Turn in the tide on Facebook photos as evidence?

I believe we’re seeing a slow retreat from the view expressed in Leduc v Roman, a 2009 Ontario case in which Justice Brown suggested photos on Facebook are presumptively relevant (in a non-production scenario) when a Facebooking plaintiff claims loss of enjoyment of life.

Stewart v Kempster is the new Ontario case that awkwardly distinguishes Leduc and is similar to Fric v Gershman from British Columbia. Both suggest that pictures of people who claim to have suffered a loss of enjoyment of life lounging around looking happy are generally not relevant (or have limited probative value), but pictures of skydiving, surfing and other action photos might be different.

Now, from British Columbia again, we have the following statement from Dakin v Roth, a January 8th British Columbia Supreme Court trial decision in which the plaintiff produced Facebook photos that the defendant adduced, perhaps without dispute. Justice Cole says:

The defendants have entered into evidence photos posted on the plaintiff’s Facebook between 2007 and 2009, which the defendants say are inconsistent with her physical limitations.

I do not place much weight on those photographs. They are staged, at a party, and taken on holidays. As stated by Mr. Justice Goepel in Guthrie v Narayan, 2012 BCSC 734 (CanLII), 2012 BCSC 734 (at para. 30) in respect to Facebook photos: “Those pictures are of limited usefulness. [The plaintiff] is seeking compensation for what she has lost, not what she can still do.” I agree.

Hat tip to Erik Magraken of the BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog. Here is a link to an archive of Erik’s posts on Facebook photos in British Columbia personal injury cases.

No disclosure of information from Facebook in Ontario case

On December 21, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed a motion for production of all content on the private portion of a plaintiff’s Facebook account.

The plaintiff alleges she sustained permanent impairment as a result of motor vehicle accident that lessened her ability to participate in recreational, social, household and employment activities and caused a loss of enjoyment of life. The evidence on the defendant’s motion for production indicated the plaintiff had 139 Facebook friends and had made postings on her (publicly-available) timeline stating that she was feeling better and that “Life is good!” Notably, in response to the motion the plaintiff filed evidence that described the content of the private portion of her Facebook account, attached pictures (under seal) and reconciled the images in the pictures (of her standing, sitting and leaning) with her claim.

Regional Senior Justice Heeney held that the photographs he reviewed were not relevant:

I am not persuaded that the photographs in question have any real relevance to the issues in this case. I quite agree that if there were photographs that showed the plaintiff water skiing or rock climbing, they would be relevant to demonstrate the extent of her physical limitations following the accident. The photographs in question, though, say nothing about the physical limitations that she has testified she is suffering from. An injured person and a perfectly healthy person are equally capable of sitting by a pool in Mexico with a pina colada in hand. A photograph of such an activity has no probative value.

Justice Heeney made clear that he was not endorsing the withholding of any otherwise producible information based on a privacy claim, though it is clear that he had particular concerns about the invasive nature of the defendant’s production request. In particular, Justice Heeney suggested that a production request for an individual’s entire Facebook account is highly problematic:

Before the dawn of the internet age, people often communicated by writing personal letters to each other. It could be said that such letters served to keep friends and family connected, and provided a medium in which people would share information with each other about what matters to them. They might even discuss the state of their health, if they happened to have suffered a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident in the recent past. However, it is unimaginable that a defendant would have demanded that a plaintiff disclose copies of all personal letters written since the accident, in the hope that there might be some information contained therein relevant to the plaintiff’s claim for non-pecuniary damages. The shocking intrusiveness of such a request is obvious. The defendants’ demand for disclosure of the entire contents of the plaintiff’s Facebook account is the digital equivalent of doing so.

Stewart v Kempster, 2012 ONSC 7236 (CanLII).

Lawyer’s notes of opposing party’s statements to be produced

On October 30th the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued a decision that illustrates the burden on a party who claims that notes taken of an opposing party’s statements are subject to litigation privilege.

The Court rejected a litigation privilege claim because it was impossible to discern from a review of the notes alone that they contained solicitor’s work product – i.e., confidential comments, remarks and notes personal to the transcriber and made for the dominant purpose of preparing for litigation. Although the notes contained some annotations and underlining, the Court held that it was not self evident these markings were work product. It also held that counsel’s submission that certain text in the notes represented an evaluation of the opposing party’s value as a witness was not sufficiently persuasive to justify a withholding of otherwise producible information.

Hart v (Canada) Attorney General, 2012 ONSC 6067 (CanLII).

SCC articulates rule on testimonial self-incrimination

On Wednesday a 6 – 3 majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held that section 13 of the Charter does not prevent a Crown prosecutor from using prior compelled testimony for impeachment purposes if the testimony does not prove or assist in proving one or more essential elements for which the witness is being tried.

The accused crashed a motorcycle. His passenger sued and the police laid dangerous driving and impaired driving charges. On discovery in the civil matter the accused said he had no memory of the events of the day. At his criminal trial the accused gave a detailed account of the events of the day. The Court granted the Crown leave to cross-examine the accused on his discovery testimony. The Crown successfully discredited the accused based on his conflicting testimony.

