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Urbina v. National Business Factors, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 14, 2018

MERCEDES URBINA, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL BUSINESS FACTORS, INC. OF NEVADA, Defendant.

          ORDER Re: ECF No. 33

          WILLIAM G. COBB UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the court is Plaintiff Mercedes Urbina's Renewed Motion to File Records Under Seal. (ECF No. 33.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         Urbina previously filed a motion seeking to file certain records under seal. (ECF No. 26.) After setting forth the standard for sealing records, the court denied that motion without prejudice for a multitude of reasons, including: (1) Urbina did not file the documents she sought to have sealed with her motion (which would have been provisionally sealed by the Clerk while the motion was pending); (2) Urbina did not specifically describe the documents she sought to file under seal so that the court could determine the propriety of sealing the documents; (3) Urbina did not indicate why she sought to file the documents under seal (i.e., correlate them with a pending motion); (4) Urbina did not address the compelling reasons or good cause standards discussed in Center for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group, LCC, 809 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 38 (Oct. 3, 2016); (5) Urbina erroneously asserted that medical records are the type “traditionally kept secret”; and (6) Urbina erroneously relied on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) as a basis for sealing the records. (ECF No. 30.) The court advised Urbina she could renew her motion, but any future motion should correct the deficiencies noted in the order.

         On January 18, 2018, Urbina filed her renewed motion. (ECF No. 33.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “Historically, courts have recognized a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” See Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “‘Throughout our history, the open courtroom has been a fundamental feature of the American judicial system. Basic principles have emerged to guide judicial discretion respecting public access to judicial proceedings. These principles apply as well to the determination of whether to permit access to information contained in court documents because court records often provide important, sometimes the only, bases or explanations for a court's decision.'” Oliner v. Kontrabecki, 745 F.3d 1024, 1025 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. F.T.C., 710 F.2d 1165, 1177 (6th Cir. 1983)).

         Documents that have been traditionally kept secret, including grand jury transcripts and warrant materials in a pre-indictment investigation, come within an exception to the general right of public access. See Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178. Otherwise, “a strong presumption in favor of access is the starting point.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “The presumption of access is ‘based on the need for federal courts, although independent-indeed, particularly because they are independent-to have a measure of accountability and for the public to have confidence in the administration of justice.'” Center for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 809 F.3d 1092, 1096 (9th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 38 (Oct. 3, 2016) (quoting United States v. Amodeo (Amodeo II), 71 F.3d 1044, 1048 (2nd Cir. 1995); Valley Broad Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court-D. Nev., 798 F.2d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1986)).

         There are two possible standards a party must address when it seeks to file a document under seal: the compelling reasons standard or the good cause standard. See Center for Auto Safety, 809 F.3d at 1096-97. Under the compelling reasons standard, “a court may seal records only when it finds ‘a compelling reason and articulate[s] the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture.” Id. (quoting Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179). “The court must then ‘conscientiously balance[ ] the competing interests of the public and the party who seeks to keep certain judicial records secret.” Id. “What constitutes a ‘compelling reason' is ‘best left to the sound discretion of the trial court.'” Id. (quoting Nixon v. Warner Comm., Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 599 (1978)). “Examples include when a court record might be used to ‘gratify private spite or promote public scandal, ' to circulate ‘libelous' statements, or ‘as sources of business information that might harm a litigant's competitive standing.'” Id. (quoting Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598-99).

         Center for Auto Safety described the good cause standard, on the other hand, as the exception to public access that had been applied to “sealed materials attached to a discovery motion unrelated to the merits of a case.” Id. (citing Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v. Gen. Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (9th Cir. 2002)). “The ‘good cause language comes from Rule 26(c)(1), which governs the issuance of protective orders in the discovery process: ‘The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)).

         The Ninth Circuit has clarified that the key in determining which standard to apply in assessing a motion for leave to file a document under seal is whether the documents proposed for sealing accompany a motion that is “more than tangentially related to the merits of a case.” Center for Auto Safety, 809 F.3d at 1101. If that is the case, the compelling reasons standard is applied. If not, the good cause standard is applied.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Urbina states that she issued a subpoena to Tahoe Fracture Clinic, and received documents in response to the subpoena on December 18, 2017. She states generally that the documents contain her personal medical history, as well as the contracts she signed with Tahoe Fracture Clinic. She seeks to file the entirety of Tahoe Fracture Clinic's subpoena response under seal. She also wishes to file an unredacted copy of Tahoe Fracture Clinic's September 23, 2016 “Explanation of Benefits” (EOB)[1] under seal. These documents are designated by Urbina as Exhibits A and B (filed in as ECF Nos. 34, 35), and were provisionally sealed by the Clerk while the motion for leave to file under seal is pending. Urbina indicates that these records establish she could not have owed $614.52 when defendant National Business Factors, Inc. of Nevada (NBF) began assessing interest.

         Despite being previously advised to the contrary, and without citing any authority to support her position, Urbina again argues that the traditional presumption of public access does not apply to the documents she seeks to have filed under seal. This is simply not the case. In Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006), the Ninth Circuit discussed the kinds of documents which have traditionally been kept secret, which include grand jury transcripts and warrant materials in a pre-indictment investigation. 447 F.3d at 1178. Medical records are not included in this category; therefore, “a ...


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