New Report Shows Court Records Easily Hidden from Public

Motion to Seal: VERSION B

Motions to seal are used by litigators to protect sensitive information on the court docket, whether it be private medical records or corporate trade secrets. Analytics from Docket Alarm reveal that the overwhelming majority of requests to take this drastic step are granted.

In one order denying a motion to seal, Judge Holly Brady of the Northern District of Indiana explained that “[t]here is a general principle favoring public access to federal court records,” but that these matters are “complicated” by cases that inherently reveal sensitive information like medical records.

Docket Alarm analytics indicate that federal judges grant these motions in civil cases 88% of the time, and partially grant them another 4% of the time.

The propensity of courts to seal the record can lead to adverse outcomes, according to critics. “This approach to sealing cuts out of the calculus entirely the public interest in transparency, instead putting decisions about court secrecy in the hands of the lawyers in the case, who are often motivated to keep embarrassing information about their clients out of public view…”

One district, according to Just Security, has made Nationwide, Docket Alarm timing data reveals that the majority of these motions are decided within a day of filing, regardless of whether the motion is granted or denied. On average, they take ten days to be decided.