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.

§ 17 Responses to Privacy in Court Filings

  • Chad King says:

    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.

  • Anonymous says:

    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.

  • Wesley Hisaw says:

    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.

  • Rebecca C. Taylor says:

    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?

  • Anonymous says:

    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?

    • Larry says:

      The only exception I know is that you can ask the court to seal certain documents, as well as an entire file.

      • fsspringer says:

        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.

  • janedoeknows says:

    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?

  • Jason Campbell says:

    What about UCCJEA affidavits in custody proceedings which, in part, requires the names and addresses of children for five years?

  • Lenette MacDonald says:

    Judge Primeaux,

    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.

    Lenette

    *Lenette A. MacDonald* Legal Assistant to John E. Howell *Howell Law Firm, PLLC* 2505 Seventh Street, Suite A P. O. Box 5838 Meridian, MS 39302-5838 Telephone: 601-482-8741 Facsimile: 601-482-8747

    *CONFIDENTIALITY STATEMENT*

    This electronic message transmission contains information from the law firm of Howell Law Firm PLLC, and is confidential or privileged. The information is intended to be for the use of the individual or entity named above. If you are not the intended recipient, be aware that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of the contents of this information is prohibited. If you have received this electronic transmission in error, please notify us by telephone (601) 482-8741 immediately. Thank you for your cooperation.

    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 ” >

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