In today’s blog we discuss two district court cases, both of which deny the parties’ request to seal documents containing personal health information of the plaintiffs.
In Schramm v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., No. 5:23-cv-163-JSM-PRL, 2023 WL 3320086 (M.D. Fla. May. 9, 2023), Florida Middle District Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens denied Plaintiff’s motion to seal the Complaint finding that Plaintiff failed to offer a compelling justification for the requested relief.
Plaintiff brought a long-term disability benefit action against Metropolitan Life Insurance Company on March 9, 2023, by filing a Summons and Complaint. Less than two months later, he moved to seal the Complaint, arguing that he was not comfortable with his private health information being made public in the lawsuit.
The court denied the motion to seal finding that Plaintiff did not offer any compelling justification to warrant granting the motion to seal. The court found “[b]y filing this action seeking an award of long-term disability benefits, Plaintiff has placed his own medical condition squarely at issue. ‘Courts have routinely held that, by putting one’s medical condition at issue in a lawsuit, a plaintiff waives any privilege to which he may have otherwise been entitled as to his privacy interests in his medical records.’” Plaintiff’s desire for medical privacy was not a compelling justification to grant the motion.
In Dioquino v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co., No. 20-CV-0167-BAS-RBB, 2021 WL 873286 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 9, 2021), Southern District Judge Cynthia Bashant reached the same conclusion, and offered a somewhat similar rationale.
In this case, Defendant United of Omaha Life Insurance Company brought an unopposed motion to seal Plaintiff’s claim file documents arguing that the files totaled “937 pages, many of which contain personal and private information relating to Plaintiff, including her Social Security Number, date of birth, medical information, and financial information,” and “it would be very burdensome to redact all of that information from the voluminous records.”
The court noted that the strong presumption of access to judicial records may only be overcome by “compelling reasons” sufficient to outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure, such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets. However, “[t]he 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.”
It concluded that United of Omaha’s motion was not well-taken, as “it cannot be the case that there are compelling reasons to seal all of Plaintiff’s claim files, which include routine correspondence and other items.” Although the files were largely composed of Plaintiff’s medical records, in which Plaintiff has a privacy interest, Plaintiff had placed her medical condition at issue by filing the ERISA action, and her privacy interest does not outweigh the public interest in understanding the judicial process.
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