NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · MINNESOTA · Secret Courts · Oct. 27, 2006
Judge orders documents in health care case unsealed
Oct. 27, 2006 · A federal judge in Minnesota has ordered unsealed some documents in a pacemaker pricing case in response to a motion filed by the watchdog group Public Citizen.
In a lawsuit that settled on confidential terms in May, Boston Scientific Corp.’s Guidant Unit sued consulting company Aspen II Holding Co. Inc. for publishing information about the prices of Guidant’s pacemakers.
The records at issue were filed under seal before the settlement was reached.
Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen argued that the information should be unsealed because it was highly important to the public interest, saying that Guidant’s secrecy concerning its products’ prices hinders efforts at maintaining price transparency and threatens to foster the artificial elevation of health care prices.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank reviewed the documents confidentially in chambers and ordered that the summary judgment briefs and related affidavits be unsealed. Some documents were left sealed.
“The court determined which documents contain trade secrets or proprietary information and then weighed Public Citizen’s need for disclosure against the potential harm that unsealing may cause Guidant or Aspen,” Frank wrote in the opinion, dated Tuesday.
Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy said the decision was a mixed victory.
“This is a partial win for healthcare consumers over corporate secrecy,” Levy said in a press release. “Unfortunately, although Judge Frank has ordered the release of a significant amount of material, the methods he has used — extensive in chambers review without requiring Guidant to make a public showing of evidence of its need for confidentiality — sets a poor precedent for future cases. An appeal may be necessary to ensure that future cases are handled correctly.”
Levy said that the judge should have required Guidant to file an index that describes each sealed document and justifies why each must be sealed. Without such indexes, third parties are left in the dark about the details of the sealed documents and thus are less able to comment on the appropriateness of the sealings, Levy said.
(Cardiac Pacemakers Inc. v. Aspen II Holding Co. Inc., Public Citizen Counsel: Paul Alan Levy, Washington, D.C.) — CS