Virtually all insurance lawyers would like to see the “claims manual” each insurance company has made for its use. Being able to access that claims manual is discussed in a 2020 opinion from the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division opinion styled, Jose Chavez v. Standard Insurance Company.
Chavez had a wrist problem. He applied for long term disability (“LTD”) benefits which Standard paid beginning September 2016. Standard requested a medical referral in July 2017, which resulted in termination of Chavez’s LTD benefits. During the considerable pretrial skirmishing, Chavez made a request for Standard’s “internal rules, guidelines, protocols, or other similar criterion” related to Chavez’s claim. Standard moved for a protective order, claiming that its Claims Manual constituted a trade secret. To avoid a discovery dispute, Standard agreed to produce the Claims Manual subject to the entry of a protective order to protect from public disclosure. The Court entered a protective order, granting confidentiality status to the relevant documents. Nearly two years after the parties agreed to the protective order, Chavez challenges Standard’s confidentiality designation and seeks to unseal the cover page and a 195-word excerpt from Standard’s Claims Manual.
The Fifth Circuit has made clear that the public “has a common law right to inspect and copy judicial records.” This right promotes the trustworthiness of the judicial process, curbs judicial abuses, and provides the public with a better understanding of the judicial process, including its fairness, and serves as a check on the integrity of the system. Even information that may not be of particular interest to the public is subject to the presumptive right of public access. This right, however, is not absolute and merely establishes a presumption of public access to judicial records. The Fifth Circuit has not assigned a particular weight to this presumption, nor has it interpreted this presumption as creating a burden of proof. The cases that have recognized a common law right of access do agree that the decision as to access is one best left to the sound discretion of the trial court. In determining whether to seal judicial records, “the court must balance the public’s common law right of access against the interests favoring nondisclosure” and consider “relevant facts and circumstances of the particular case.”