Facebook Access Limited in Deadly Dog Treat Suit

     PITTSBURGH (CN) – A federal judge refused to give Del Monte unlimited access to the Facebook page of a woman accusing it of killing her pet with poisonous dog treats.
     In a 2012 class action, Lisa Mazur says her otherwise healthy 7-year-old dog, Riley Rae, developed kidney failure and had to be euthanized after occasionally being given Chinese-made dog treats for about one month.
     The lawsuit alleges that Del Monte, a national producer and distributor of pet products and foods, refused to recall the dangerous products or place warnings on the packages despite receiving a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about its subsidiary, Milo’s Kitchen Dog Treats.
     The company was one of a dozen manufacturers in a $24 million settlement in 2011 for wet pet food contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid.
     In discovery for Mazur’s case, Del Monte claimed that it is entitled to a complete production of Mazur’s entire Facebook data file because at some point before she filed the suit, while her account was public, she made a post that blamed Nestle/Purina’s Waggin Train Chicken Jerky, rather than Del Monte’s products, for the harm to her dog.
     Citing Mazur’s denials that she had purchased any treats other than Milo’s treats, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly agreed with Del Monte on Tuesday that Mazur’s Facebook entry is “highly relevant.”
     These facts do not, however, entitle Del Monte to limitless Facebook access, along with Mazur’s user username and password, according to the ruling.
     “Notwithstanding the fact that defendants’ request had no limitations whatsoever, even as to date, and thus were objected to by plaintiff as inherently overbroad, plaintiff nevertheless responded to the request,” Kelly wrote.
     The judge notes that Mazur has already produced 648 pages of Facebook data.
     Mazur admittedly left out “irrelevant” portions of her account, but she already included data indicating that she “likely purchased a jerky treat product other than the one at issue in this litigation;” “texts of various Facebook entries;” “conversations between [Mazur] and a third-party (Kristyn Corcoran) regarding the instant suit;” and “a significant number of comments with respect to chicken jerky,” the ruling states.
     “Because defendants are only entitled to discover information that is relevant to any parties’ claim or defenses, the court finds nothing improper about Plaintiff’s redaction of … immaterial portions of her Facebook data,” Kelly wrote.
     Del Monte and Milo’s Kitchen argued against Mazur being able to “unilaterally decide what should be redacted” and complained that the location of certain redactions were “suspect.”
     They claimed that any objections to producing the entire Facebook file were unfounded, given the court’s protective order. As to Mazur’s claims that attorney-client privilege justified the redaction of communications between herself and possible fellow class member Corcoran, Del Monte noted that the class had not yet been certified.
     Citing an “abundance of caution,” Kelly directed Mazur to produce the Corcoran communications from Facebook for an inspection in chambers.
     Though “Facebook accounts are always subject to unrestricted access once a threshold showing of relevance has been made,” Kelly said the facts of this case “do not require the limitless access to plaintiff’s Facebook account data.”
     “Indeed,” Kelly wrote, “it appears that counsel for plaintiff not only took pains to include even borderline entries and un-redacted certain data in an effort to show the absence of materiality, but he has represented, and the court has no reason to doubt, that the redactions were made in good faith and that the information that remains redacted has nothing to do with the claims or defenses raised in this case.”
     Kelly added: “Under these circumstances, the court finds not only that unfettered access to plaintiff’s Facebook data, particularly her access information, is not warranted but that defendants have received all the discovery relative to plaintiff’s Facebook account to which they are entitled, with perhaps one exception.”

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