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VI. Access to civil records


  • 2nd Circuit

    “The courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (footnote omitted); Bernstein v. Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, 814 F.3d 132, 142 (2d Cir. 2016). Indeed, the Second Circuit has concluded that “the First Amendment guarantees a qualified right of access not only to criminal but also to civil trials and to their related proceedings and records.” N.Y. Civil Liberties Union v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 684 F.3d 286, 298 (2d Cir. 2011).  Bernstein v. Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, No. 14-CV-6867 (VEC), 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35385, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 12, 2016) (stating that it is “well settled that the public and press have a qualified right of access to judicial documents and records filed in civil and criminal proceedings”).

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  • Georgia

    In the state courts of Georgia, “the public and the press have traditionally enjoyed a right of access to court records.” Atlanta Journal v. Long, 258 Ga. 410, 411 (1988) (“Public access protects litigants both present and future . . . . Our system abhors star chamber proceedings with good reason. Like a candle, court records hidden under a bushel make scant contribution to their purpose.”).

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  • Idaho

    As with criminal court records, access to civil court records is governed by Idaho Court Administrative Rule 32, not Idaho’s public records law, Idaho Code §§ 74-101 through 125.

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  • Indiana

    Indiana Administrative Rule 9 provides for general access to court records, subject to various restrictions. The full text of Administrative Rule 9 is available on the Indiana courts’ website.

    The Indiana courts publish a “Public Access to Court Records Handbook,” which is available on the Indiana courts website.

    The Handbook states, in part:

    "The Access to Public Records Act (“APRA”) (Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5), originally passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 1983 and most recently amended in 2016, was enacted to permit the citizens of Indiana broad and easy access to public records. By providing the public with the opportunity to review and copy public records, the APRA gives individuals the opportunity to obtain information relating to their government and to more fully participate in the governmental process." (p. 27.)

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  • Kentucky

    There is a presumption that both civil and criminal court records are open and accessible to the public and press, and this presumption generally applies to “everything filed with the courts.”  Fiorella v. Paxton Media Grp., LLC, 424 S.W.3d 433, 439 (Ky. Ct. App. 2014).

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  • Louisiana

    There is a constitutional right of access to public documents. Article 12, § 3 of the Louisiana Constitution states: “No person shall be denied the right to . . . examine public documents, except in cases established by law.” This right is implemented by the Louisiana Public Records Act, La. R.S. 44:1 et seq. Under the Public Records Act, “any person” may make a public records request. La. R.S. 44:32. “Any person who has been denied the right to inspect or copy a record” may “institute proceedings for the issuance of a writ of mandamus, injunctive or declaratory relief.” La. R.S. 44:35.

    Courts are covered by the Public Records Act. See La. R.S. 44:1(A)(1), defining “public body” as including “any branch . . . of state . . . government,” and article 2, § 1 of the Louisiana Constitution: “The powers of government of the state are divided into three separate branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.”

    In addition to the Public Records Act applying to civil court records, article 251 of the Code of Civil Procedure states: “The clerk of court is the legal custodian of all of its records. . . . Except as otherwise provided by law, he shall permit any person to examine, copy, photograph, or make a memorandum of any of these records at any time during which the clerk’s office is required by law to be open.”

    In Keko v. Lobrano, 497 So.2d 353 (La. App. 1986), the Court of Appeal held that, in light of the Public Records Act and article 251, “there is no power in the trial court to order an entire civil case record sealed from public inspection.”

    Typically, court records in civil cases, whether in the District Courts or on appeal, are obtained simply by going to the clerk’s office and filling out a form requesting a record.

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  • Maryland

    Access to civil judicial records is governed by the First Amendment and Maryland Rules 16-901, et seq. See the “The roots of access rights” section above for an overview of the categories of records addressed by the Rules.

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  • North Carolina

    The North Carolina Public Records Act, N.C.G.S. 132 et seq., defines public records as "all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data‑processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government." N.C.G.S. 132-1(a). The statute is liberally construed in favor of access. Seee.g., Advance Publications v. City of Elizabeth City, 53 N.C. App. 504, 506-07 (1981).

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  • Oklahoma

    In general, records filed in court proceedings are subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, Okla. Stat. tit. 51, §§ 24A.1 et seq., see Nichols v. Jackson, 2002 OK 65, 55 P.3d 1044, and can be obtained simply by asking for them.

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  • West Virginia

    Court records are considered to be public documents. Thus, “[u]nless a statute provides for confidentiality, court records shall be open to public inspection.” State ex rel. Brooks v. Zakaib, 214 W. Va. 253, 265, 588 S.E.2d 418, 430 (2003) (quoting State ex rel. Garden State Newspapers, Inc. v. Hoke, 205 W.Va. 611, 615, 520 S.E.2d 186, 190 (1999) (internal citations and quotations omitted). “‘The courts of this State shall be open, and every person, for an injury done to him, in his person, property or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law; and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.’” Garden State Newspapers, 205 W.Va. at 615, 520 S.E.2d at 190 (quoting W. Va. Const. art. III, § 17).

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  • Wyoming

    The Wyoming Supreme Court has adopted Rules Governing Access to Court Records, which applies to both civil and criminal cases.

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