Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Uber Refuses Subpoena in Southern Celebrity Custody Fight

In this brave new world of smartphones and search engines, turning up the heat in nasty divorces and custody disputes has never been easier.

However, unfortunately for one celebrity, his strategic (but vexing) legal tactic has landed him in a tangential legal battle against one of the many tech giants that loves a good legal fight that gives them a chance to show they'll be tough on user privacy. Uber has objected to the third-party subpoena for records served on them in the child-custody battle between Thomas Ravenel and Kathryn Dennis, but curiously, made no mention of user privacy to support their refusal.

Uber Says Too Burdensome

Ravenel sent Uber a subpoena seeking Dennis's Uber ride history. Uber said no, explaining that the request is unduly burdensome because the same information being sought could be obtained directly from the party. Uber also objected that the word "records" was vague and ambiguous, which seems to have struck a chord. Uber did offer that if other attempts to obtain the information fail, that they could amend their subpoena and try again.

Ravenel was not accepting of Uber's response, and has decided to take the fight to Uber in family court. He successfully petitioned the court to hold a show cause hearing on why Uber shouldn't be sanctioned for not producing the subpoenaed records.

Discovery Like Never Before

With all the smart tech out there, and particularly smartphones, the amount of discovery available is amazing. Ravenel is seeking the Uber ride history, likely, to uncover information that might assist him in a custody battle. And while that level of invasion may feel, well, invasive, it's certainly discoverable, and the ABA has some helpful tips on how to get Uber records. Notably, as Uber suggested to Ravenel, the ABA recommends starting with discovery to the party before subpoenaing Uber.

Cooperate With Tech Policy

While Ravenel may eventually be successful using the strong arm of the court to get Uber to comply, generally, practitioners would be wise to just comply with company third party subpoena requirements, as tangential discovery battles can be costly and taxing on your own resources.

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