United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. GURPREET MAUR, M.D., Plaintiff,
ELIE HAGE-KORBAN, M.D., DELTA CLINICS, PLC d/b/a THE HEART and VASCULAR CENTER OF WEST TENNESSEE, COMMUNITY HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., KNOXVILLE HOLDINGS, LLC d/b/a TENNOVA HEALTHCARE, JACKSON HOSPITAL CORPORATION d/b/a REGIONAL HOSPITAL OF JACKSON, and DYERSBURG HOSPITAL COMPANY, LLC, d/b/a DYERSBURG REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO SEAL
ORIGINAL COMPLAINT (ECF NO. 1)
THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff/Relator's
(“Plaintiff”) Unopposed Motion to Seal Original
Complaint, which was filed on August 13, 2019. (ECF No. 28.)
For the reasons that follow, the Motion is
April 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Defendants
violated the False Claims Act when they billed government
insurance for unnecessary cardiac testing. (ECF No. 1.) In
support of Plaintiff's allegations, he lists information
pertaining to five patients, including each patient's
individual identifying Medical Record Number
(“MRN”). Pursuant to statute, the original
Complaint was filed under seal.
April 29, 2019, the United States of America declined to
intervene in this action. Pursuant to the Court's Order
(ECF No. 24), the original Complaint was unsealed on April
30, 2019, consequently making the patients' MRNs publicly
the Court's Order (ECF No. 24), Plaintiff amended his
Complaint to include additional information. In the Amended
Complaint, the patients' MRNs were omitted, with initials
in their stead. (ECF No. 25.) The Amended Complaint is not
under seal. (See id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff asks
the Court to seal the original Complaint-which, upon the
filing of the Amended Complaint, is no longer
pertinent-containing the patients' MRNs. (ECF No. 28.)
Defendants do not oppose Plaintiff's Motion.
have long recognized a “strong presumption in favor of
openness” as to court records. Brown &
Williamson, 710 F.2d 1165, 1179 (6th Cir. 1983).
“The burden of overcoming that presumption is borne by
the party that seeks to seal them.” Shane Grp.,
Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, 825 F.3d
299, 305 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing In re Cendant
Corp., 260 F.3d 183, 194 (3d Cir. 2001)). “The
burden is a heavy one: ‘Only the most compelling
reasons can justify non-disclosure of judicial
records.'” Id. (quoting In re
Knoxville News-Sentinel Co., 723 F.2d 470, 476 (6th Cir.
1983)). Even if the motion to seal records is unopposed, the
Court must nevertheless set forth “specific findings
and conclusions ‘which justify nondisclosure to the
public.'” Shane Grp., Inc., 825 F.3d at
306 (quoting Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v.
F.T.C., 710 F.2d 1165, 1176 (6th Cir. 1983)).
deciding whether to seal the Complaint, the Court must
consider (1) the public's interest in the litigation
subject matter, (2) whether the information sought to be
sealed is required by statute to be maintained in confidence,
and (3) innocent third parties' privacy interests.
Shane Group, Inc., 825 F.3d at 305-08. The Court
will address each in turn.
the first factor, the public has great interest in the
allegations against Defendants. Plaintiff alleges that a
physician and multiple healthcare providers in west Tennessee
submitted false claims to government insurance programs for
wholly unnecessary testing. (ECF Nos. 1 and 25.) These
allegations do not only concern those who have undergone such
testing: they concern all citizens who, through their tax
dollars, fund government insurance programs.
the original Complaint, however, would not preclude the
public from learning of the allegations against Defendants.
The Amended Complaint-which is not sealed-contains the same
allegations. Furthermore, the Amended Complaint provides more
information than the original Complaint, as the Amended
Complaint includes several exhibits not attached to the
original Complaint. Because the information is readily
available to the public through the Amended Complaint, the
public's interest in accessing the original Complaint is
the second and third factors, the Court looks to HIPAA.
“HIPAA embodies Congress' recognition of ‘the
importance of protecting the privacy of health information in
the midst of the rapid evolution of health information
systems.'” Wade v. Vabnick-Wener, 922
F.Supp.2d 679, 687 (W.D. Tenn. 2010) (quoting South
Carolina Med. Assoc. v. Thompson, 327 F.3d 346, 348 (4th
Cir. 2003)). HIPAA protects from unauthorized disclosure
“individually identifiable health information, ”
defined as “any information, including demographic
information collected from an individual, that . . . is
created or received by a health care provider . . . [and]
relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental
health or condition of an individual, the provision of health
care to an individual, or the past, present, or future
payment for the provision of health care to an individual,
and . . . identifies the individual[.]” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1320d(6); see 45 C.F.R. § 160.103.
the MRNs connected to the pertinent medical information fall
under HIPAA's umbrella of protected private information.
In Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the patients' MRNs
are exchanged for initials, and the identifying information
in the attachments is redacted. (Compare, e.g., ECF
No. 25 at 20 with ECF No. 1 at 19.) In light of
HIPAA and the patients' privacy ...