Public Justice recently represented economist Loren Adler in a petition to unseal court records. The records were part of a qui tam (“private citizen”) False Claims Act case. That case, brought by former employees of private equity-backed Team Health, accused the company of defrauding Medicare and several state Medicaid programs by billing for medical services that were never provided. Team Health marked just about every document it produced in discovery as confidential and then proceeded to file all evidence in the case under seal. Almost all exhibits to the motions for summary judgment were sealed—and even parts of the Complaint and the court’s opinion deciding dispositive motions were redacted. The company that owns Team Health eventually settled the case for $48 million, but the court records remained sealed without cause.
Mr. Adler is a Fellow and Associate Director at the Brookings Schaeffer Initiative on Health Policy. He researches private equity’s effects on the healthcare system. After learning about the extensive sealing of court records in the case, Mr. Adler filed a motion to intervene for the limited purpose of asking the district court to unseal the records. Relying on a Fifth Circuit case that had been interpreted as denying the public’s right to intervene to unseal court records, the district court denied Mr. Adler’s motion.
It is one thing to fight to get records unsealed, but it is a quintessentially Public Justice thing to right law in the process.
–Janet R. Varnell
Public Justice President-Elect
We are excited to share that the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the district court’s decision on all three grounds. Most importantly, the opinion corrects a longstanding issue with how district courts have interpreted Fifth Circuit case law regarding the public’s right to challenge improper sealing of court records.
This ruling should make it easier for others to intervene to unseal court records in the Fifth Circuit in the future, safeguarding the public’s right of access.
|What the District Court Held||What Public Justice Argued|
|Mr. Adler did not have Article III standing to intervene.||Mr. Adler did not need Article III standing to intervene, because courts have "continuous, inherent power to manage--and unseal--their own records." And regardless, Mr. Adler did have Article III standing because he was denied access to court records in violation of the public’s First Amendment and common law right of access.|
|Mr. Adler also did not have a valid claim under Rule 24(b).||The district court's interpretation of what counts as a "claim" under Rule 24(b) is too narrow, and effectively shuts out the public from having any means of vindicating their First Amendment and common law right to access court records.|
|Mr. Adler’s request was untimely, because he made it months after the case settled and closed.||There is no deadline to vindicating the public’s right of access to court records, and Mr. Adler’s request was timely because it was not apparent that his intervention was necessary until after the case settled and the records remained sealed.|