HONOLULU (CN) - Documents in a fan's disability lawsuit against the NFL will be redacted by the court and released to the public, a federal judge ruled.
The NFL had argued that the two documents, which are part of a 2013 complaint in Oahu First Circuit Court for failure to accommodate a handicapped Canadian woman who attended that year's Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, were confidential and should be sealed or redacted before being filed.
Local Rule 83.12(a) states that a document may be filed sealed "if it contains confidential, restricted, or graphic information and/or images" - but there is a "strong presumption" to keep documents open for public access based on the "general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents."
The NFL claimed that the first document, a security assignment list for the Pro Bowl containing the names, phone numbers, reporting locations, radio frequencies of key security personnel, a brief description of security procedures for the event and the security frequency and code for the event, should be sealed or redacted because the people listed could work future Pro Bowls and releasing the document "could expose these individuals to unwanted phone calls and pose security hazards to them by persons who seek access to NFL events or who seek retribution against these individuals."
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright agreed that the telephone numbers and security frequency for the event are sensitive information and will be redacted by the court, but decided that the document as whole, including the names, reporting locations or description of security procedures will not be sealed.
"The NFL's summary assertions of possible 'retribution' and 'security hazards' caused by knowing these individuals' names and locations at the Pro Bowl 2013 ring hollow where the Pro Bowl 2013 has long passed, the names of individuals who worked the Pro Bowl 2013 are presumably not confidential, and Pro Bowl 2015 is slated to take place in Arizona," the Oct. 2 opinion says.
The second document is a contract between the NFL and G4S Secure Solutions for services at the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Pro Bowl, which includes the obligations of the league and security company for the Pro Bowl, the qualifications of employees working security for the event, liability insurance requirements and the pay for security personnel. The NFL wanted the contract to the contract sealed or its sensitive provisions redacted.
The league claimed that releasing the contract would affect its ability to negotiate terms in other security agreements - but the NFL failed to explain how it would be damaged.
The court found that the provisions the league wanted to redact "belie the NFL's argument," in that they show that GS4 was to provide general crowd management and security services, conduct background investigations of its staff and that staff must provide prompt and courteous service.
"The court is at a loss as to how disclosure of these provisions would cause any competitive disadvantage," the opinion states. "Although the NFL dropped the ball" in stating why the contract should be redacted, the court will redact specific dollar amounts of compensation, insurance and travel expenses that "could place the NFL at a competitive disadvantage in negotiating future contracts for security services."
In the underlying complaint, filed Sept. 18, 2013, Deb Ritchie claims she bought 10 tickets spread between the first and second rows at the 40-yard line for the 2013 Pro Bowl. Her disability causes her to use a power wheelchair or a walker and wheeled shoes, and she wasn't provided access to her seats by being transported on a golf cart to a gate in the wall, as she had been at the same event the year before.
Ritchie claims that in the days before the Pro Bowl, the NFL extended and then took back an offer for her to "meet her idol, Peyton Manning," and tried to get her to sit in seats reserved for disabled persons.
Because the league never said she could not sit in her seats, on the day of the game she tried to get there using a "sitting technique" to climb down the steps, but was told by event staff that she could not use that method to descend the steps. Ritchie then tried to walk down the steps but event staff crowded her from below after each step she took. After she paused on the way down, event staff forbade her from going down, told her to go back up and "yelled at her that she faced arrest if she didn't," she says in the complaint.
Ritchie sat down, the police were called and she did not make it to her seat.
She sought damages for disability discrimination.
She is represented by Lunsford Dole Phillips.