United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON MOTION TO MAINTAIN THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD
UNDER SEAL (FILING NO. 39)
L. Pryor United States Magistrate Judge
matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to
Maintain the Administrative Record Under Seal (Filing No.
39), filed on January 16, 2018. Plaintiff filed a response in
opposition on January 26, 2018 (Filing No. 42), and Defendant
filed a reply on January 31, 2018 (Filing No. 43). The motion
was referred to the undersigned for ruling. For the reasons
that follow, the motion is denied.
plaintiff Shannon Fowler sued the Defendant AT&T Umbrella
Benefit Plan No. 3 (the Plan), under the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), challenging the
termination of her short-term disability benefits under the
Plan. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. (Filing
Nos. 34 & 40). When the Plan filed its summary judgment
motion, it filed the administrative record under seal and
moved for an order to maintain the record under seal. (Filing
No. 39). The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment
necessarily rely on the administrative record, which is 757
pages long and includes Ms. Fowler's medical records and
reports along with summaries and analyses of those records.
Plan argues that the administrative record should remain
under seal because it is permeated with Ms. Fowler's
social security number, date of birth, and personal and
private medical information. The Plan asserts it would be
burdensome to scour the record to locate and redact the
personal identifying information and that doing so would
leave Ms. Fowler's sensitive medical information exposed.
In addition, the Plan fears that even with diligence,
personal identifying information and sensitive medical
information might be missed. If the motion is denied, the
Plan asks that the Court order Ms. Fowler to file the
administrative record because she can waive the protections
of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(h), and she bears the
burden of proving her entitlement to the disability benefits,
see Ruttenberg v. U.S. Life Ins. Co., 413 F.3d 652,
663 (7th Cir. 2005).
Fowler responds that the Plan has not carried its burden
under Seventh Circuit case law and Southern District of
Indiana Local Rule 5-11(e) to establish good cause for
maintaining the administrative record under seal. She argues
the record is relevant and material to the resolution of this
matter, and therefore it should not be kept from the public.
She suggests that a less restrictive alternative to sealing,
namely, redaction would afford adequate protection.
Plan replies that the prevalence of Ms. Fowler's medical
records in the record establishes good cause to maintain the
entire record under seal. The Plan contends Ms. Fowler
misconstrues the protection that redaction may afford because
it would not protect her medical information in the claim
that affect the disposition of federal litigation are
presumptively open to public view ... unless a statute, rule,
or privilege justifies confidentiality.” In re
Specht, 622 F.3d 697, 701 (7th Cir. 2010). The public
interest in transparent judicial proceedings “can be
overridden only if the [litigants' property and privacy]
interests predominate in a particular case, that is, only if
there is good cause for sealing a part or the whole of the
record in that case.” Citizens First Nat'l Bank
of Princeton v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 943, 945
(7th Cir. 1999).
Fowler initiated this action in federal court, placing her
personal and sensitive medical information in the public eye.
Basic redaction requirements will afford some protection to
her privacy. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2(a) (directing
that personal information including last four digits of
social security numbers and the year of a person's birth
be redacted); see also S.D. Ind. L.R. 5-11(c) (documents
redacted under Rule 5.2(a) not to be filed under seal). Ms.
Fowler's opposition to maintaining the administrative
record under seal demonstrates she does not seek protection
of her medical information in that record from the public.
Instead, she wants the public to have access to the claims
record because it is relevant and material to the resolution
of this matter. She merely seeks redaction of information
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 5.2(a). Therefore, the Court finds that
Ms. Fowler's privacy interests do not outweigh the
public's interest in transparent judicial proceedings.
Court also understands the Plan is asserting an interest in
keeping Ms. Fowler's medical information under seal. The
Protecting the confidentiality of … medical
information is a priority for the Plan in order to promote
the privacy interests of all participants and beneficiaries
and their confidence in Plan administration. Whether the Plan
should act to guard the medical information it receives is
not subject to the whims of each participant. Failing to
protect one participant's privacy may cause others to
restrict the records that they are willing to provide to Plan
administrators in the future, interfering with the proper
administration of benefit claims.
No. 43 at ECF p. 2). The Plan has taken steps to protect Ms.
Fowler's medical information by filing its motion to
maintain the record under seal, and there is no suggestion it
has failed in any way to protect the privacy of its
participants and beneficiaries. The Plan has not shown that
its interest in keeping Ms. Fowler's medical information
private outweighs the public's interest in disclosure.
Plan likens this matter to a social security appeal for which
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(c) provides limited
public remote access due to the prevalence of sensitive
medical information and the volume of filings. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2, advisory committee's note to 2007
amendment. It is one thing to limit the public's remote