Stored Communications Act Claim Survives Summary Judgment In Social Media Account Hijacking Case

Maremont v. Fredman, 2014 WL 812401 (N.D.Ill. 2014) examines an employee’s claims under the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. § 2701)(the “SCA”) where the employer accessed the employee’s social media accounts     that she used for both personal and business purposes.

The Court found that plaintiff submitted evidence to raise triable fact questions on each element of the Complaint’s SCA count. 

The SCA aims to deter computer hacking and gives a private right of action to someone whose private electronic information is intentionally breached. 

The SCA plaintiff must establish that the defendant either (a) intentionally accessed the plaintiff’s private computer communication or (b) intentionally exceeded authorized access and obtained, altered or prevented authorized access to plaintiff’s private communications. *6.

For their part, the Defendants argued that Plaintiff voluntarily provided her Twitter and Facebook password information so that Defendants could continue marketing their company from plaintiff’s pages. 

Plaintiff disputed this: she claimed that she kept her Twitter and Facebook passwords in a locked electronic folder on Defendants’ server.  This fact dispute led the court to deny summary judgment on the SCA claim.

Another disputed fact question concerned plaintiff’s damages.  The SCA provides for both actual damages and minimum statutory damages of $1,000.  The case law is in flux as to whether actual damages are required before a plaintiff can recover the statutory minimum damages.  The Court looked to other jurisdictions to find that an SCA plaintiff  does not have to first prove actual damages (e.g. medical bills, lost wages, pain/suffering, etc.) before she can recover statutory damages.

But the Court still found plaintiff raised a disputed and triable fact question on actual damages.  Plaintiff, her husband and her father all testified to plaintiff’s acute mental anguish in the wake of Defendants’ unauthorized Tweeting and Facebooking barrage.  Under Federal Rule of Evidence 701 – witness observations of the Plaintiff’s mental distress was competent “lay opinion testimony”, based on the witnesses’ personal observations.  *7.

Take-aways: Clearly a pro-employee ruling; at least on the SCA claim.  The plaintiff not only stored her computer information on her employer’s computer server, but several witnesses for defendants also claimed that plaintiff willingly gave out her account passwords so that defendants could use the accounts as a marketing platform. 

Still, the Court found that plaintiff’s privacy and commercial interest (the Court found that plaintiff could enhance her reputation in the design community via social media) in her Twitter and Facebook accounts trumped the employers’ right to access those accounts. 

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.