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.
My initial concern is the Civil Coversheet which includes the addresses of the parties and the children.
Also, I wonder how this will affect the Rule 8.06 requirement.
I think we all have many more questions than answers about Section 9 of the MEC rules.
This is going to make interpleaders and chancery settlements very difficult when minor children are involved. I represent businesses and it will be nearly impossible to identify which account an action pertains to if the identity of the individual cannot be ascertained from the pleadings. Looks like I’ll be making a lot more phone calls to the attorney who filed the action.
I think there will be lots more sealed files.
I think several of the districts are looking at some kind of blanket order or local rule that allows the information in custody cases citing the Section 9 B(4) section saying the information is necessary and relevant. One question I have also, is would this same requirement apply to the summons issued to a defendant? Guess we would just put the name now.
There are lots of questions unanswered at this point.
Any ideas about an appropriate manner to prepare a Judgment of Adoption, which necessarily must contain the full name of the child together with the entire date of birth?
Adoption files are sealed.
Do I understand it correctly that we aren’t supposed to state children’s names at all in pleadings? It seems that only the child’s initials would not be sufficient for many of the things custody orders are used for (I’m specifically thinking about school enrollment, but there are lots of applications.).
Also, what about addresses on summons and subpoenas? The process server or sheriff needs to know where they are supposed to serve the papers.
At what point are pleadings so generic that they could apply to anyone and not give the opposing party, or the Court, sufficient information?
The only exception I know is that you can ask the court to seal certain documents, as well as an entire file.
It seems this may lead to potential malpractice for not requesting such files be sealed. I wonder if the Court would consider requiring all such files be sealed without specific request and ruling.
If we are to redact all sensitive information about children and financials, then how are we to discuss them during trial? I am not trying to be cheeky but, if we are to have open courtrooms for the public to attend, how are we to discuss financial matters and children without a protection afforded by the redaction process?
The rule refers to filings with the court, not trials. The goal is protection from hackers and the like.
Thank you. That explains a lot.
What about UCCJEA affidavits in custody proceedings which, in part, requires the names and addresses of children for five years?
I would identify city, county, and state only.
Thanks for posting this – I have been following you for the past two years and follow your post to the letter. In this post what I find interesting is the 8.05’s redact. That I did not know was public record and though, wrong, was sealed. From now on, I will redact.
Keep your wonderful, informative posts coming.
Your ever grateful reader, learner and follower.
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On Thu, Mar 3, 2016 at 5:02 AM, The Better Chancery Practice Blog wrote:
> Larry posted: “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 ” >