Case Number: 2:19-cv-05750-JMG
Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Client: Bucks County Courier Times
Motion to Intervene and Unseal Filed: May 4, 2023
Background: In 2022, a year during which five inmates died in custody at Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Correctional Facility, the county and its medical contractor, PrimeCare Medical, reached a settlement agreement in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the estate of Charles Freitag Sr., who died by suicide while in custody in 2018. It was one of three wrongful-death settlements Bucks County and PrimeCare reached in 2022, with the county paying out nearly $2 million in those settlements.
The Bucks County Courier Times has extensively covered the many lawsuits against the county jail and its medical contractor for allegedly failing to provide adequate medical care to inmates. But the newspaper has been unable to access records related to the settlement with Freitag’s estate because they have been sealed by the court. In March 2023, the Courier Times sent PrimeCare a letter asking it to produce the sealed settlement records in the Freitag case, but the medical provider failed to respond to the request.
On behalf of the Courier Times, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, and Heather E. Murray of the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic filed this motion to intervene in the case to seek the unsealing of the settlement records. The newspaper’s attorneys argue that the Courier Times has standing to intervene, that the First Amendment and common law rights of access entitle the public and the press to access filed settlement agreements, and that the Freitag settlement agreement and its related records were improperly sealed by the court.
Quote: “While PrimeCare is a private company, local government agency Bucks County pays it millions of dollars to exclusively provide medical, dental, and mental health services at the Jail. PrimeCare’s prison activities — funded by taxpayer dollars — are thus matters of significant public concern,” attorneys for the Courier Times wrote in a filing in support of the newspaper’s motion to intervene and unseal the settlement agreement. “Yet this inherently public information has been kept under seal for months. The sealing … flouts the First Amendment and common law rights of access.”
Co-Counsel: Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic
Related: In 2022, the York Daily Record obtained the settlement agreement PrimeCare reached with the estate of an inmate who died by suicide in 2016 after Burke and Murray successfully challenged the sealing of the record on behalf of the newspaper.
Update: On June 28, 2023, U.S. District Court Judge John Gallagher granting the Bucks County Courier Times’s motion to intervene and unseal. On July 31, 2023, the Bucks County Courier Times reported that the settlement agreement revealed that PrimeCare Medical paid more than $337,000 to settle the wrongful death claims filed by the estate of Charles Freitag Sr.
2023-05-04: Motion to intervene and unseal
2023-06-28: Order granting motion to intervene and unseal
2023-07-12: Settlement agreement