Facebook Lacks Standing To Challenge Subpoenas For User Info, Says New York Appellate Court

Here we go again. Another privacy-related Facebook legal issue has arisen.


In a disability fraud case in New York, in which “more than 130 police officers and other public workers in New York City whose disability claims allegedly conflicted with information about life activities on their Facebook accounts,” Facebook has reportedly been told by a New York appellate court that it lacks standing to challenge subpoenas for the users’ personal information. Although Facebook has produced the information as ordered, it does not plan to give up on the issue. In fact, according to Bloomberg, Facebook released the following statement:

We continue to believe that overly broad search warrants—granting the government the ability to keep hundreds of people’s account information indefinitely—are unconstitutional and raise important concerns about the privacy of people’s online information.

Apparently, Facebook has not decided whether to appeal the ruling further.

How much information does Facebook maintain on its users, anyway?  According to a Forbes article from several years ago, the answer is A LOT. The personal data stored by Facebook includes everything from “every person who has ever poked you” to “a list of the machines that [the user] has used Facebook from, how often [the user] has signed in from the machine, as well as a list of all the other Facebookers who have logged in on that machine.” An exemplar full report discussed by the Forbes article was over 800 pages long.

If you are curious about how to download all of your Facebook data, Facebook tells you how to do so here:

Download facebook data

This information, of course, can be helpful to lawyers when fashioning interrogatories and requests for production of documents pertaining to Facebook data. As you may recall, we at Abnormal Use have covered many Facebook-related legal topics in the past, which can be accessed here.

No Monkey Business . . . Court Rules Chimps Don’t Have Human Rights

A New York Judge recently heard a case brought by an activist claiming that chimpanzees should be afforded the same legal rights as humans. Although Judge Barbara Jaffe ruled that they don’t possess any such rights, the opinion was a strange one, and it seems that she was initially inclined to grant them such rights but felt constrained by some pesky legal precedent to the contrary.

The case involved two research chimpanzees named Hercules and Leo. Lawyers for the Nonhuman Rights Project alleged that the chimps were entitled to rights that the legal system has previously recognized as applying only to humans. The lawyers asked for a writ of habeas corpus authorizing the transfer of the animals from captivity at a state university to an animal sanctuary in Florida. They argued that “because chimpanzees possess fundamental attributes of personhood in that they are demonstrably autonomous, self-aware, and self-determining and otherwise are very much like humans, ‘justice demands’ that they be granted fundamental rights of liberty and equality afforded to humans.”

Such a grant of rights would have marked a first for a court in the United States. Ultimately, the judge concluded that she was bound by an earlier ruling by a New York appellate court that held that chimps are not entitled to legal person status because of their inability to take on duties or responsibilities. However, Judge Jaffe suggested that the legal system was evolving on the issue just as it did in the debate over gay marriage.  In so doing, she cited a handful of cases granting narrowly expanded rights to animals and stated that this was ultimately question of public policy.

Private Message or Process Server – Service Through Facebook?

Revolutions have started through the use of it.

Marriages have started through the use of it.

Opinions (informed and uninformed) are shared on it.

So why should a lawsuit not start through its use?

What is it? Why Facebook and potentially other social media platforms, of course. In a recent divorce case, Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku (2015 NY Slip Op 25096, Mar. 27, 2015), the New York County Supreme Court permitted a wife to serve her husband solely with a summons via private message to the husband’s account on Facebook.  While recognizing that Facebook is not a statutorily permitted method of service, the Court asked and answered several relevant questions in making its way to its conclusion that service in this fashion was proper.

The Court first asked whether the standard form of personal service was at all possible. It reasoned that since the couple had never resided together, the last known address the wife had for the husband was from an apartment he left in 2011, and the husband told her he had no fixed address or employment, it was an impossibility to personally serve the husband.

The Court next had the wife show that statutorily permissible “substitute service” of serving on someone of suitable age and discretion or through “nail and mail” would also be unavailable under the circumstances.  The Court quickly rejected the possibility of substitute service since such service is premised upon knowledge of the husband’s actual place of business or home address.

The Court further insisted that the wife demonstrate that sending the summons through Facebook would be a way to reasonably expect he would receive actual notice. The Court noted that whether the method used would comport with due process was the “ultimately determinative” factor.

