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In re Motion to Unseal Court Records

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 4, 2019

IN RE MOTION TO UNSEAL COURT RECORDS CIVIL BEAT LAW CENTER FOR THE PUBLIC INTEREST, Petitioner.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION, ECF NO. 13

          J. MICHAEL SEABRIGHT, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On December 14, 2018, Petitioner Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest (“Law Center”) filed its “Motion to Unseal Court Records, ” moving to unseal court records filed in United States v. Katherine P. Kealoha, Cr. No. 17-00582 JMS-RLP-1. ECF No. 1. On December 21, 2018, Magistrate Judge Puglisi issued his “Order Denying Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest's Motion to Unseal Court Records, ” and the Law Center appealed the decision on December 31, 2018. ECF Nos. 7, 8. On February 20, 2019, the court issued its “Order Affirming in Part and Reversing in Part Magistrate Judge's Order Denying Petitioner's Motion to Unseal Court Records, ECF No. 7” (“February 20 Order”). ECF No. 12. The February 20 Order unsealed a number of documents (but not all) related to Katherine Kealoha's (“Kealoha”) competency evaluation. See Id. at PageID # 88-90. Currently before the court is the Law Center's March 6, 2019 Motion for Reconsideration of the February 20 Order (“Motion for Reconsideration”).[1] ECF No. 13. Kealoha filed a Response to the Motion for Reconsideration on March 21, 2019, ECF No. 15, and the United States filed its Response on March 22, 2019, ECF No. 16. The Law Center filed a Reply on March 25, 2019. ECF No. 19. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(d), the court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing.

         Based on the following, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Motion for Reconsideration. The court will file redacted versions of the contested documents.

         II. DISCUSSION

         In its February 20 Order, the court found that a qualified First Amendment right of access attaches to mental competency hearings, ECF No. 12 at Page ID # 86, and thus “the press and the public have a presumed right of access to [those] court proceedings and documents, ” Oregonian Pub. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court for Dist. of Oregon, 920 F.2d 1462, 1465 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 510 (1985) (“Press-Enterprise I”)). But when the First Amendment right of access attaches, it is still a qualified right:

[t]he presumption of openness may be overcome only by an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The interest is to be articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the closure order was properly entered.

Press-Enterprise I, 464 U.S. at 510; see also Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 9 (1986) (“Press-Enterprise II”) (“But even when a right of access attaches, it is not absolute.”). Applying these principles, the February 20 Order kept the competency evaluation report sealed to protect Kealoha's right to privacy in her medical information. The February 20 Order also kept the competency hearing and any associated transcripts sealed.

         Now, the Law Center moves the court to reconsider the February 20 Order, arguing for public release of the competency evaluation report and the transcript of the competency hearing. ECF No. 13 at PageID # 96. The Law Center cites several cases where competency hearing transcripts and competency evaluation reports were made public (at least in part) and argues that any redactions should be limited in scope. Id. at PageID # 98-100, # 108-113.

         Kealoha opposes any unsealing of the competency evaluation report, while the government argues that “it may be appropriate” to release a redacted version of the report.[2] ECF No. 15 at PageID # 678-79; ECF No. 16 at PageID # 684-85. Kealoha does not object to unsealing limited portions of the competency hearing transcript, and the government similarly argues that “it may be appropriate” to release a redacted version.[3] ECF No. 15 at PageID # 678-79; ECF No. 16 at PageID # 684.

         The court has reviewed these sealed documents and will release redacted versions of both. These redactions will be made only where essential to preserve higher values (in this instance, the right to privacy of medical information, the attorney-client privilege, and the right to a fair trial) and are narrowly tailored to serve that interest. See Press-Enterprise I, 464 U.S. at 510. The court discusses the legal framework of each “higher value” and then makes specific findings. See id.

         A. Legal Framework

         1. Right to Privacy in Medical Information

         As a general matter, the Supreme Court has not definitively answered whether there is a constitutional right to privacy in personal information (such as medical information). See Nat'l Aeronautics & Space Admin. v. Nelson,562 U.S. 134, 147 n.10 (2011); Nixon v. Adm'r of Gen. Servs., 433 U.S. 425, 457-58 (1977); Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589, 599 (1977)). While the Ninth Circuit has not ruled on the narrower issue of whether “the constitution protects medical privacy, ” Seaton v. Mayberg, 610 F.3d 530, 536 (9th Cir. 2010), a number of other courts have recognized such a right. See Anderson v. Romero, 72 F.3d 518, 522 (7th Cir. 1995) (collecting cases) (“A number of cases in the lower federal courts, including our own, building on Whalen and Nixon, recognize a qualified constitutional right to the confidentiality of medical records and medical communications.”); see also Doe v. Delie, 257 F.3d 309, 315 (3d Cir. 2001) (“We have long recognized the right to privacy in one's medical information . . . .”); United States v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 638 F.2d 570, 577 (3d Cir. 1980) (“Information about one's body and state of health is matter which the individual is ordinarily entitled to retain within the private enclave where he may lead a ...


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