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High court overturns confidentiality order

October 10, 2008

The Indiana Supreme Court today overturned a Marion Superior Court's approval of a "Confidentiality Stipulation and Order," clearing the way for hundreds of documents to be opened and available for public inspection.

Marion Superior Court originally granted the parties' request to seal documents in the litigation of Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., et al. v. United States Filter Corp. n/k/a Water Applications & Systems Corp., et al. No. 49A02-0604-CV-289, which is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court. The case involves insurance coverage for bodily injury claims caused by exposure to silica.

The high court ordered the parties in August to show cause as to why the documents in this case should be confidential. The original stipulation cited the parties agreed the discovery and disclosure of privileged, confidential, or sensitive information may come up in litigation.

The Supreme Court vacated the confidentiality order today because the parties didn't offer any particularized arguments as to why Indiana Administrative Rule 9(H) would have allowed the trial court to exclude documents it tendered. Under this rule, a public hearing must be conducted before the trial court can grant an exclusion of documents from public access, which didn't happen in this case, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

Waste Applications cited Richey v. Chappell, 594 N.E.2d 443 (Ind. 1992) to justify the confidentiality order, arguing some documents should be excluded from public access by virtue of "insurer-insured privilege" and documents submitted are excluded from public view by Administrative Rule 9(G)(1)(b).

But the protections recognized under that rule by itself do not exclude documents submitted to a court from public access because the mechanism to seek to exclude information by a specific court order appears in Rule 9(H), which requires a public hearing, wrote the chief justice.

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