United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending and ready for resolution in this case is a motion to
seal filed by Defendant United of Omaha Life Insurance
Company. (ECF No. 16) . The court now rules, no hearing being
deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following
reasons, the motion to seal will be granted.
Gerald Joy filed a complaint on July 31, 2014 against United
of Omaha Life Insurance Company alleging he was denied short
term disability benefits for which he believes he is
eligible. (ECF No. 1) . On September 18, 2014, the parties
filed a stipulation of dismissal subject to conditions. (ECF
No. 6) . The parties agreed that Plaintiff would submit, and
Defendant would review, a long term disability application.
In the event that long term disability benefits were denied
Plaintiff, and after Plaintiff exhausted all his
administrative remedies, then Defendant would waive service
of process and consent to the reopening of this case.
2, 2016, the parties filed a consent motion to reopen and
amend which was granted. (ECF No. 8) . Plaintiff filed an
amended complaint (ECF No. 11) and Defendant thereafter filed
an answer (ECF No. 12) .
8, 2016, the court convened a telephone conference with
counsel. The parties reported that they intended to file the
administrative record, that it was voluminous, and that
Defendant would be moving to seal it. At that time Plaintiff
consented to the sealing of the administrative record. The
parties also agreed to participate in mediation and agreed to
a briefing schedule with respect to summary judgment motions.
As anticipated, Defendant filed the instant consent motion to
seal on July 7 (ECF No. 16) and a paper copy of the
administrative record (consisting of two banker boxes) on
July 11, 2016.
right of public access to documents or materials filed in a
district court derives from two independent sources: the
common law and the First Amendment." Va. Dep't
of State Police v. Wash. Post, 386 F.3d 567, 575
(4th Cir. 2004) . "The common law presumes a
right of the public to inspect and copy 'all judicial
records and documents, '" id. at 575
(quoting Stone v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 855
F.2d 178, 180 (4th Cir. 1988)), although this
presumption "can be rebutted if countervailing interests
heavily outweigh the public interests in access."
Id. (quoting Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc.,
846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988)); see also
Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597-99
(1978) . Under this common law balancing analysis,
"[t]he party seeking to overcome the presumption bears
the burden of showing some significant interest that
outweighs the presumption." Rushford, 846 F.2d
at 253. "Ultimately, under the common law[, ] the
decision whether to grant or restrict access to judicial
records or documents is a matter of a district court's
'supervisory power, ' and it is one 'best left to
the sound discretion of the [district] court.'"
Va. Dep't of State Police, 386 F.3d at 575
(quoting Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598-99) (second
alteration in original).
addition to the public's common law right of access, the
First Amendment provides a "more rigorous" right of
access for certain "judicial records and
documents." Va. Dep't of State Police, 386
F.3d at 575-76; see also In re Application of the United
States for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section
2703(D), 707 F.3d 283, 290 (4th Cir. 2013)
(explaining the "significant" distinction between
the two rights of access). Where the First Amendment does
apply, access may be denied "only on the basis of a
compelling governmental interest, and only if the denial is
narrowly tailored to serve that interest."
Stone, 855 F.2d at 180.
a right of access to a document to exist under either the
First Amendment or the common law, the document must be a
'judicial record'" in the first instance. In
re Application, 707 F.3d at 290. The Fourth Circuit held
that judicially authored or created documents are
"judicial records, " as are documents filed with
the court that "play a role in the adjudicative process,
or adjudicate substantive rights." Id. (citing
Rushford, 84 6 F.2d at 2 52; In re Policy Mgt. Sys.
Corp., 67 F.3d 296 (4th Cir. 1995)
(unpublished table decision)). For example, "the more
rigorous standard should . . . apply to documents filed in
connection with a summary judgment motion in a civil
case." Va. Dep't of State Police, 386 F.3d
at 578 (quoting Rushford, 846 F.3d at 253)
(alteration in original).
Fourth Circuit also recently reminded us that:
It is well settled that the public and press have a qualified
right of access to judicial documents and records filed in
civil and criminal proceedings. SeeRichmond
Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 n.
17, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980); Nixon v.
Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597, 98 S.Ct.
1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1978); Media Gen. Operations, Inc.
v. Buchanan, 417 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir. 2005). The
right of public access springs from the First Amendment and
the common-law tradition that court proceedings are
presumptively open to public scrutiny. Va. Dep't of
State Police v. Wash. Post, 386 F.3d 567, 575 (4th Cir.
2004). "The distinction between the rights of access
afforded by the common law and the First Amendment is
significant, because the common law does not afford as much
substantive protection to the interests of the press and the
public as does the First Amendment." In re United
States for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 2703,
707 F.3d 283, 290 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Va. Dep't
of State Police, 386 F.3d at 575) (internal quotation
marks omitted). The common-law presumptive right of access
extends to all judicial documents and records, and the
presumption can be rebutted only by showing that
"countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public
interests in access." Rushford, 846 F.2d at
253. By contrast, the First Amendment secures a right of
access "only to particular judicial records and
documents, " Stone, 855 F.2d at 180, and, when
it applies, access may be restricted only if closure is
"necessitated by a compelling government interest"
and the denial of access is "narrowly tailored to serve
that interest, " In re Wash. Post Co., 807 F.2d
383, 390 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Press-Enter. Co. v.
Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 510, 104 S.Ct. 819, 78
L.Ed.2d 629 (1984) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Doe v. Public Citizen,
749 F.3d 246, 265-66
(4th Cir. 2014) . Thus, as a substantive matter,
when a district court is presented with a request to seal
certain documents, it must determine two things: (1) whether
the documents in question are judicial records to which the
common law presumption of access applies; and (2) whether the
documents are also protected by the more rigorous First
Amendment right of access. In reApplication, 707 F.3d at 290; see also Va.
Dep't of StatePolice, 386 F.3d at 576. In
addition, Local Rule 105.11 requires the party seeking
sealing to include "(a) proposed reasons supported by
specific factual representations to justify the sealing and
(b) an explanation why alternatives to sealing would not
provide sufficient protection." In the instant motion,
Defendant states that the record includes numerous medical
records and other documents which contain sensitive and
private information of the Plaintiff such as his date of
birth and social security number. Upon careful consideration,