Litigation often involves personal, sensitive information. It can also be embarassing or uncomfortable to publicly discuss issues in court filings. It occurs every so often, then, that litigants request that court records be sealed. Missouri law does not favor this.
There is a presmpution in favor of court records being open to the public. The rationale is that such transparency permits the public to better monitor the process to ensure that justice is being served. In re Transit Cas. Co. ex rel. Pulitzer Publ’g Co. v. Transit Cas. Co. ex rel. Intervening Emps., 43 S.W.3d 293 (Mo. 2011). Furthermore, the Missouri Constitution states that the courts are open to every person and certain statutes state that sitting of every court is genrally public. For a court to seal a file, the court must identify specific and tangible threats to important values to override the importance of the right of public access. Exampes of things that may be sealed include: trade secrets in business, sensitive commercial information, the identity of victims of crimes, the identity of juvenile perpetrators, illicit photographs, and medical records. Court must weigh and balance the public’s interest in open courts with a party’s request to seal materials.
When litigation results in a settlement, it is not uncommon for there to be a provision in which all parties make a consent request to seal the file. However, just because all parties consent to such a request does not necesarily mean that the court will grant it in this instance.