Legal Memorandum: Motion to Unseal Court Records

Issue: Under New Mexico law, what are the policy considerations affecting a request to unseal a guardianship or conservatorship court record following the death of the protected person?

Area of Law: Family Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Court records; Motion to unseal; Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings
Jurisdiction: New Mexico
Cited Cases: 674 S.E.2d 105; 767 F.2d 705
Cited Statutes: Rule 1-079(I)(1) NMRA; Rule 1-079(A) NMRA; LR2–111 NMRA; NMRA Rule 1-079, Rule 1-079 (C)(7)-(8), Rule 1-079(G)(1), (I)(2), Rule 1-079(1)(a); O.C.G.A. § 29-9-18(b); 1-079(C)(7)-(8) NMRA
Date: 07/01/2014

Rule 1-079(I)(1) NMRA authorizes unsealing these records, expressly stating that “[a] party or member of the public may move to unseal a sealed court record.”  Although court records in certain named proceedings such as guardianship and conservatorship proceedings are automatically sealed, the official comments to these rules make clear that, “[n]onetheless, a motion to unseal some or all of the automatically sealed court records in a particular case may still be filed under Paragraph I of the rule.” 

The general rule is that court records are subject to public access.  Rule 1-079(A) NMRA; LR2–111 NMRA; Thomas v. Thomas, 991 P.2d 7, 14-15 (N.M. Ct. App. 1999).  Of course, exceptions are recognized and some records, like those of guardianship and conservatorship proceedings are even automatically sealed.  Rule 1-079 (C)(7)-(8).  However, no rule and no statute or other law states or implies that once court records are automatically sealed they must remain sealed for all time, regardless of changed circumstances.  On the contrary, the applicable rule specifically recognizes that sealed court records are subject to being unsealed where circumstances warrant and the interest that initially justified the restricted access has substantially diminished or no longer exists.  Rule 1-079(I).  The official comments to this Rule make clear that this applies to records that are automatically sealed as well as to those sealed pursuant to court order.  These comments state in relevant part:

Paragraph C of this rule recognizes that all court records within certain classes of cases should […]


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