To ensure that the Court’s order was constitutionally reasonable, the Court required the wife to submit a supplemental affidavit verifying the husband’s Facebook account, including copies of exchanges between the husband and wife on Facebook and the identification of husband in certain photographs. The wife’s affidavit also showed that husband regularly logged into the account.  Finally, the Court determined that service by publication would be useless and costly in these circumstances, finding that publication was almost guaranteed not to provide husband with notice of the action.

The Court concluded that the wife’s attorney would log into her account, message the husband by first identifying himself, and either include an image of the summons or a hyperlink to the summons.  Additionally, the attorney would have to repeat the message once each week for three weeks or until husband acknowledged service, and after the initial transmittal, the wife and the attorney would have to call and text message the husband to inform him of the Facebook message.

Baidoo is not the only case to contemplate service by Facebook.  But could service by Facebook extend outside of cases for divorce or between individuals?

Just two years before Baidoo, the Federal Trade Commission, in alleging “that the defendants operated a scheme that tricked American consumers into spending money to fix non-existent problems with their computers,” requested leave to serve five India-based companies by means of both email and Facebook.  F.T.C. v. PCCare247 Inc., No. 12 CIV. 7189 PAE (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2013).  While the Court noted that Facebook and email were not within the scope of Article 10 of the Hague Convention on Service, it also noted that India had not objected to the use of Facebook and email as a means of service such that the Court could authorize service by those means. In turn, the Court found that the FTC’s proposal to serve defendants by both email and Facebook satisfied due process, stating that “[w]here defendants run an online business, communicate with customers via email, and advertise their business on their Facebook pages, service by email and Facebook together presents a means highly likely to reach defendants.” This holding was followed several months later in F.T.C. v. Pecon Software Ltd., No. 12 CIV. 7186 PAE (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 7, 2013).

Given these cases and the fact that the cost of publication is increasing while the likelihood of notice by publication is decreasing, service only by Facebook on even corporate defendants could be a thing of the relatively short-term future. However, given the effort that must be exerted before a court will permit such service, it will likely be a long time before service by Facebook on either individual or corporate defendants is something that is commonplace. While there may be a shot for Facebook, a search of service by other social media platforms, including Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat, has not produced any results to date.

Hall and Oates Haulin’ Granola Company to Court

They say imitation is the best form of flattery, but rock legends Daryl Hall and John Oates may disagree. Here’s the long and short of it: Brooklyn-based granola company Early Bird Foods named a line of granola products “Haulin’ Oats.” Hall and Oates’ response: “No Can Do.” Hall and Oates were none too pleased, as reported by Rolling Stone magazine. According to the complaint filed in New York, not only does the rock duo assert that the Early Bird is attempting to “trade off of the fame and notoriety associated with the artists,” the duo also contends that its company, Whole Oats Enterprises, owns a federal trademark registration for the mark “Haulin’ Oats.” The band contends Early Bird’s use of the mark will confuse consumers and lead them to believe Early Bird’s products are approved by the band.

Hall and Oates certainly doesn’t think “It’s A Laugh[ing],” matter, asserting both common law and statutory trademark causes of action. The duo is seeking a permanent injunction against Early Bird preventing the company from using “Haulin’ Oates” or similar marks, compensatory damages, and all profits, gains and advantages derived by Early Bird out of its “Haulin’ Oates” product line, among other relief.

One final note on this new lawsuit. It seems Early Bird and its founder Nekisia Davis are going to ride the publicity wave for the time being, lawsuit be damned. According to NBC News, Early Bird tweeted about the suit and offered a discount on Haulin’ Oats for weekend purchases. The coupon code? SAYITISNTSO. Pretty cheeky response if you ask us here at Abnormal Use. How this lawsuit will resolve is, of course, unknown. However, in the meantime, Davis may find herself as a “Rich Girl,” haulin’ her products to countries near and far.

(Hat Tip: Lowering The Bar).

Rick Springfield (And His Rear) Not Liable In New York Personal Injury Suit


At long last, we have some resolution to the now infamous Rick Springfield butt-injury case.  Last week, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Springfield, finding that his hindquarters were not responsible for the injuries allegedly sustained by 45-year old Vicki Colcagno way, way back in 2004.  Colcagno alleged that during a concert at the New York State fair, Springfield was jostled by the audience and lost his balance, causing his rear to strike her.  The butt-hit allegedly knocked Colcagno to the ground where she struck her head, causing a traumatic brain injury.  Exhibit A (pictured above) of Colcagno’s case was a picture of Springfield’s rear end taken just moments before the alleged incident.  After all the evidence was heard, the jury took 61 minutes to render a defense verdict.