The majority, in a judgment written by Justice Moldaver, held that use of the discovery testimony for impeachment purposes did not breach the accused’s rights under section 13 because the discovery evidence was not “incriminating.”

Justice LeBel, for the minority, strongly criticized the majority for causing an unprincipled departure from the Court’s unanimous 2005 judgment in R v Henry. This departure, he argued, will invite uncertainty in criminal matters and discourage full and frank testimony. The latter issue was of interest to the Advocates’ Society, who argued in intervention that a bright-line rule is needed to protect the integrity of the civil discovery process.

R v Nedelcu, 2012 SCC 59 (CanLII).

Lawyer free to use documents received from client and produced to opposing party

Yesterday the Court of Appeal for Ontario held that the deemed undertaking rule does not apply to documents that a lawyer receives from a client for the purposes of documentary production. The Court held that such documents are not obtained by counsel under compulsion by the Rules and that the purpose of the deemed undertaking is only to protect against misuse of information received by a party to litigation.

In this case, a lawyer wanted to use documents he received from his former client in her matrimonial dispute to defend a defamation claim brought by the former client’s ex-spouse. The Court’s disposition allows him to do so, subject to the former client’s right to a return of her documents and the lawyer’s ability to obtain an order for third-party production.

Sobeski v Mamo, 2012 ONCA 560 (CanLII).

Ontario Court Requires Notice to Non-Parties Whose Privacy Interests at Stake in Production Dispute

On August 15th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice deferred a motion for production of medical records so two non-parties could be given notice of the production motion.

The action was by a patient of a psychiatric facility who was allegedly assaulted by two other patients. The facility resisted production of records in its custody based on a concern for the privacy of the non-parties, but also did not dispute the records’ relevance.

Mr. Justice Ricchetti ordered production of occurrence reports that recorded facts pertaining to the alleged assaults without requiring notice. Ricchetti J. suggested that the records contained information that was as much about the plaintiff as the two non-parties. He also recognized the occurrence reports were not about the provision of care though they were placed in both of the non-parties’ patient records. Though these factors led him to order production without notice to the non-parties, Ricchetti J. did order the non-parties’ attending physicians to be given notice and an opportunity to object based on criteria for doing so set out in the Mental Health Act, ordered redaction of names and identifying information and ordered receiving counsel to safeguard copies of all information received.

Regarding production of other medical records, Ricchetti J. ordered that notice be given to the affected non-parties. He said:

Rule 30.10 of the Rules of Civil Procedure requires that any motion seeking third party disclosure be on notice to the third party. The real third party in this case are the patients. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that the party whose documentation is to be disclosed has an opportunity to object or consent or request some limitation on the disclosure. This purpose, in my view, is defeated if the “real” owner or person with the “real” interest in the disclosure of the documentation or information is not given notice.

I cannot imagine why a request for disclosure of the patient’s medical records containing PHI should not be on notice to the patient. It is the patient’s PHI, protected by the PHIPA, that disclosure is sought.

In my view, where an order is sought under s.41(1)(d) of the PHIPA or s.35(5) of the MHA, such an order should be obtained, if at all possible, on notice to the patient whose record is sought and not just the custodian of the patient’s medical records containing the PHI.

This is a sensible application of the power over procedure. Note, however, that health information custodians are authorized under PHIPA to disclose personal health information for the purpose of providing production without any notification requirement. Is notification “if at all possible” in the event of dispute too conservative and too costly? Should courts require health information custodians (who are accountable to privacy regulators under statute) to attempt to negotiate a reasonable scope of production and reasonable protective terms before stepping in? These are important questions that are yet to be answered.

M.L. v. Homewood Health Centre Inc. et al, 2011 ONSC 4790 (CanLII).

Justice Perell Says Deemed Undertaking Normally Adequate, Tweaks it for Proceeding

On June 13th Justice Perell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued an order that clarified the scope of the deemed undertaking and slightly modified it for a particular class proceeding. He also affirmed, however, that the undertaking is the normal source of privacy protection for parties to litigation in Ontario.

The class proceeding defendant argued that the deemed undertaking was inadequate for protecting its confidential business information. In particular, it argued that undertaking would not preclude the filing of production materials (on the public record) in interlocutory motions without notice and would not protect against misuse by experts and “third parties.” It proposed a confidentiality order that would restrict access to production materials to certain “permitted persons,” some of whom would be required to sign a confidentiality order.

Justice Perell rejected the defendant’s proposed confidentiality order as inconsistent with the basis for the deemed undertaking rule and too cumbersome. He said that the deemed undertaking will normally provide adequate protection and issued an order imposing a modified form of the rule. In response to the defendant’s particular concerns, Justice Perell ordered a provision for serving materials on an interlocutory motion 15 days before filing, a specification that the undertaking binds lawyers’ staff, experts and consultants and a specification that the undertaking prohibits the disclosure of information to class members unless in ordinary circumstances. Justice Perell also imposed a term requiring the parties to destroy production materials (without specification as to means) at the conclusion of the action.

