remove information from legal search

Legal Q&ACategory: Intellectual Property & Internetremove information from legal search
Cindy asked 9 months ago

My friend sued her work place in a federal case. She can’t remove her name from legal search engines that are hurting her chance or a job. She won this case but she is suffering. I would like to know how to get her name or case removed from search engines. It is fine if someone wants to see her case but not on a simple job search. Rau v Cuppa.

1 Answers
Dave Alden answered 8 months ago

Hi Cindy,
You’ve asked a good question that affects everyone. Especially for attorneys, it’s great that the Internet has given us easy access to court filings. Researching how a particular judge might react to a given set of facts, or how a respected colleague structured a motion submitted to the court (and how that turned out), has become a regular part of my practice. The downside, as you point out, is that if one of us has access to that kind of information, then we all do.
This isn’t a new challenge, either. I looked back and see that one of Legal.com’s visitors posted a similar question four year ago pertaining to companies posting mug shots on the Internet. Here is the link to that question:
https://www.legal.com/legal-question/internet-mugshot-posting/
As you can see, almost any interaction in a public setting can find it’s way online, where it becomes searchable and can be retrieved. In the scenario of your question, this information that was once hard to access and all but private, is now readily available to anyone sitting at a computer connected to the Internet.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Internet search engines aren’t the culprit. It’s the sites that publish the information. The Internet search engines don’t create the content. Their role is to search for text published online, then provide links to that information when someone searches keywords or a phrase that matches the content.
The true challenge is to find where the content is published. Once you’ve determined which site is publishing the content, you may or may not be able to get them to take it down. In the context of the mug shots, small private businesses were running web sites that wanted you to pay them to remove the content. In other instances, the content could come from the courts where cases are filed. Those legal filings are docketed and made available to people searching the court files. The Internet search engines can find those filings as easily as any person directly accessing the court site. Once the search engine has read a filing into its database, those key words and phrases are there to be retrieved when someone types a search for them.
So the question becomes, once you find the source of the information, can you have it removed? In the case of a court, the only way to do this is for a judge to order the record sealed. This is frequently done in cases in the juvenile justice system. But it’s not so easy in a civil case because the court is a public forum. One would have to convince the judge that the circumstances are unique and that there is a real reason to seal certain information. Even if successful, it is likely that only certain small parts of the filings would be sealed.
In the case of private web sites that re-publish court filings, you might be successful if you contact the site directly to request that they remove a specific page for a specific reason. If they are unwilling or are trying to charge a fee, you should research the law where you live and where the site is headquartered to see if any laws have been passed to assist you in trying to have content removed from publication, to compel the site to honor your request. Use Legal.com’s legal research tool for this.
Keep in mind that more than one web site might have picked up your friend’s court case and added it to their database where it would be discovered by the search engines and made available for anyone to view. In that situation, your friend is going to have to contact each of these sites to persuade all of them to remove the information.
If there are no laws currently addressing the problem, you might contact your state or federal elected officials to see where they stand on this issue, and to learn about any privacy initiatives currently being considered.
The European Union is leading the world in protecting individual privacy. A common thread of the rules among EU countries is that people have the right to demand that private information is removed. Keep in mind, though, that this right might not be available for public information. When a case is filed in court, it is in a public forum where there is only a very limited right to privacy. Most courtrooms are open to the public where someone can come inside, have a seat and listen to your case being heard. That same openness exists with respect to the documents filed in the case.
Hopefully this information will be helpful to you and anyone dealing with a similar situation.
Best, — Dave