O'Connor et al v. Uber Technologies, Inc. et al

Filing 237

ORDER by Judge Edward M. Chen Granting in Part and Denying in Part 221 Administrative Motion to File Under Seal (emclc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 1/27/2015)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 DOUGLAS O’CONNOR, et al., 9 Plaintiffs, 10 v. 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court No. C-13-3826 EMC UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC., et al., 12 ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART ADMINISTRATIVE MOTION TO FILE UNDER SEAL Defendants. ___________________________________/ (Docket No. 221) 13 14 15 On December 30, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their opposition to Defendant Uber Technologies’ 16 currently pending summary judgment motion. See Docket Nos. 211 (Summary Judgment Motion); 17 222 (Opposition to Summary Judgment). Plaintiffs also filed an administrative motion to seal 18 certain discovery materials attached to their opposition. Docket No. 221. As required by this 19 Court’s Local Rules, the parties that designated the relevant materials as confidential pursuant to a 20 stipulated protective order timely filed declarations in support of Plaintiffs’ administrative motion to 21 seal. Docket Nos. 224-25 (Supporting Declarations); see also N.D. Cal. Local Rule 79-5(e)(1). The 22 Court has reviewed those declarations, and now grants in part and denies in part Plaintiffs’ 23 administrative motion to file under seal. 24 A. 25 Applicable Legal Standard A party seeking to seal a judicial record submitted in connection with a dispositive motion 26 bears the burden of establishing that “compelling reasons” support the sealing request. See 27 Kamakana v. City and Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178-79 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Apple, 28 Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., No. 11-cv-1846-LHK, 2012 WL 2913669, at *1-2 (N.D. Cal. 1 Jul. 17, 2012). More specifically, the party seeking to maintain records under seal must “articulate 2 compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings that outweigh the general history of access 3 and the public policies favoring disclosure [of court records], such as the public interest in 4 understanding the judicial process.” Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178-79 (internal modifications and 5 quotation marks omitted) (citations omitted). In order to grant a motion to seal documents when 6 applying the “compelling reasons” standard, this Court must “base its decision on a compelling 7 reason and articulate the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture.” 8 Id. at 1179 (citations omitted). “The presumption of access is not rebutted where documents subject 9 to a protective order are filed under seal as attachments to a dispositive motion. The compelling reasons standard continues to apply.” Id. at 1179 (internal modifications and quotation marks 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 omitted) (citations omitted). 12 “In general, ‘compelling reasons’ sufficient to outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure 13 and justify sealing court records exist when such ‘court files might have become a vehicle for 14 improper purposes,’ such as the use of the records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, 15 circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets.” Id. at 1179 (quoting Nixon v. Warner 16 Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 598 (1978)). The “mere fact that the production of records 17 may lead to a litigant’s embarrassment” will not compel the court to seal its records. Id. Or, as a 18 number of courts in this district have suggested, “only documents of exceptionally sensitive 19 information” will be kept from the public. Apple, 2012 WL 2913669, at *2 (emphasis added); see 20 also Oracle America v. Google, Inc., No. 10-cv-03561-WHA, at ECF No. 540 (noting that sealing 21 motions “will be denied outright” unless counsel identified “a limited amount of exceptionally 22 sensitive information that truly deserves protection”). 23 B. 24 25 Application of the Compelling Reasons Standard The Court now applies the above-described standard to the discovery materials sought to be sealed in Plaintiffs’ administrative motion: 26 1. 