Privacy in Court Filings
March 3, 2016 § 17 Comments
Back in April, 2015, the MSSC amended the MRCP to add a new R5.1 imposing privacy protections for court filings in both paper- and electronic-filing districts. Consternation among bar, bench, and clerkdom ensued, and the high court suspended R5.1 pending further study. A committee was appointed to study the issue, and a new R5.1 was proposed, with application limited to electronic filings. On February 11, 2016, the new R5.1 went into effect. Here it is in its entirety:
Rule 5.1. Privacy Protection for Filings Made with the Court
Beginning July 1, 2016, all courts and offices of a circuit or chancery clerk that maintain electronic storage or electronic filing of documents, as defined under section 9-5-51 of the Mississippi Code, and make those documents accessible online must conform with the privacy provisions of the Administrative Procedures for Mississippi Electronic Courts — specifically, Sections 5 and 9 therein.
Even if MEC has not reached your particular district yet, if you file in an MEC county you will be bound by its rules. You can find them at this link.
Here are some highlights:
- You must not include in documents filed with the court, and must redact, any personal data identifiers.
- If Social Security numbers appear, only the last four digits may be shown.
- Only the initials of minor children, and not their full names, may be used.
- When stating a date of birth, only the year may be used.
- Only the last four digits of financial account numbers may be stated.
- No street addresses or apartment numbers may be stated; only city and state are listed.
- “The responsibility for redacting these personal identifiers rests solely with counsel and the parties. The clerk will not review pleadings for compliance with these provisions.”
- Failure to comply can subject one to R11 sanctions.
It’s not just in the pleadings you draft that you will find sensitive information; it’s also in the documents you attach as exhibits to your pleadings, and in discovery filings. Almost every day, I have to admonish an attorney to redact Social Security numbers, birth dates, and financial account information. In fact, I directed the chancery clerk to keep a china marker — one of the best redaction tools I have found — in her desk for lawyers to use.
In my court, I extend the privacy protection practice to exhibits in evidence. I make the lawyers redact personal information from documents in evidence. Tax returns, financial documents, 8.05’s, pay stubs, credit card statements, and many other documents are chock-full of sensitive information that can be used for identity theft and other nefarious purposes.
You have a duty to your clients to protect them from being harmed by the information you put into the record. Now MRCP 5.1 makes that duty official.