R.K. v. HHS, (Fed. Cl. Feb. 29, 2016) (Braden, J)
The special master had ruled that both the minor child’s name and the parents’ names would be changed to initials but declined to redact the case number. On appeal, petitioner argued that the use of Jane Doe and John Doe provides better privacy protection than the use of initials.
The Court analyzed the Vaccine Act’s exemption from disclosure of “medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.” Because this language is also used in FOIA, the court considered cases interpreting the analogous provision. The US Supreme Court has held that redaction of individual names is appropriate under Section 552(b)(6) of FOIA when the names “would be linked publicly with . . . personal information.” Thus, the names were properly redacted. There was no requirement that John Doe be utilized rather than initials, in place of the redacted names. This case is a departure from current court practice and rules under which, normally, only minor children’s names are redacted, and not those of their parents or adult petitioners.
The Court also affirmed the special master’s refusal to redact the case number noting that RCFC 79(a)(2) requires the clerk to include the case number. Also, the court appropriately balanced privacy concerns with the importance of the public interest in disclosure.