Cleaver et al v. Transamerica Life Insurance Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Signed by Senior Judge Joseph H. McKinley, Jr. on 4/26/2021: For the reasons set forth in the Memorandum Opinion and Order, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Transamerica's Motion for Leave to File Motion for Summary Judgment Under Seal 18 is DENIED. cc: Counsel(EAS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:18-CV-00178 -JHM
SHEILA CLEAVER, et al.
TRANSAMERICA LIFE INSURANCE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Transamerica Life Insurance Company’s
Motion for Leave to File Motion for Summary Judgment Under Seal
[DN 18] and its
supplemental briefing [DN 21]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision.
Transamerica seeks to seal its motion for summary judgment and exhibits in their
entirety. Transamerica gives the following reason to seal its motion for summary judgment:
The motion and exhibits are replete with references to the medical records and
health information of Paul Brewster [.] The personal identifiers have been
redacted from the exhibits (and are not disclosed in the motion or supporting
memorandum). Nonetheless, in order to maintain the confidential nature of Mr.
Brewster’s health history and medical records, Transamerica files this motion to
ensure the continued confidentiality of that information unless and until the Court
orders the motion and exhibits not be filed under seal.
[DN 18 at 1].
In response to Transamerica’s motion, the Court entered an order explaining that while
Transamerica moved to seal the documents under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), the
correct Federal Rule of Civil Procedure to consider its motion under is Rule 5.2(d). [DN 20 at 1
n.1]. The Court also gave Transamerica the opportunity to submit supplemental briefing to
explain why it met its burden in justifying sealing the records. [Id. at 3]. Then, Transamerica
filed supplemental briefing. [DN 21].
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(d) and Local Rule 5.6 allows the Court to order that a
filing be made under seal. The Sixth Circuit “recognize[s]. . . a ‘strong presumption in favor of
openness’ as to court records.” Shane Grp., Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich., 825 F.3d
299, 305 (6th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). The party that seeks to seal the records bears the
heavy burden of overcoming that presumption. Id. “To meet this burden, the party must show
three things: (1) a compelling interest in sealing the records; (2) that the interest in sealing
outweighs the public's interest in accessing the records; and (3) that the request is narrowly
tailored.” Kondash v. Kia Motors Am., Inc., 767 F. App’x 635, 637 (6th Cir. 2019) (citation
omitted). “Where a party can show a compelling reason for sealing, the party must then show
why those reasons outweigh the public interest in access to those records and that the seal is
narrowly tailored to serve that reason.” Id. at 637 (citation omitted). “To do so, the party must
‘analyze in detail, document by document, the propriety of secrecy, providing reasons and legal
citations.’” Id. (citation omitted). If a district court opts to seal court records, “it must set forth
specific findings and conclusions ‘which justify nondisclosure to the public.’” Rudd Equip. Co.,
Inc. v. John Deere Constr. & Forestry Co., 834 F.3d 589, 594 (6th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).
Transamerica “filed the motion to protect the privacy of Mr. Brewster’s medical records
and information until plaintiffs had the opportunity to make any argument they wished as to
whether the information contained in the motion for summary judgment should be kept under
seal.” [DN 21 at 2]. While the Court understands and appreciates Transamerica’s caution in this
regard, it is Transamerica, as the party moving to seal, which must meet the heavy burden under
Sixth Circuit precedent. Shane Grp., Inc., 825 F.3d at 305.
“[M]edical information can be considered appropriate for sealing in some
circumstances.” Bell v. Sam’s E., Inc., No. 1:16-CV-315-SKL, 2018 WL 8512583, at *3 (E.D.
Tenn. Jan. 12, 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “the public has a strong
interest in viewing the evidence that courts base their decisions upon, even if that evidence could
be deemed privileged or protected.” Tyson v. Regency Nursing, LLC, No. 3:17-CV-91-DJH,
2018 WL 632063, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 30, 2018) (citing Shane Grp., Inc., 825 F.3d at 305).
Additionally, Brewster’s privacy interest in his medical information is diminished because he is
deceased. Rotger v. Montefiore Med. Ctr., No. 1:15-CV-7783-GHW, 2018 WL 11214575, at *2
(S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2018) (“The privacy interests usually at stake in the information contained in
medical records are diminished because the subject of those records, Nelson Rotger, is
Plaintiffs have put Brewster’s medical condition at issue by suing Transamerica for not
paying them Brewster’s life insurance benefits. See Mitchell v. Tennessee, No. 3:17-CV-00973,
2020 WL 6712169, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Nov. 16, 2020) (“Mitchell placed his medical condition at
issue by filing this action against the defendants for constitutional violations related to his
medical needs.”); see also Rotger, 2018 WL 11214575, at *2 (“In addition, by bringing claims
for, inter alia, wrongful death, . . . Plaintiff has put Mr. Rotger's medical conditions at issue in
this action.”). Furthermore, Plaintiffs have not responded at all to the motion to seal. Since there
has been no showing to justify sealing the motion for summary judgment, and considering that
Transamerica has already redacted personal identifiers from the documents at issue, the Court
will deny the motion to seal.
For the reasons set forth above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Transamerica’s
Motion for Leave to File Motion for Summary Judgment Under Seal is DENIED. [DN 18].
April 26, 2021
Counsel of Record
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