The Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized that, under some circumstances, privacy interests can overcome a presumption of access. In Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (Press-Enterprise I), 464 U.S. 501, 512 (1984), for example, the Court held that despite the presumption of access “a valid privacy right may rise to a level that part of the transcript should be sealed, or the name of a juror withheld, to protect the person from embarrassment.”
In enforcing the State’s commitment to open courtrooms and court records, the Supreme Court of Georgia has consistently emphasized, for example, that embarrassment and reputational harm are not sufficient interests to justify closure. See, e.g., Atlanta Journal v. Long, 258 Ga. 410, 413 (1988) (reversing trial court order sealing case file after settlement of lawsuit claiming sexual abuse by Catholic Diocese of Savannah: “we hold that the privacy interests of appellees in the pre-judgment records of this civil case do not clearly outweigh the public interest in open access to those records.”). In reversing closure in In re Motion of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 271 Ga. 436 (1999), the Georgia Supreme Court held that despite the fact that those involved in judicial proceedings often “experience an invasion of privacy and resulting embarrassment, that fact alone does not permit trial courts to routinely seal court records.”
The court must distinguish the privacy interest in that particular case from the general desire to avoid embarrassment that would otherwise lead all parties to a lawsuit to ask for closed records. See, e.g., In re Motion of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 271 Ga. 436, 437 (1999) (requiring a motion, a hearing, and a trial court to make specific, on the record findings before sealing records). See also Atlanta Journal v. Long, 258 Ga. 410, 414 (1988)(“The court’s findings and conclusions do not explain how the embarrassment the appellees may suffer differs in degree or kind from that of parties in other civil suits.”).
The Eleventh Circuit has held that the fact that records may reveal some information that is embarrassing or personal, by itself, does not provide a valid basis for sealing court records. “Once a matter is brought before a court for resolution, it is no longer solely the parties’ case, but also the public’s case.” Brown v. Advantage Eng’g, Inc., 960 F.2d 1013, 1016 (11th Cir. 1992). See also Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 323 (11th Cir. 1992) (refusing to let litigant proceed under pseudonym to avoid disclosure of alcoholism: “risk that a plaintiff may suffer some embarrassment is not enough” to overcome the “customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.”);United States v. Bradley, No. 405CR059, 2007 WL 1703232 (S.D. Ga. June 11, 2007) (holding that the risk of embarrassment from public exposure to documents filings that rely on plaintiff’s personal, medical and psychiatric information may be trumped by public’s interest to access the information); Newsome v. Southeastern Newspapers Corp., 396 S.E.2d 907 (Ga. 1990) (access to divorce records affirmed). To seal an entire case the court must be convinced that there is compelling governmental interest and the order is narrowly tailored to that interest. Issac v. American Intercontinental University, No. 1:05-CV-2839-JEC, 2007 WL 1959201 (N.D. Ga. June 28, 2007) (holding that to seal an entire case, court must be convinced that there is compelling governmental interest, and this is narrowly tailored to that interest. Plaintiff has failed to satisfy this high threshold. The court found that although some documents may contain sensitive information, plaintiff should specify the documents to be redacted, so the court may consider whether it is appropriate to seal any of them).