The location of the allegedly dangerous body part aside, we here at Abnormal Use are not surprised by the jury verdict.  Colcagno had no witnesses from the concert to corroborate her story.  She had no video evidence (aside from the aforementioned pre-accident butt shot).  After the alleged incident, she remained at the concert and continued taking fan photos of Springfield.  She also attended a Cyndi Lauper concert a week after the Springfield incident. (Lauper kept her body parts on stage).  Moreover, the jury probably didn’t like hearing how Colcagno asked Springfield for concert tickets during a 2010 deposition.

In any event, we applaud Springfield and his legal team for following this case through to trial.  Settlement would have undoubtedly been the path of least resistance.  The life of an 80’s pop star is certainly busy and keeping up with litigation was probably not high on his list.  But, rather than settle, Springfield boldly stuck to his position that he did nothing wrong. Now, if Springfield can channel the momentum of this trial victory into a new “Jessie’s Girl,” we can all be winners.

The Coming Ebola Litigation?

Ever since the United States experienced its first Ebola death, uncertainty looms over the proper way to contain the virus and the appropriate measures that governments should take to prevent an outbreak.  Three states, New Jersey, New York and Illinois, have imposed quarantines on anyone arriving with a “high risk” of having contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.  Kaci Hickox, a nurse who volunteered to help with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was quarantined upon her return to the U.S.  According to Hickox, she exhibited no symptoms of the disease and found herself to be otherwise completely healthy.  The White House has expressed concerns over the quarantine policies, arguing that the quarantine policies are not grounded in science and reiterating that Ebola is difficult to catch.

We may have the opportunity to see this saga play out in the courtroom, as Hickox has indicated that she plans to file suit on the basis that the quarantine violated her Constitutional rights.  According to Hickox’s lawyer: “She’s fine. She’s not sick . . . . She went and did a magnanimous thing and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, not put in isolation because some political leaders decided it looks good to do that.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out if Hickox does file suit.  Regardless of the outcome, the legal industry should be prepared to deal with Ebola-related issues.  International law firm Reed Smith, has announced the formation of a Global Ebola Task Force, and more firms will likely follow suit.

On a related note, an interesting article examining medical malpractice-based Ebola lawsuits against the backdrop of Texas “tort reform” litigation is located here.

Denny’s Settles Hot Coffee Case Following Child’s Injury

According to a report from The Buffalo News, G.B. Restaurants, the parent company of Denny’s, recently paid $500,000 to settle yet another hot coffee-related lawsuit.  While this settlement is not so far removed from the 20th anniversary of the infamous Stella Liebeck-McDonald’s hot coffee case, the underlying theory of liability couldn’t be more different.  In this case, Jose Adams and Sally Irizarry of Puerto Rico sued the restaurant chain after their 14-month old daughter was burned by hot coffee in a Buffalo, New York Denny’s.  The daughter sustained those burns after she grabbed a cup of coffee off of the table and spilled it on herself.  The crux of the lawsuit is whether the waitress was negligent in placing the coffee within arm’s reach of the child – not that the coffee was unreasonably dangerous as alleged in the Liebeck suit.

With every new hot coffee case that hits the news, the media can’t help itself but to make comparisons to the now 20-year old Liebeck case. (We tend to do a bit of the same ourselves, but that’s why you love this blog, right?) In fact, The Buffalo News began and ended its report with references to the Liebeck case even though the only link those cases share is the presence of hot coffee.  Without the Liebeck case coming before it, we doubt this case would have garnered its own headline (or be the source of blog fodder).

Liebeck comparisons aside, this case has its own liability issues.  We do not know much about the facts of the case, but we have to wonder how long the cup sat on the table prior to the child pulling it off.  As former patrons of Denny’s, we know that table space can be limited depending on the size of the food orders.  Also, as parents, we certainly can empathize with the perils of having young children in restaurants.  However, we are also cognizant of a child’s reaching hands and plan accordingly.  Should a waitress be responsible for placing the coffee too near the child?  Maybe, but these other factors should also be considered when analyzing how the coffee got onto the child in the first place. We’ll keep you posted on this case if circumstances warrant.

