Garrity v. Hyundai Information Systems North America, LLC (MAG+)
ORDER denying 29 Motion for Leave to File Under Seal, as further set out. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 11/15/12. (scn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SYSTEMS NORTH AMERICA,
) CASE NO. 2:12-CV-10-WKW
Before the court is Defendant’s Motion to File Under Seal. (Doc. # 29.)
Defendant moves the court for leave to file under seal its motion for summary
judgment on the ground that it “includes information that is deemed confidential
under the Court’s protective Order.” (Doc. # 29, at 1 (citing Doc. # 26).)
“‘The operations of the courts . . . are matters of utmost public concern.’”
Romero v. Drummond Co., 480 F.3d 1234, 1245 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Landmark
Commc’ns, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829, 839 (1978)). “‘[W]hat happens in the
halls of government is presumptively public business. Judges deliberate in private
but issue public decisions after public arguments based on public records.’” Estate
of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc., 184 F. Supp. 2d 1353, 1362 (N.D. Ga.
2002) (quoting Union Oil Co. of Calif. v. Leavell, 220 F.3d 562, 568 (7th Cir. 2000)).
There is a common-law right that favors access to judicial records and includes the
“right to inspect and copy public records and documents.” Chi. Tribune Co. v.
Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 263 F.3d 1304, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001). This commonlaw right “is instrumental in securing the integrity of the [judicial] process,” but it is
not absolute. Id.
“[M]aterial filed with discovery motions is not subject to the common-law right
of access.” Id. at 1312. “[T]he need for public access to discovery is low because
discovery is ‘essentially a private process[,] . . . the sole purpose [of which] is to
assist trial preparation.’” Romero, 480 F.3d at 1245 (quoting United States v.
Anderson, 799 F.2d 1438, 1441 (11th Cir. 1986)). In contrast, “material filed in
connection with pretrial motions that require judicial resolution of the merits is
subject to the common-law right.” Chi. Tribune Co., 263 F.3d at 1312-13; see also
Romero, 480 F.3d at 1245 (“Material filed in connection with any substantive pretrial
motion, unrelated to discovery, is subject to the common law right of access.”). That
right, however, “may be overcome by a showing of good cause.” Romero, 480 F.3d
at 1245. This standard parallels the “good cause” standard of Rule 26(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing protective orders. Chi. Tribune Co., 263
F.3d at 1312. The good cause “standard requires the district court to balance the
party’s interest in obtaining access against the other party’s interest in keeping the
information confidential.” Chi. Tribune Co., 263 F.2d at 1304. For purposes of
conducting this balancing test, factors relevant to the court’s inquiry include:
whether allowing access would impair court functions or harm
legitimate privacy interests, the degree of and likelihood of injury if
made public, the reliability of the information, whether there will be an
opportunity to respond to the information, whether the information
concerns public officials or public concerns, and the availability of a less
onerous alternative to sealing the documents.
Romero, 480 F.3d at 1246.
Moreover, because the court is obligated to protect the public’s right to access
judicial records, it is not bound by the parties’ stipulation to seal the documentary
record. See In re Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc., 184 F. Supp. 2d at 1363; see
also Romero, 480 F.3d at 1247 (“[T]hat both parties want to seal court documents ‘is
immaterial’ to [the] public right of access.” (quoting Brown v. Advantage Eng’g, Inc.,
960 F.2d 1013, 1016 (11th Cir. 1992)). And even absent a third-party challenge, the
court has an independent obligation to ensure that documents filed under seal do not
impair the public’s right to access the judicial record. See In re Estate of Martin
Luther King, Jr., Inc., 184 F. Supp. 2d at 1363.
Defendant seeks a blanket sealing of its motion for summary judgment,
presumably including all attached exhibits. Nor does Defendant claim all of the
evidentiary materials were marked “confidential,” only that the motion “includes
information that is deemed confidential.” (Doc. # 29, at 1.) Defendant has not
addressed the public’s presumptive right of access to these documents once filed in
connection with a motion for summary judgment. Defendant has not addressed
whether the good cause factors weigh in favor of sealing the entirety of its motion for
summary judgment. Accordingly, Defendant has not shown that its motion should
be sealed. It is ORDERED, therefore, that the motion for leave to file under seal
(Doc. # 29) is DENIED.
DONE this 15th day of November, 2012.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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