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Judicial Conference Recommends Initials in Social Security Opinions

Empire Justice Center October 31, 2018

Most cases appealed to U.S. District Court result in published decisions, if not in the official federal reporters, at least on Westlaw, Lexis, or otherwise available on-line. These decisions generally include sensitive personal information about claimants’ medical and psychiatric conditions and their personal circumstances. Although the administrative records in these cases are not available via remote access, they can be accessed at the courthouse. See Federal Rules of Civil Procedures, Rule 5.2, Privacy Protections. Such records can be sealed pursuant to local court rules, but the process can be cumbersome.

 

The Judicial Conference of the United States Committee on Court Administration and Case Management recently considered this issue. In a memorandum to chief justices and clerks of federal district and circuit courts published on May 1, 2018, it noted that federal rules of criminal and civil procedure already require the redaction of certain identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, full names of minor children, and dates of birth. While certain documents related to Social Security and immigration cases are not available electronically, the dockets and orders in these cases are.

 

As the most efficient means of improving privacy protections in Social Security and immigration cases, the Committee encouraged courts to adopt a local practice of using only the first name and last initial of non-governmental parties in opinions on such cases. Each court is allowed to choose whether to accept the committee’s suggestion, and has to decide whether it will create a new local rule about titling cases in the way the memo suggests.