If You Sue, Even About Personal Matters, Expect the Case to Be Public

Starting at Mikhail v. Manchester Univ., Inc.Judge Holly Brady (N.D. Ind.):

Plaintiff states that she wants the whole case closed because she “experiencing violation and disruptions to my life” [to]Very personal or medical information is made public. {Plaintiff brought suit against the defendant alleging discrimination in the disability field and failing to provide accommodation under the ADA as well as the Rehabilitation Act. A clerk’s entry of judgment against the Plaintiff was entered in May 2019 and the case is closed.} While the Court understands Plaintiff’s concerns, Plaintiff has not overcome the strong presumption of public access to judicial documents….

A general principle supports public access to Federal Court Records. However, courts may limit such access only after considering all competing interests. Indeed, “[w]The federal courts are presumptively available for public inspection. Judges deliberate in private but issue public decisions after public arguments based on public records… Any step that withdraws an element of the judicial process from public view makes the ensuing decision look more like fiat and requires rigorous justification.” Courts have declined to seal cases that involve substantial countervailing privacy rights such as trade secrets and state secrets.

It is difficult to strike a balance between transparency in court proceedings for the public and litigants’ privacy rights. This can be complicated when cases reveal the litigants’ health information and their medical history. Look! Mitze v. Saul (7th Cir. (7th Cir. 2020). (Sympathizing With a Disability Claimant, “who feels that her medical information shouldn’t be publicized because she uses her right of judicial review .”).. The public nature of a federal court case can cause a plaintiff to expect at most some invasion of their privacy. Once a case is brought to a court, it’s no longer the case of the parties, but the entire public. In the context of disability discrimination claims, the medical basis of the claim is front and center and it is reasonable to expect such information to become public….

Plaintiff is not asking for the Court’s sealing of only certain parts of her case that involve medical records, or to remove her medical data. She wants the Court, regardless of whether she has disclosed her medical information, to seal the entire case. These types of requests are a reminder to litigants that they must meet a very high standard.

Plaintiff did not meet the threshold here, regardless of the way the Court phrased it. Plaintiff only expressed concern that the public has access to her personal and medical information. It isn’t enough to get the Court to seal it, given the Court’s strong preference for public access to and transparency of the judiciary. Requests to seal cases based on similar concerns are routinely denied by the courts. Gonzales v. United States Post Off. Shelbyville, Indiana (S.D. Ind. 2021 (denial of motion to seal in case plaintiff wanted to avoid harassment, retaliation or humiliation). Abdul-Haqq v. Kaiser Found. Hosps. (N.D. Cal. 2020) (denial of motion for seal closed case, plaintiff alleging third parties had posted publicly available information to websites and threatened with sending it in text messages to his employers and places of worship); Brez v. Fougera Pharms., Inc. (D. Kan. 2018, denying request for seal closed case in which plaintiff was having difficulty finding employment. The case is open to the public. Gravestock v. Tarpley Truck & Trailer Inc.(D. Colo. 2017). The denial of request for sealing case was based on “alleged conduct in a highly private, sensitive, scandalous and puurient manner” and “would diminish the public standing and professional standing the parties”. Plaintiff’s Motion To Seal Her Case Is Denied.