Tech Companies To Litigate Unpaid Royalties

Two kings of the tech world will reportedly duke it out over allegedly unpaid royalties.  In the suit, filed in federal court in New York, Microsoft alleges that it entered into a patent-sharing agreement in 2011 by which Samsung was to pay Microsoft a royalty for every Android phone it sells.  This was purportedly part of an effort to “work together to develop and market Windows Phone, Microsoft’s mobile software.” Microsoft alleges that Samsung failed to make a royalty payment on time and refused to pay interest on the late payment.  The original “heavily redacted complaint” alleges that Samsung has attempted to use Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s phone business as an excuse for not complying with the patent-sharing agreement. Microsoft has since filed an amended complaint, and Samsung has responded with a motion to compel arbitration. The case is Microsoft Corp. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 14-cv-06039, (D.N.Y. 2014).

No Wings for Red Bull? Company Settles False Advertising Suit In New York

According to a report from BevNet, energy drink manufacturer Red Bull has settled a proposed class action lawsuit filed against it for $13 million.  The suit, filed last year by Benjamin Careathers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleged that Red Bull’s signature “It gives you wings” slogan is false and misleads customers about the drink’s superiority.  While the company’s advertisements may in fact show Red Bull drinkers growing wings, the plaintiff alleges that Red Bull offers no increased performance, concentration, or reaction speed.  As you might expect, Red Bull has denied any liability.

We assume – and hope – that the plaintiff didn’t actually believe Red Bull would give him actual wings.  (We doubt New York recognizes the “negligent failure to bestow wings” cause of action.). In fact, we seriously doubt that Red Bull would have paid out millions on such claims even if it was concerned about litigation costs. As such, we will refrain, mostly, from commenting on the absurdity of such a lawsuit and focus on the more plausible allegations.

This lawsuit was never about wings, but rather, it centered upon whether Red Bull actually delivers that energy fix we all crave.  After all, that energy boost is why people spend $3 on an 8-ounce drink in the first place, right?  Or, $2 for a cup of Starbucks coffee, for that matter.  The suit, however, alleges that Red Bull’s primary active ingredient (caffeine) is the same as that of coffee and, thus, it is not worthy of the premium price.  Maybe so, but the suit fails to take into account the cognitive effects that come along with drinking an “energy drink.”  Even if it offers a mere placebo effect, the energy drink didn’t become a multi-billion dollar industry without repeat customers.

The truth is that the energy drink is not some new phenomenon.  For centuries, people have been looking for ways to give themselves an extra burst of energy.  Coffee has been, and continues to be, the drink of choice for many across the globe.  However, in the 1960’s, Japanese manufacturer Taisho upped the ante when it released Lipovitan D – an energizing tonic sold in mini-bottles.  Thereafter, other beverage companies joined in the game.  Pop culture legend Jolt Cola was once marketed to the masses as having “all the sugar and twice the caffeine.”  Those were the days. Even the soft drink giants, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have tried their hand at distributing coffee replacements over the years.  Today, the game has evolved into the billion dollar “energy drink” industry featuring companies like Red Bull and Monster.

Our guess is that this lawsuit will have little, if any, impact on the energy drink industry.  For those angry about Red Bull’s alleged false advertising, Red Bull has placed $6.5 million of the $13 million settlement into a fund for consumers.  If you have purchased a Red Bull in the last 10 years, you can go here for a $10 refund or two free Red Bull products.   No word on whether the free products give you wings.

The Beastie Boys Smack Down Monster Beverage

The Beastie Boys are back in the news, but it’s not for the band’s music.  Rather, they recently obtained a $1.7 million verdict in a New York copyright infringement and false endorsement lawsuit against Monster Beverage (the makers of Monster Energy drinks) over the company’s use of the musical trio’s music and image in a promotional video. The lawsuit stemmed from the energy drink maker’s use of the Beastie Boys’ likenesses and five songs as part of a “megamix” in a snowboarding video titled “Ruckus in the Rockies.”  The video was posted on a promotional website back in 2012.  According to Monster, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. Apparently, an employee “inadvertently” believed Monster had been given rights to use the music.  Monster only contested damages at trial. Nevertheless, the jury came back with a “monster” judgment.

As you might suspect, Monster was not too happy with amount of the award.  The company had contended that the damages only amounted to $125,000.  Admittedly, the award does seem a little large, but it is not outrageous. “Syncing,” which is the industry term for reusing a song for commercial purposes, generates approximately $322 million per year for the music industry.

This isn’t the only time the Beastie Boys have had to “fight for their rights” this year.  In March, the group settled with a small toy company over its use of the song “Girls” in a video that went ultimately viral.