Stallings v. City of Johnston

Introduction

The Plaintiff, Jayne Stallings, sued her former employer, the City of Johnston in a wrongful termination case. Stallings v. City of Johnston, 2014 WL 2061669 (S.D. Ill. May 19, 2014). While preparing for trial, certain discovery disputes arose which required an order from the magistrate judge from that district. After the magistrate judge’s order, Stallings appealed, essentially asking the District Court to stay the magistrate judge’s order requiring that she produce certain documents.

Background

During the discovery phase of trial, the City asked that Stallings produce her bank financial records and certain Facebook data. Stallings refused to produce these documents or portions of them, arguing that the City was on a “fishing expedition” in requiring the production of financial records and production of those documents violated the Illinois Constitution safeguarding the privacy of bank information. Though Stallings produced 466 pages of Facebook information, she redacted the names in each of the documents arguing that the names of those she corresponded with on Facebook should be redacted because many of those conversations were with minors. After Stallings’ refusal to comply with the City’s request, the City filed discovery motions and a discovery dispute conference was held with Magistrate Judge Williams. 

Judge Williams ordered Stallings to produce the financial records, because after the Court’s in camera review of the bank statements, it found that there were several transactions that could potentially be relevant to the trial. However, to protect Stallings’ privacy, the Court ordered that the documents be put under protective order and not shared with anyone but clients or experts used for the purpose of the litigation.

As for the Facebook data, Stallings argued that in order to produce any additional documents, the documents would have to produced in an electronic file.  The Judge ordered that Stallings produce either a hard copy or an electronic version of the unredacted Facebook data. To protect the identity of any minors, the Judge held that these documents, like the financial records, were to be under protective order. Stallings appealed.

Financial Records

The Southern District of Illinois surprisingly agreed with Stallings that the City’s request for the production of her bank records was too broad. The City requested “any and all Bank Statements including [but] not limited to copies of all deposit slips and cancelled check from January 2011 to November 2011 for any and all checking and/or savings accounts…” Id. at *2. Though the Court acknowledged that pretrial discovery is a bit of a fishing expedition in that a party usually doesn’t know what all it is looking for, the Court held that the Illinois State Constitution “assures citizens a right to privacy in their bank records.” Id. quoting In re May 1991 Will County Grand Jury, 604 N.E. 2d 929, 937 (Ill. 1992). However, like Judge Williams, the District Court found that some of Stallings’ financial transactions appeared to be relevant to the trial and ordered that she produce evidence of only those relevant cash transactions and no other bank records would be produced to protect her privacy rights under the Illinois Constitution.

Facebook Pages

Similarly, the City of Johnston asked that Stallings produce “each and every social media posting by Stallings from 2011 to the present…” Id. at *3. Stallings argued that unfortunately, Facebook only permitted her to download data in its entirety and it took her attorney one week to print, redact, and arrange 500 pages of Facebook data from 2011 forward. The magistrate judge ordered Stallings to produce to the City the unredacted data; however, because of Stallings’ technical difficulties, the Court informed her that she may produce the entire unredacted file dating back to 2007 if she was unable to timely provide documents from 2011 forward.

On appeal, Stallings argued that the Facebook pages should be redacted to protect the identity of minors, but the District Court found that Stallings had not produced any evidence that the relevant conversations were between minors and thus her argument was moot. Stallings’ counsel also argued that she should not be required to produce the data from 2007 forward because along with the produced pages would be information that was unrelated to any issue in the case. The District Court reversed the magistrate judge’s holding and ordered Stallings to produce a redacted hard copy of all relevant Facebook pages from 2011 forward. The Court also ordered Stallings to provide the City with the names and towns of residences of the persons whom Stallings communicated with on Facebook.

The case is still pending in the Southern District of Illinois.

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