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Peterson v. Reinke

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 27, 2017



          Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court in this prisoner civil rights action filed by Plaintiff Steven A. Peterson is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 22.) Defendants also request that the Court seal the briefing associated with the Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 21.) All parties appearing in this case have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in this case in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. 19.) Having reviewed the record, and considered the arguments of the parties, the Court enters the following Order.


         Plaintiff Steven Peterson is an Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) inmate incarcerated on two robbery convictions who has been released on parole several times. While on parole, he developed a pattern of burglarizing women's homes to steal their lingerie, resulting in parole violations, additional burglary convictions, and, most recently, re-incarceration. When his home was searched in conjunction with a parole check in 2005, law enforcement officers found 109 pairs of women's underwear hidden between his mattress and box springs and in his bedroom closet. IDOC mental health professionals and the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole (ICPP) have determined that Plaintiff would benefit from the Sex Offender Therapy Program (SOTP), even though Plaintiff's crimes are not categorized as sex offenses. In addition, in rejecting Plaintiff's recent request for parole, the ICPP told him he would have to complete the SOTP and register as a sex offender.

         Plaintiff was denied parole on September 13, 2016, after the Motion for Summary Judgment in this action was filed. Another parole hearing was set for September 2017.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have violated his due process rights by requiring him to attend the SOTP and register as a sex offender. He seeks declaratory relief and an injunction ordering the ICPP to grant him parole without these conditions, because his crime is not classified as a sex offense.

         In Idaho, inmates are not classified as “sex offenders” while in prison; instead they are classified according to minimum, medium, and maximum security levels. (Ashley Dowell Affidavit, Dkt. 22-7.) The former IDOC “pathways” rehabilitative system, which had a sex offender pathway, has been discontinued, and the IDOC has replaced the SOTP with two cognitive behavioral programs from the University of Cincinnati: (1) Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions for Sexual Offending, and (2) Cognitive Behavioral Interventions: Advanced Practices. (Id.) Placement in these programs is up to the discretion of IDOC officials based on assessments of individual offenders and program criteria. (Id.)


         Defendants have requested that the Court seal Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and all supporting documents. (Dkt. 21.) Defendants assert that the confidential nature of Plaintiff's mental health history and mental health records warrant sealing.

         There is a strong presumption of public access to judicial records. See Kamakana v. City & County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006); Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003). A party seeking to file documents under seal bears the burden of overcoming that presumption. Pintos v. Pac. Creditors Ass'n, 605 F.3d 665, 678 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178).

         Parties “who seek to maintain the secrecy of documents” are not entitled to a protective order unless they “meet the high threshold of showing that ‘compelling reasons' support secrecy.” Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1180. Those compelling reasons must outweigh the competing interests of the public in having access to the judicial records and understanding the judicial process. Id. at 1178B79; see also Pintos, 605 F.3d at 679 & n. 6 (court must weigh “relevant factors, ” including the public's interest in understanding the judicial process).

         In Bailey v. Wexford Medical Service, 2014 WL 4541266 (D.Md. Sept. 10, 2014) (unpublished), the United States District Court for the District of Maryland issued a well-reasoned decision in a similar case. That Court recognized that, even though a privacy interest in the plaintiff's medical records was at stake, the “public's right of access to dispositive motions and the exhibits filed within is protected to an even higher standard by the First Amendment.” Id. at *5 (citing Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988)). The court further recognized that the public's right to access “extends to a judicial opinion ruling on a summary judgment motion, ” and that the First Amendment right of access “may be restricted only if closure is ‘necessitated by a compelling government interest' and the denial of access is ‘narrowly tailored to serve that interest.'” Id. (citing Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 265B66 (4th Cir. 2014)).

         In the Bailey case, Defendant Wexford argued that, even though Bailey had placed his medical information at issue in the case, Wexford's motion and its attached exhibits, which included a doctor's affidavit and hundreds of pages of Bailey's medical records, should be shielded from public view. Wexford argued also that the motion and its exhibits “could not be redacted without eviscerating the purpose of the [m]otion” and without harming Wexford's ability to present an adequate defense to Bailey's medical claims. Id. at *6.

         The Maryland court reasoned and concluded:

The court agrees that Bailey has placed his medical information at issue by asserting in his complaint that he repeatedly cut his own wrist and then fabricated a story of sexual assault so that he would be taken to a hospital to receive proper medical treatment. The court must therefore look to, and rely on, the medical records surrounding his treatment. But given the quantity of personal medical information in the medical records that is unrelated to the issues in this case, and the fact that this information is scattered throughout the records, Bailey's interest in sealing the full medical records is compelling. In contrast, the factual information referenced in Wexford's memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, is inextricably tied to the issues in this case, as is the factual information in Dr. Ottey's affidavit. In order to narrowly tailor the denial of access to serve Bailey's compelling interest in not making public a large amount of medical information unrelated ...

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