27 Uber maintains that Exhibit 21 “contain[s] commercially valuable information regarding past 28 issues with the functionality of the Uber driver application and Uber’s strategies and procedures that Exhibit 21 2 1 it developed to address those issues.” Docket No. 225 (Uber Supporting Declaration). This 2 representation appears inaccurate. The Court has reviewed Exhibit 21 in its entirety. The document 3 contains a series of emails between an Uber driver and a (presumably low level) Uber employee 4 regarding the driver’s claimed issues with the Uber application freezing, causing him to allegedly 5 receive smaller payments than he believed he was entitled to. Uber’s apparently “commercially 6 valuable strategy” in response to this functionality “issue” was to inform the driver that such 7 occurrences “are often due to network errors . . . associated with Verizon’s network connection and 8 are out of Uber’s control.” Docket No. 221-5. Put simply, nothing about Exhibit 21 rises to the 9 level of a trade secret or commercially valuable information.1 Uber also maintains that Exhibit 21 is sealable because it contains “potentially embarrassing 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 facts about a non-party to this litigation, who is clearly identified by name and whose account was 12 deactivated.” Docket No. 225. The Court recognizes the non-party’s privacy interests, and finds 13 that such an interest can be appropriately balanced with the public’s right to access by redacting 14 personal identifying information from Exhibit 21. See, e.g., G&C Auto Body Inc. v. Geico General 15 Insurance Co., No. C06-4898 MJJ, 2008 WL 867372, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 11, 2008) (finding that a 16 non-party’s privacy interest in information with “little or no relevance to the issues raised by [the] 17 summary judgment motions” is sufficient to satisfy the compelling reasons standard). Redaction of 18 identifying information is particularly appropriate here, because the public’s interest in the name of 19 the terminated driver is likely insignificant, as the exact name is irrelevant to the legal issues in this 20 case. By contrast, the public’s interest in the substance of the communications is likely greater, as 21 the substance is relevant to analyzing the merits of Uber’s pending summary judgment motion. See 22 id. Consequently, the Court denies the request to seal Exhibit 21. Exhibit 21 shall be filed on the 23 public docket with the driver’s name and personal identifying information redacted. 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 27 1 28 Indeed, the Court has doubts Exhibit 21 would be sealable even under the “good cause” standard that applies to discovery materials that are not submitted along with dispositive pleadings. 3 1 2. 2 Uber claims Exhibit 22 is sealable because it contains “potentially embarrassing facts about a Exhibit 22 3 non-party to this litigation whose account was deactivated, and who is identified by name.” Uber 4 does not otherwise contend Exhibit 22 is sealable, and the Court is convinced that it is not. Thus, 5 Exhibit 22 shall be filed on the public docket, but with the driver’s personal identifying information 6 redacted. Here, that appears to be the individual’s email address. 7 3. 8 Uber contends Exhibit 23 is sealable because it contains “commercially valuable information 9 Exhibit 23 regarding Uber’s strategies and procedures developed to improve its competitiveness against other similar technology companies.” Again, Uber’s description appears false.2 Exhibit 23 is a 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 spreadsheet listing drivers who were “fired” from the Uber platform or otherwise received 12 performance warnings from Uber. For example, one driver is listed as “deactivating, low rating, 13 english level.” Docket No. 221-7. Another simply states “Deactivated for inactivity. 5 months.” 14 Id. This type of information does not appear commercially sensitive, but even if it is, it certainly 15 does not amount to a trade secret. See Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179. Nor is the information 16 exceptionally sensitive. See Apple, 2012 WL 2913669, at *2. 17 However, Uber does once again properly recognize the non-party drivers’ privacy interests in 18 the reasons for their termination--some of which are potentially embarrassing. Once again, the 19 parties shall file the relevant exhibit on the public document with driver identifying information 20 redacted.3 21 4. 22 Uber contends that Exhibit 25 is sealable because it includes “commercially valuable, non- Exhibit 25 23 public information regarding Uber’s strategies, policies, and technological capabilities that it 24 developed to bolster its competitiveness against other similar technology companies.” This 25 representation is seriously misleading. Exhibit 25 contains two emails with the subject “ANOTHER 26 2 27 28 Uber’s counsel are warned that submitting inaccurate or misleading statements to the Court in a declaration is sanctionable conduct that will not be condoned or tolerated. 