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Vantage Health Plan, Inc. v. Willis-Knighton Medical Center

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 9, 2019

VANTAGE HEALTH PLAN, INCORPORATED, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
WILLIS-KNIGHTON MEDICAL CENTER, doing business as Willis-Knighton Health System Defendant
v.
HUMANA HEALTH BENEFIT PLAN OF LOUISIANA, INCORPORATED, Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

          Before JONES, BARKSDALE, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.

          JEDITH H. JONES, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In the midst of a complex antitrust case, the district court ordered that certain confidential business documents belonging to a non-litigant party should be unsealed (but redacted) if and when they are filed on the public docket. The non-litigant appealed. This court has jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the order because it applied the proper legal standards and provided sufficiently specific reasons to enable meaningful appellate review. Accordingly, the district court's order is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         The appellant, Humana Health Benefit Plan of Louisiana, Inc. ("Humana"), is not a party to the larger antitrust action underlying this interlocutory appeal. In that action, plaintiffs University Health Shreveport, a medical provider, and Vantage Health Plan, Inc. ("Vantage"), a health insurer, sued Willis-Knighton Medical Center, a medical provider in the Shreveport area. Plaintiffs' amended complaint did not mention Humana, but alleged that Willis-Knighton engaged in anticompetitive practices, creating a health-care monopoly by acquiring many physicians' practices to force insurers to include Willis-Knighton as an "in-network" provider. Plaintiffs also alleged that Willis-Knighton refused to deal with Vantage.

         During discovery plaintiffs learned of documents relevant to an alleged agreement between Willis-Knighton and Humana. Vantage served two Rule 45 subpoenas on Humana to obtain the documents. After Humana refused to comply, the court granted Vantage's motion to compel and ordered Humana to produce documents related to the alleged agreement. Fifty documents-a mix of emails and draft contracts-are the subject of this appeal.

         The court issued a protective order designed to cover all parties' documents that were regarded as sensitive and confidential. Under the initial protective order, any party could designate a document as confidential or for attorneys' eyes only "provided that such designation [wa]s made in good faith and provided further that any [p]arty may . . . challenge any such designation." If one party challenged another's designation of confidentiality, the producing party was required to furnish reasons for the designation within twenty days. If the parties could not agree, the objecting party could request that the court withdraw the confidential designation.

         The court amended its protective order in an order dated June 29, 2017, because the parties were filing too many documents under seal and creating "issues" for the court and clerk's office. Sealing documents "bec[ame] a matter of routine, rather than a genuine belief that the documents contain[ed] confidential or sensitive information." The court observed that the parties' confidentiality designations contained "only boilerplate recitations" and failed to specify why the documents should be sealed. Recognizing "that there is a presumption that all records should remain unsealed and open for [public] review," the amended protective order changed the procedure for designating a document confidential. A party that wished to file a confidential document was to ask the designating party for "permission to file the discovery as unsealed in the public record." Such permission was not to be "unreasonably denied." If the designating party denied permission, the filing party was required to obtain "leave of court . . . before any document [was] filed under seal."

         As part of the amended order, the court prospectively denied all motions to seal, but ruled the documents would remain confidential pending the court's process for resolving the issue. If a party wished to file a document in the record, it was required to "either file (a) a motion to seal with the Court, explaining with specificity why each exhibit or piece of information needs to be kept under seal, or (b) a rule to show cause, demanding the opposing party or third party explain to the court why it will not allow its documents to be filed in the open record." At two subsequent hearings in which multiple parties participated, the court proceeded document-by-document and line-by-line to determine which sections of the claimed confidential documents should be redacted or sealed entirely.

         Humana offered no specific reasons for confidentiality and was wholly unprepared to engage in the court's painstaking process. Unsurprisingly, the court ruled that none of Humana's fifty documents would be sealed in their entirety but instead should be redacted to protect "information that revealed reimbursement rates and percentages, fee schedules, overall percentage increases from year to year, and amounts and percentages of bonuses." Humana appealed, contending that the district court abused its discretion by ordering Humana's documents to be redacted but not sealed.

         APPELLATE JURISDICTION

         This court requested supplemental briefing concerning our appellate jurisdiction to review an interlocutory sealing or unsealing order concerning a non-party. Reasoning that the court's order is effectively unreviewable on appeal, Humana premises jurisdiction on the collateral order doctrine. Vantage also prefers to resolve the merits of this appeal and suggests that if the court lacks interlocutory jurisdiction, we may treat Humana's appeal as a petition for mandamus, which must be denied in the absence of a clear abuse of district court discretion.

         We conclude, as have other circuits, that sealing and unsealing orders like those involved here are reviewable on interlocutory appeal as exceptions to the final judgment rule under the collateral order doctrine. These orders are effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment principally because a decision to unseal a document cannot be undone; once confidential information is released, there is no going back. ...


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