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Young v. Liberty Mutual Group Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 4, 2014

Dawn Young, Plaintiff,
Liberty Mutual Group Incorporated, et al., Defendants.


JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are Defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company's Motion to Seal Portions of its Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Documentation, (Doc. 148), and Plaintiff's Motion to Seal, (Doc. 153). The Court now rules on the motions.

I. Background

The following brief recitation of facts is derived from the parties' redacted filings and appears to be undisputed. Plaintiff was injured in the course and scope of her employment and Defendant is the workers' compensation insurer for Plaintiff's employer. Plaintiff sought treatment from several different doctors, and Defendant objected to at least one change of physician. These disputes resulted in delayed payment of Plaintiff's workers' compensation claims, which is the basis of Plaintiff's bad faith and punitive damages claims in this Court.

Both parties' motions seek to file under seal documents that contain "Plaintiff's medical history, conditions and treatment" in order to preserve Plaintiff's "privacy interests."

II. Legal Standard

It has long been recognized that the public has a general right of access "to inspect and copy... judicial records and documents." Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). This right extends to all judicial records except those that have "traditionally been kept secret for important policy reasons, " namely grand jury transcripts and certain warrant materials. Kamakana v. City & Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006). "Unless a particular court record is one traditionally kept secret, ' a strong presumption in favor of access' is the starting point." Id. (citing Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003)). "[T]he strong presumption of access to judicial records applies fully to dispositive pleadings, including motions for summary judgment and related attachments, " because "the resolution of a dispute on the merits, whether by trial or summary judgment, is at the heart of the interest in ensuring the public's understanding of the judicial process and of significant public events.'" Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179 (quoting Valley Broadcasting Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for Dist. of Nev., 798 F.2d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1986)). "A party seeking to seal a judicial record then bears the burden of overcoming this strong presumption by meeting the compelling reasons' standard." Id. at 1178 (citing Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1135). The party must "articulate compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings that outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring disclosure, such as the public interest in understanding the judicial process." Id. at 1178-79 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Generalized statements supporting sealing are inadequate; a party must articulate specific facts to justify sealing, and must do so with respect to each item sought to be sealed, id. at 1183-84, and a court deciding to seal judicial records must "articulate the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture." Id. at 1179 (quoting Hagestad v. Tragesser, 49 F.3d 1430, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995)).

"In general, compelling reasons' sufficient to outweigh the public's interest in disclosure and justify sealing court records exist when such court files might have become a vehicle for improper purposes, ' such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets." Id. (quoting Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598). "The mere fact that the production of records may lead to a litigant's embarrassment, incrimination, or exposure to further litigation will not, without more, compel the court to seal its records." Id.

III. Analysis

The Ninth Circuit has not specifically considered whether the sensitive nature of medical information justifies sealing court documents, [1] and neither party has cited any authority supporting such a holding. For the following reasons, the Court holds that general privacy concerns do not justify sealing medical records which are central to the issues in the case.

Privacy is no doubt important, but a general appeal to the private nature of a document cannot, without more, justify sealing it. See Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179; see also Krause v. Nev. Mut. Ins. Co., 2013 WL 3776146, at *5 (D. Nev. July 16, 2013) (citing Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179). Even embarrassing documents-which are perhaps quintessentially private-are not exempt from the public's right to access. Id. (citing Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1136 (9th Cir. 2003)). Indeed, because the purpose of sealing documents is to hide them from public view, some interest in privacy or confidentiality is at the heart of nearly every request to seal documents.

Moreover, because Plaintiff's case largely centers on her medical condition and various medical examiners' opinion of it, to allow all materials containing Plaintiff's medical information to be filed under seal "would effectively seal the entire case, and, thus, would infringe too extensively on the public right to access court records." Rock v. McHugh, 819 F.Supp.2d 456, 476 (D. Md. 2011). Even a quick glance at the redacted versions of the parties' briefs and supporting documents reveals that a large portion of the record relating to Defendant's motion for summary judgment would be inaccessible to the public were the Court to grant the parties' motions to file under seal. An invocation of general privacy rights cannot justify such a sweeping order.

In short, given the centrality of Plaintiff's medical condition to the case, Plaintiff's privacy interests are not a compelling reason to seal the records from public access. Accordingly, the Court will not seal materials containing Plaintiff's medical information.

Because the Court must deny the parties' motions to file under seal, the Court cannot at this time rule on the merits of the Defendant's underlying motion for summary judgment. Presumably the parties have attached to their briefs only those documents necessary to decide the particular motion at issue, and therefore the Court should not automatically exclude those documents by considering the redacted versions of the motions. Thus, the Court will deny Defendant's motion for summary ...

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