CBS News says information in sealed documents on vehicles reported stolen violate public's right to know
CBS News has filed a motion in federal court asking that The Hertz Corp. unseal information in a lawsuit accusing the rental car giant of incorrectly reporting rented cars stolen that includes the number of police reports filed and the number of those reports found to be inaccurate.
The broadcaster filed the motion this month in response to a December filing where Hertz included the numbers but, citing confidentiality, filed the information under seal.
CBS News, which has been reporting on the case, argues in court papers that withholding the numbers violates the public’s right to know and that the information contains insights on the size and scope of the issue not available elsewhere.
“The public has a constitutional and common law right to access judicial records such as the objections by Hertz already filed under seal and the information it seeks to (file) under seal,” attorneys for the network write in the filing.
They argue two sentences later “that Hertz cannot credibly assert, let alone prove, that the information it seeks to protect is sensitive, confidential or of any commercial value. Indeed, if this information is deemed confidential, it is difficult to contemplate what would not be.”
The lawsuit accuses the Lee County-based rental car company of reporting vehicles stolen while the drivers are in good standing, leading to dozens of false arrests. According to the Philadelphia law firm behind the lawsuit, more than 180 claimants are asking for $530 million.
Hertz, for its part, argues in court papers that “this information contains highly sensitive confidential, commercial information” and that “due to the sensitive, commercial nature of the confidential information” must not be made public.
But in another filing claims the numbers in question show that, rather than there being a systemic problem, the company very rarely reports vehicles stolen.
The lawsuit is being heard in federal bankruptcy court, where it moved after Hertz filed Chapter 11 last year.
Hertz has denied the accusations in the lawsuit, telling the Business Observer in December that it didn’t dispute that it occasionally reports rented vehicles stolen, but that “the vast majority of these cases involve renters who were many weeks or even months overdue returning vehicles and who stopped communicating with us well beyond the scheduled due date.”
Attorneys representing those suing the company, who were able to get the information CBS seeks but are not allowed to release it, agree with network. The attorneys argue in their own filing that they don’t believe the information should be under seal and believe it’s appropriate to make it public.
They also take issue with Hertz’s assertion that revealing the information would hurt the company’s competitiveness.
Hertz “cannot have it both ways; it cannot argue that the proffered statistics do not demonstrate the ‘systemic issues the (claimants) claim exists’ and, at the same time, that this purportedly exonerating data would give competitors an unfair advantage.”
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 9.