an investigator to pose as the Facebook friend of his 12-year-old daughter, who had been hurt in a dog attack, "for the purpose of examining and printing all of the postings and pictures contained" on her Facebook profile.
Nelson Cope sued two people and three businesses on behalf of his daughter, in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
Cope says he filed a lawsuit against a relative in 2009, after a dog attack permanently injured his daughter.
Defendants State Auto Insurance, attorney David Herrington and the Law Office of Kerns and Proe were also involved in the dog attack lawsuit, Cope says.
"At some point during the dog bite litigation, Herrington and Kerns and Proe hired and retained the services of Frederick and Associates and its employee, [defendant] Steven Prince, to access Cope's private Facebook page," the complaint states.
"Prior to hiring Prince, Herrington and Kerns and Proe discussed and got instruction from State Auto to direct Prince's actions in accessing Cope's private Facebook page.
"State Auto paid for Prince's activities in accessing Cope's private Facebook page."
Cope claims that the defendants obtained the name of one of his daughter's Facebook friends, "Noble," and used it to get into the daughter's account, "because Noble and Cope were Facebook friends."
After getting Noble's login username and password, Cope says, "At the other defendants' direction, Prince posed as Noble on Facebook to gain access to Cope's private Facebook page, which he was able to do because Noble and Cope were Facebook friends.
"Prince never spoke to Noble regarding his login information.
"Prince never received authorization from Noble to pose as him on his Facebook account.
"In effect, Prince, who otherwise would not have had access to Cope's private Facebook page, assumed the identity of another in order to get around Cope's privacy settings and view her private information reserved only for the viewing of her Facebook friends."
GEO Survey Inc. dba Frederick and Associates is also named as a defendant.
Cope claims that "between February and March 2011, Prince accessed Cope's private Facebook page, while using Noble's username ... [and] accessed at least 221 pictures of Cope and her other minor friends.
"Between February and March 2011, Prince accessed Cope's private Facebook page, while using Noble's username ... [and] accessed at least 1,000 posted messages between Cope and her other minor friends.
"Prince saved, printed and made copies of the private pictures and private postings that were stored on Cope's private Facebook page."
The father claims that the copies were not made by Prince himself, but were produced at CopyMax and then turned over to the other defendants.
He and his daughter seek compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the Stored Communications Act, civil conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They add: "Defendants' conduct of fraudulently accessing Cope's private Facebook page and removing her personal information and pictures goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is such that it can be considered as utterly intolerable in a civilized society."
The Copes are represented by Brian Spitz, of South Euclid, Ohio.