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Rule 15: Filing Documents Under Seal

Rule 15. Filing Documents Under Seal

(a) Applicability. All documents filed with the clerk of this court are public records unless they are protected from disclosure by a statute, rule, or court order. Tenn. S. Ct. R. 34. Except as provided in subdivisions (f) and (g), this order applies only to documents filed under seal or proposed to be filed under seal pursuant to a court order and not to documents sealed or made confidential by a statute or rule.

(b). Documents previously filed under seal in the trial court.

i. Documents filed in the trial court under seal pursuant to a specific order of the trial court shall be filed under seal in this court subject to the same restrictions as set forth in the trial court’s order unless this court orders otherwise.

ii. For a document to be filed under seal in the appellate court pursuant to subdivision (b), the trial court must have made an individualized determination that the particular document should be filed under seal. A document will not be filed under seal in this court based solely on the stipulation of the parties or on a party’s designation of the document as confidential pursuant to a protective order.

iii. Where documents filed under seal in the trial court are included in the record on appeal, the trial court clerk shall place the sealed documents in a separate envelope with a copy of the trial court’s sealing order on the cover.

iv. Where documents filed under seal in the trial court are first presented to this court by a party in support of an application or motion, the sealed documents shall be attached as an exhibit in a separate envelope with a copy of the trial court’s sealing order on the cover.

(c). Documents not previously filed in the trial court. A document that has not been filed in the trial court may be filed under seal in this court only by an order of this court. The party seeking to file such a document must file a motion demonstrating that protection from disclosure is necessary and that the relief requested is the least restrictive means available to protect the confidential matters.

(d). Briefs, applications, and motions.

i. Briefs, applications, and motions filed originally in this court will not be filed under seal absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances.

ii. Where a party deems it unavoidable to disclose protected information in a brief, application or motion, the party shall file a motion to seal those portions which must refer to protected information. The moving party shall have the burden of demonstrating that protection from disclosure is necessary and that the brief, application or motion cannot be adequately prepared by referring to sealed portions of the record without disclosing the protected information. Only those portions of the brief, application or motion which actually disclose protected information will be sealed.

iii. A party moving to seal a portion of a brief, application or motion shall lodge the complete brief, application or motion containing the confidential information and shall file a second, public brief, application or motion with the protected matters redacted. The complete brief, application or motion shall identify by typeface, brackets or other means those portions which are protected and have been redacted from the public version. Only the original and one copy of the public version need be filed.

(e). Lodging under conditional seal.

i. Parties who have filed in this court a motion to seal a document may lodge the document under a conditional seal by placing it in a separate envelope with “Conditionally Under Seal” on the cover. The clerk shall treat the document as sealed until the court rules on the motion to seal.

ii. If the motion to seal is denied, the clerk shall return the lodged document to the submitting party unless the submitting party notifies the clerk in writing within ten (10) days that the document should be filed.

iii. If the motion to seal is granted, the clerk shall attach a copy of the sealing order to the envelope.

(f). Documents made confidential or sealed pursuant to a statute or rule. Documents made confidential or sealed pursuant to a statute or rule, including those records and briefs filed in appeals from juvenile courts subject to Tenn. Ct. App. R. 14, shall contain a prominent notation on their cover stating that they are confidential or sealed and indicating the authority for such protection. The trial court clerks shall ensure that the records on appeal in such cases contain the appropriate notation.

Access to sealed documents. Unless otherwise provided by statute, rule or the order placing the documents under seal, documents filed under seal in this court may be examined or withdrawn only by:

i. Counsel of record or their agents;

ii. Judges of this court and their staff having need to examine the documents in the performance of their duties. ; and

iii. Deputy clerks having need to examine the documents in the performance of their duties.

[Amended by Order filed October 26, 2004]

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