Claimant, a college student, has pleaded three causes of action flowing from
the alleged improper conduct of a professor, employed by Defendant at the State
University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY), toward Claimant. The alleged
offending conduct commenced in August 1998 and continued through May 4, 1999.
On or about November 5, 1999 Claimant served a Notice of Intention to File
Claim. Claimant remains enrolled at SUNY.
Claimant offers as the reasons for the instant application, albeit in
conclusory fashion, that the claims are "highly sensitive and embarrassing,
particularly with respect to Claimant"(Tabora Affidavit, ¶ 5);
involve "[s]pecific instances of inappropriate behaviors and responses" and
reflect Claimant's "personal thoughts and fears" (Tabora Affidavit,
¶ 6); and relate "the psychological impact" (Tabora Affidavit,
¶ 7) upon Claimant. Finally, Claimant submits that "release of any of the
filed documents in this case would only serve to damage his emotional, academic
and personal life further" (Tabora Affidavit, ¶8).
Historically, "statutory and common law ... have long recognized that civil
and proceedings should be open to the public in order to ensure that they are
conducted efficiently, honestly and fairly" (Matter of the Conservatorship of
Ethel Brownstone, 191
AD2d 167, 168). New York's presumption of public access is broad (Newsday
v. Sise, 71 NY2d 146, 153, n. 4, cert. denied 486 U.S. 1056;
Herald Company v. Weisenberg, 59 NY2d 378, 381-382; see, Carpinello,
"Public Access to Court Records in Civil Proceedings: The New York Approach," 54
Albany Law Rev. 93  ). However, in civil cases the "common-law right to
inspect and copy judicial records is not absolute ... and the determination of
whether access to such records is appropriate is best left to the sound
discretion of the trial court, a discretion to be exercised in light of the
relevant facts and circumstances of the particular case." Matter of Crain
Communications, Inc., v. Hughes, 135 AD2d 351, aff'd, 74 NY2d 626,
rearg. den. 74
NY2d 843, 546 NYS2d 559, 545 N.E.2d 873 (sealed record on settlement of
The Uniform Rules for the New York State Trial Courts, applicable to this
Court, effective March 1, 1991 added the following section as the authority for
the issuance of a sealing order:
Except where otherwise provided by statute or rule, a court shall
not enter an order in any action or proceeding sealing the court
records, whether in whole or in part, except upon a written finding of good
cause, which shall specify the grounds thereof. In determining whether good
cause has been shown, the court shall consider the interests of the public as
well as of the parties. Where it appears necessary or desirable, the court may
prescribe appropriate notice and an opportunity to be heard.
22 NYCRR 216.1(a). Therefore, although the Defendant has not opposed the
application, the Court is required to determine whether "good cause" exists to
grant a sealing order.
Following enactment of §216.1, the courts have continued to examine "good
cause" on a case-by-case basis, according to the facts. (Matter of Twentieth
Century Fox Film Corp., 190 AD2d 483, 487). In Coopersmith v Gold,
156 Misc 2d 594, the Court put it succinctly, stating "[w]hat it all boils down
to, however, is the prudent exercise of the court's discretion (Id.
At the outset, the Court notes Claimant has requested an "Order to Seal any and
all court records in this matter" (see, Notice of Motion). In the Court
of Claims, all pleadings as well as "all other papers required to be served upon
a party" are required to be filed with the Clerk of the Court (Uniform Rules for
the Court of Claims §206.5[a] and [c]) as are papers submitted for
signature or consideration of the court (Id at §206.5[d]). As such,
claimant is seeking what the Court describes as a "blanket order" closing this
entire litigation from view.
The instant claim implicates the alleged conduct of a SUNY professor and SUNY
itself. The underlying conduct alleged, sexual harassment, unfortunately is a
matter routinely in the public eye, rising from the shop floor to the highest
levels of government. It is also a matter of considerable concern in our
society as evidenced by legislative attempts to address this and other forms of
discrimination (see, Executive Law §292 et. seq., commonly referred
to as New York's "Human Rights Law"). In the Court's view, this is not a case
involving purely private matters of no substantial public interest (see,
Feffer v Goodkind, Wechsler, Labaton & Rudolf , 152 Misc 2d 812
affd 183 AD2d 678, in litigation involving a law firm dissolution, the
litigants were not required to wash dirty linen in public and a sealing order
was appropriate). Rather, a strong argument exists that the public, i.e. future
students, have a right to know of this claim of alleged misconduct by a SUNY
professor and of SUNY's response thereto (see, Coopersmith v Gold,
supra at 604; see also, C.L. v Edson, 140 Wis 2d 168, 409 NW2d 417
[Ct App, Wis 1987]
[record of settled case not sealed on charges that defendant psychiatrist and
members of his clinic sexually abused patients]).
The Court also finds that Claimant's proffer that the claim, and hence filed
court records, will contain extremely personal, private, and confidential
matters is insufficient to constitute a privacy interest warranting the sealing
of the file. If the Court were to accept that statement as a basis for "good
cause", all claims involving sexual harassment, would be presumptively entitled
to a sealing order, a presumption not set forth in rule, statute or the common
law. Embarrassment or prospective injury to reputation is an inherent risk in
almost every civil lawsuit, and is likewise insufficient to overcome the strong
presumption in favor of public access to court records (see, In re
Will of Hofmann, __ AD2d __, 2001 WL 717321 [June 26, 2001], Anderson v
Home Insurance Co., 924 P.2d 1123 [Colo.App.1996]).
The Court, mindful of the breadth of the request made, is not persuaded that
Claimant's continued enrollment at Defendant's university and his desire to
pursue his education as unfettered as possible from the effects of this
litigation, on balance, is sufficient to constitute good cause to warrant the
sealing of the Court records in this Claim.
Accordingly, the motion to seal the records is denied.
The parties are directed to appear at a Preliminary Conference in Chambers on
September 18, 2001 at 10:30 a.m. and shall be prepared in accordance with
§206.10 of the Uniform Rules of the Court of Claims.