SMM Gulf Coast, LLC v. Hickman et al
ORDER DENYING SMM Gulf Coast, LLC's 1 Motion for Leave to File Under Seal as set out. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 9/25/2015. (tot)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SSM GULF COAST, LLC,
DAVID HICKMAN, DAVID’S
AUTO SHREDDING, INC.,
) CIVIL NO. 15-mc-00022-CG-N
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s motion for leave to file under
seal (Doc. 1), Plaintiff’s response in support of the motion (Doc. 6), and Defendants’
opposition to the motion (Doc. 7). For the reasons explained below, the Court finds
that the motion to seal should be denied.
Court proceedings generally are not confidential, and while a court may order
confidentiality and seal part of a record for cause, the presumption favors open
evidence and proceedings. Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589,
597-99 (1978). The public has constitutional and common-law rights of access to
materials filed in a federal lawsuit. See generally Chicago Tribune Co. v.
Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 263 F.3d 1304, 1309 (11th Cir. 2001) (discussing these
rights and their parameters). “This right of access is not absolute [and] may be
overcome by a showing of good cause.” Romero v. Drummond Co., 480 F.3d 1234,
1245 (11th Cir. 2007); accord Chicago Tribune, 263 F.3d at 1310. A determination
of whether good cause has been shown requires a balancing test that has been
described as follows:
The common law right of access may be overcome by a showing of
good cause, which requires “balanc[ing] the asserted right of access
against the other party's interest in keeping the information
confidential.” Chicago Tribune, 263 F.3d at 1309. “[W]hether good
cause exists ... is ... decided by the nature and character of the
information in question.” Id. at 1315. In balancing the public
interest in accessing court documents against a party's interest in
keeping the information confidential, courts consider, among other
factors, 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.
See In re Alexander Grant & Co. Litig., 820 F.2d 352, 356 (11th
Cir.1987); Shingara v. Skiles, 420 F.3d 301, 305-06 (3d Cir.2005);
Amodeo, 71 F.3d at 1050-51.
Romero, 480 F.3d at 1246. The “first question” is whether the sealed materials “do
in fact contain” confidential information. Chicago Tribune, 263 F .3d at 1313.
In the instant case, SMM Gulf Coast, LLC (“SMM”) seeks to seal its motion to
vacate an arbitration award in order to comply with a provision of the arbitration
agreement which requires confidentiality of any award. The arbitration agreement
was contained in the parties employment agreement and states the following with
regard to confidentiality:
Except as otherwise required by law or legal process, any and all
proceedings, hearings, findings or any other record of a dispute under
this Section 8.16 shall be confidential and shall be held in the strictest
confidence of all parties so involved, including but not limited to the
parties to this Agreement and any appointed arbitrators.
(Doc. 2-2). Notably, the clause excepts confidentiality where disclosure is required
“by law or legal process.” SMM does not point to any harm or injury that could
occur if the information was made public and has not suggested any real privacy
interest it has in the information, other than its expectation that it would remain
confidential based on the arbitration clause contained in the employment
agreement. To the extent SMM sought to have it sealed because it did not want to
violate any privacy interest Defendants had in the information, Defendants have
made clear by their opposition to the motion that they have no such interest. “The
existence of a confidentiality provision, without more, does not constitute good
cause, let alone a compelling reason, to seal.” Bernstein v. Target Stores, Inc., 2013
WL 5807581, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 28, 2013) (citations omitted); see also Brown v.
Advantage Engineering, Inc., 960 F.2d 1013, 1016 (11th Cir. 1992) (“It is immaterial
whether the sealing of the record is an integral part of a negotiated settlement
between the parties, even if the settlement comes with the court's active
encouragement. Once a matter is brought before a court for resolution, it is no
longer solely the parties' case, but also the public's case. Absent a showing of
extraordinary circumstances set forth by the district court in the record consistent
with Wilson, the court file must remain accessible to the public.”).
The Court finds that SSM has not identified a compelling reason to justify
sealing the documents in this court record. Accordingly, the motion of SMM Gulf
Coast, LLC for leave to file under seal (Doc. 1), is hereby DENIED.
DONE and ORDERED this 25th day of September, 2015.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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