Robinson v. Medtronic Inc., 2011 ONSC 3663.

SCC Comments on Requirements for an Anton Piller

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision yesterday in which it affirmed an Anton Piller order issued in support of the province of British Columbia’s action for recovery of monies from Ripudaman Singh Malik and family.

The judgement is about the admissibility of prior judgements as evidence in a subsequent interlocutory proceedings. Justice Binnie, for the Court, held that prior judgements are generally admissible as evidence as proof of their findings provided the parties are the same or were themselves participants in the prior proceedings on similar or related (as opposed to identical) issues.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision in Celanese remains the leading case on the requirements for an Anton Piller order, though Justice Binnie did comment on requirement that there be a “real possibility” that the defendant may destroy evidence. He said:

It will often be difficult or perhaps impossible for a plaintiff to show that a defendant will actually destroy evidence, but it is always open to the court to draw inferences reasonably compelled by the surrounding circumstances. As Paperny J. (as she then was) observed in Capitanescu v. Universal Weld Overlays Inc. (1996), 46 Alta. L.R. (3d) 203:

Generally, courts have inferred a risk of destruction when it is shown that the defendant has been acting dishonestly, for example where matter has been acquired in suspicious circumstances, or where the defendant has knowingly violated the applicant’s rights. [para. 22]

This passage was cited with approval by the Alberta Court of Appeal in Catalyst Partners Inc. v. Meridian Packaging Ltd., 2007 ABCA 201, 76 Alta. L.R. (4th) 264, at para. 13.

Justice Binnie held that the motions judge did not err in finding a “real possibility” from evidence that Mr. Malik had previously refused to provide proper disclosure of financial information.

British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Malik, 2011 SCC 18.

NBCA Takes Issue With Breadth and Basis for Non-Party Order, Questions Appropriateness of Non-Party’s Cooperation

On March 31st, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal issued a judgement in which it quashed an order requiring the RCMP to produce two investigation files. In doing so, made some significant comments about privacy protection and non-party production orders.

The plaintiff’s home burnt down. The RCMP investigated and did not lay charges. A month earlier, it had investigated a break and enter at the home.

The insurer denied the plaintiff’s insurance claim and defended her action on the basis of a policy exclusion that it alleged applied because the plaintiff left the house vacant for more than 30 days. It sought an order for production of the two entire RCMP investigation files, expressly including personal information protected by the federal Privacy Act. The insurer argued (without any supporting evidence to support an inference) that the files would likely contain information related to the vacancy issue. The RCMP consented and, remarkably, the Attorney-General drafted the terms of the order and wrote the court requesting that the insurer’s production motion be allowed.

The Court of Appeal quashed the order on a narrow point of law. It held that the RCMP is not a “person” that can be subject to a non-party order for production under the New Brunswick Rules of Court. Chief Justice Drapeau went on, however, to comment that the order was overbroad and granted without a proper basis. In doing so, he said:

  • the New Brunswick rules contemplate that non-party orders target specific materials because such orders are not meant to invite discovery
  • that non-party consent (though “significant”) does not relieve the requesting party from establishing the requirements for a non-party order

The Chief Justice also questioned whether the RCMP’s actions were proper though, given the Attorney-General was not before the Court, made clear that the Court was not passing judgement on “whether their involvement is faithful to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Privacy Act, including its stated purpose (s. 2) and its prohibition, except in defined circumstances, against disclosure of an individual’s personal information without his or her consent.”

Bennett v. State Farm Fire and Casualty, 2011 NBCA 27 (CanLII).

FCA Side-Steps Challenge to Admin Tribunal’s Power to Determine Privilege, Gives Guidance

On March 23rd, the Federal Court of Appeal outlined how administrative tribunals should deal with solicitor-client privilege claims.

The matter involved a disputed solicitor-client privilege claim brought before the Public Service Labour Relations Board. The Court held that the Board erred by ordering the Canada Revenue Agency to file an affidavit in support of its privilege claim based on an assumption that the withheld communications were relevant. This finding allowed the Court to avoid answering the CRA’s challenge to the PSLRB’s authority “to determine a claim for privilege.” The Court did comment, however:

Whether or not a tribunal has the legal authority to determine if documents are subject to solicitor-client privilege, it may conduct a preliminary screening, without inspecting them or issuing an order that would breach the privilege if validly claimed. A bare assertion of privilege should not be allowed to automatically derail the conduct of a proceeding if the tribunal has no authority to decide the validity of the claim, any more than a tribunal with authority to decide a privilege claim should inspect the document the moment a party challenges the validity of the claim.

If a tribunal is not satisfied on the basis of the information available to it that the documents
in question are capable of being the subject of a valid claim for solicitor-client privilege, it can admit them or order their production. If the tribunal is not satisfied that the documents may be relevant to issues in dispute before it, it will exclude them or not order their production on this ground. In either case, the tribunal’s rulings would be subject to appeal or judicial review.

Canada (Attorney General) v. Quadrini, 2011 FCA 115 (CanLII).