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Callahan v. United Network for Organ Sharing

Post categories

  1. Court Access

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Date Filed: Dec. 1, 2020

Background: Earlier this year, a federal district court in Georgia ordered the unsealing of certain judicial records in a case concerning the distribution of organs to hospitals. After issuing the order, however, the district court stayed the unsealing until its order is “non-appealable.”

Accordingly, the court records ordered unsealed by the district court are currently sealed and unavailable to the public and press. In October, the defendants appealed the unsealing order.  In response, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit asked the parties to address whether it has jurisdiction over the appeal.

Our Position: The Eleventh Circuit should ensure that orders denying motions to unseal — and orders that otherwise delay or restrict public access to court records — remain immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine, which allows for immediate appellate review of certain orders issued while a case is still ongoing.

  • The Eleventh Circuit has consistently exercised jurisdiction over appeals from sealing orders and orders denying motions to unseal court records under the collateral order doctrine.
  • The public’s right to prompt access to judicial records weighs heavily in favor of the court exercising jurisdiction over appeals from all orders that seal, delay or otherwise restrict public access to court records under the collateral order doctrine.
  • When a district court’s unsealing order is stayed until it is non-appealable, delaying appellate review until a final judgment would make the denial of the public’s right of contemporaneous access to judicial records effectively unreviewable.

Quote: “The public has a qualified right to access judicial records in civil cases under common law. And safeguarding the ability of the press and public to exercise that important right contemporaneously with ongoing litigation is a substantial public interest that would be imperiled if appellate review of orders restricting public access were delayed until final judgment.”