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State Farm's Black Hole.

A consumer fraud lawsuit against State Farm Mutual Insurance Company has been erased from the public record. No docket sheet is available. The court's computers have no record of the case. And almost the entire file of the four-year-long case is under seal. A few public documents confirm that the case in fact exists.

In June, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) moved to unseal the case.

"This is absolutely outrageous," says TLPJ President Joseph Power. "A lawsuit charging State Farm, one of the nation's largest insurers, with cheating its policyholders has basically been excised from court records. State Farm's customers and the public have a right to know what State Farm is so eager to hide."

The lawsuit, Foltz v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, was filed in federal court in Eugene, Oregon in 1994.

According to the few public documents available on the case, Debbie Foltz charged that State Farm, her automobile insurer, hired the California Institute of Medical Research and Technology, a utilization review company, to defraud her by conducting a sham review of her son's need for medical treatment.

After nearly four years of litigation, the parties reached a confidential settlement of the case. As part of the settlement, a federal court order was apparently entered sealing over 450 documents in the case file, wiping the docket sheet clean and erasing the case from the court's computer system. It is virtually impossible for a member of the public to determine that the case existed, much less view the court record.

Lawyers at TLPJ learned of the case in 1998, when the Supreme Court of Oregon issued a published opinion answering some state law questions that had arisen in the case. When TLPJ lawyers Lawrence Baron and Matthew Whitman attempted to review the Foltz case file at the federal courthouse, the court clerk found no case file in the court's computer system.

Since Baron and Whitman knew the federal case number from the Oregon Supreme Court's opinion, they asked the clerk to search the computer by case number. Again, no case was found.

After a physical search, the clerk turned up a few unsealed documents, but said that the remaining court records - over 450 in total - were sealed by the court and unavailable for public viewing.
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Author:Mokhiber, Russell
Publication:Multinational Monitor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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