Anderson v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America

Filing 14

ORDER granting parties' 11 Joint Motion to Seal Administrative Record. The Clerk is DIRECTED to maintain the administrative record under seal during the pendency of this case. Signed by U.S. District Judge John C Coughenour. (TH)

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THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR 1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 7 8 9 DAVID ALAN ANDERSON, 10 Plaintiff, ORDER v. 11 12 CASE NO. C17-0659-JCC UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, 13 Defendant. 14 15 This matter comes before the Court on the parties’ joint motion to seal the administrative 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 record (Dkt. No. 11). Having thoroughly considered the parties’ motion, and after conducting an in camera review of the administrative record, the Court hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein. I. BACKGROUND Plaintiff brings this case under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), alleging Defendant wrongfully terminated his long-term disability benefits. (Dkt. No. 1.) The parties previously stipulated that no discovery will be conducted and that the case will be decided on the administrative record. (Dkt. No. 9.) The parties filed a stipulated motion to file and maintain the administrative record under seal, asserting that it contains sensitive medical information regarding Plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 11.) The Court ordered the parties to submit a copy of ORDER C17-0659-JCC PAGE - 1 1 the administrative record so that it could conduct an in camera review to determine whether the 2 request to seal was overly broad. (Dkt. No. 12.) The administrative record contains just over 3 5000 documents and some surveillance video footage. 4 II. 5 DISCUSSION In general, there is a strong presumption for public access to court files. See Kamakana v. 6 City and County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006); W.D. Wash. Local Civ. R. 7 5(g). A party seeking to seal a document attached to a dispositive motion must provide 8 compelling reasons “that outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring 9 disclosure . . . .” Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179. While courts have recognized that the need to 10 protect a party’s medical privacy is a compelling reason to seal, the decision to seal must be 11 made on a document-by-document basis. See Karpenski v. Am. Gen. Life Companies, LLC, No. 12 C12-1569-RSM, slip op. at 2 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 9, 2013) (ruling that some but not all of the 13 documents containing protected medical information should be maintained under seal). 14 The parties assert that there is a compelling reason to seal because the administrative 15 record contains “extensive private medical records and discussion of Mr. Anderson’s private 16 medical information.” (Dkt. No. 11 at 2.) In addition, the parties request the Court to seal the 17 entire administrative record “since redaction is not a reasonably feasible alternative due to the 18 high volume of medical records and medical information contained throughout the record.” (Id.) 19 After reviewing the administrative record, the Court concludes that the parties have 20 provided a compelling reason to seal. The record contains hundreds of documents that discuss, in 21 detail, Plaintiff’s medical conditions, treatment history, and prescription medications. Plaintiff’s 22 interest in keeping that information confidential outweighs the public’s interest in access. See 23 Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179. 24 The thornier issue is whether the entire administrative record should be sealed. The Court 25 notes that approximately 2000 documents—or about 40 percent of the entire record—either 26 reference Plaintiff’s personal medical information or discuss it in detail. While some of the ORDER C17-0659-JCC PAGE - 2 1 documents containing this information could be individually sealed, many of these references are 2 interspersed within documents and would require detailed redactions. Requiring such redactions 3 would be particularly burdensome for the parties because references to Plaintiff’s medical 4 condition are diffused across documents—as an example, many of the insurance claims 5 manager’s notes contain short discussions of the Plaintiff’s medical condition surrounded by 6 information that is not confidential. The Court also notes that if it required this type of large- 7 scale redaction, the remaining record would be much more difficult to understand and 8 correspondingly less valuable to the general public. Based on its in camera review, the Court 9 agrees with the parties that it is not reasonably feasible to redact the record. The parties have 10 provided compelling reasons to seal the entire administrative record in this case. 11 III. CONCLUSION 12 For the foregoing reasons, the parties’ motion to seal (Dkt. No. 11) is GRANTED. The 13 parties may file the administrative record under seal. The Clerk is DIRECTED to maintain the 14 administrative record under seal during the pendency of this case. 15 DATED this 12th day of February 2018. A 16 17 18 John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 ORDER C17-0659-JCC PAGE - 3

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