Bussey et al v. Macon County Greyhound Park, Inc. et al
ORDER that the 214 Motion for Leave to File Under Seal is DENIED as further set out in the order. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 9/4/2012. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DOLLIE WILLIAMS, et al.,
) CASE NO. 3:10-CV-191-WKW
MACON COUNTY GREYHOUND
PARK, INC., et al.,
Before the court is Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to File Under Seal. (Doc.
# 214.) Plaintiffs move the court for leave to file under seal Plaintiffs’ Memorandum
in Support of Their Motion for Class Certification and the accompanying evidentiary
materials in their entirety on the ground that “almost all of the evidentiary material
cited and discussed in the supporting memorandum have been designated
‘Confidential’ by the parties,” pursuant to the Confidentiality and Inadvertent
Disclosure Order.1 (Doc. # 214, at 1.)
“‘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
Consistent with this district’s local rules, documents exchanged during discovery have
not been filed with the court. See M.D. Ala. LR 5.1. The disclosure of these documents during
the discovery process, however, has been governed by a consent protective order issued at the
request of the parties. (Doc. # 125.)
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.
Plaintiffs seek a blanket sealing of the brief and all exhibits submitted in
support of their motion for class certification, notwithstanding their concession that
not all of the evidentiary materials were marked “confidential.” Plaintiffs have not
addressed the public’s presumptive right of access to these documents once filed in
connection with a motion for class certification. Plaintiffs also have not addressed
whether the good cause factors weigh in favor of sealing the entirety of the
submission for class certification. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have not shown that these
documents should be sealed. It is ORDERED, therefore, that the motion for leave to
file under seal (Doc. # 214) is DENIED.
DONE this 4th day of September, 2012.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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