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Court allows discovery material to stay secret

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From the Summer 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 11. The Tennessee Supreme Court declined in…

From the Summer 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 11.

The Tennessee Supreme Court declined in June to hear arguments raised by media groups over the process a trial court used to seal discovery documents in a nursing home fire lawsuit.

The Tennessean led a coalition of news groups, joined by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in challenging how records were sealed during a civil lawsuit that stemmed from a fatal fire at a National HealthCare Corp. nursing home in Nashville. Sixteen people died. The building did not have sprinklers.

Before trial, NHC asked the court to keep all discovery documents under seal initially and have a review later to determine whether they could be unsealed. Seven months later — after the parties had settled — the court unsealed all the documents. The newspaper and media groups appealed the decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which found that the trial court had not abused its discretion in allowing the documents to be sealed. The state supreme court said it would not hear the case.