3 Here, it should likely be sufficient to simply redact the drivers’ last names. 4 1 TERRIBLE DRIVER.” The first email reads, in its entirety: “Get rid of this guy. We need to make 2 some serious cuts of guys below 4.5.” Docket No. 221-8. The second email reads, in its entirety: 3 “Done via phone! Remote banning -- I love it.” Id. This document is clearly not sealable. 4 5. 5 Uber asks the Court to seal Exhibit 26 because it contains an email where an Uber employee Exhibit 26 6 uses “coarse language” which could potentially embarrass that employee. This is not grounds to 7 seal Exhibit 26. As noted above, the “mere fact that the production of records may lead to a 8 litigant’s embarrassment” will not compel the court to seal its records. Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 9 1179. The Court notes that, by contrast to the driver’s names which the Court will require Uber to redact in other exhibits, the coarse language used by the employee here is relevant to the issues to be 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 decided in this summary judgment motion. Moreover, the employee is not a true non-party to this 12 litigation--he is employed by a party to this action and the communication was sent from his 13 business email account in the scope of his employment. In any event, an employee’s use of the “f- 14 word” in a business communication is not so shocking in today’s world to warrant sealing of this 15 document. The request is denied. 16 6. 17 Uber claims Exhibit 27 “contains commercially valuable information regarding Uber’s Exhibit 27 18 strategies, policies and procedures.” Docket No. 225. Again, the Court is not convinced. Exhibit 19 27 is an email terminating a driver because Uber’s business was then “slower than normal,” and 20 explaining that Uber looks to terminate drivers in the bottom 5% of its active driver pool as 21 determined by customer feedback. Docket No. 221-10. The Court does not believe this is a “trade 22 secret” or otherwise “exceptionally sensitive” information. Indeed, Uber admits in its publically 23 filed summary judgment motion that it terminates drivers based on customer feedback. See Docket 24 No. 211 at 4 (explaining that Uber may “deactivate the accounts of drivers who fall below 25 Defendant’s quality standards, based on the average rating they have received from passengers or a 26 pattern of serious complaints from passengers”). However, the Court will order Uber to redact the 27 relevant driver’s email address for privacy reasons, again noting that the email address is not 28 5 1 relevant to any of the issues in this litigation, nor would the public have any real interest in its 2 disclosure. 3 7. 4 Exhibit 30 is a 22 question multiple choice exam Uber apparently uses to test its drivers’ Exhibit 30 5 “city knowledge and understanding of the functionality of the Uber App.” Docket No. 225. Again, 6 Uber claims these materials are sealable because they contain “commercially valuable information.” 7 Uber does not point to specific facts that indicate that the questions (notably provided without 8 answers) here are so sensitive to rise to the level of a trade secret or similar. The Court has reviewed 9 the exhibit and is not convinced this is the case. The request to seal Exhibit 30 is denied. 8. 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 Exhibit 32 is a series of emails between employees of Uber and 7x7 Executive Exhibit 32 12 Transportation, a non-party that trains Uber drivers and which produced the emails pursuant to a 13 document subpoena. 7x7’s counsel filed a declaration averring that portions of Exhibit 32 contain 14 confidential information regarding such information as 7x7’s product pricing. See, e.g., Docket No. 15 221-12 at Bates page 453. The Court agrees that 7x7’s pricing structure and pricing negotiations 16 could be considered trade secrets, and further finds that such information is minimally relevant (if at 17 all) to the issues raised in Uber’s summary judgment motion. Thus, 7x7’s request to seal this 18 specific information is granted. Specifically, 7x7 may redact the very last paragraph on Bates page 19 454, and paragraph number three on Bates page 453. All other information shall be publically filed. 20 9. 21 Exhibit 33 contains training materials (largely in the form of a 26 question quiz without the Exhibit 33 22 corresponding answers) developed by 7x7 transportation. 7x7 argues the materials contain 23 proprietary mnemonic devices and other training techniques that are commercially sensitive. The 24 Court has reviewed the exhibit and concludes that the public’s interest in its disclosure outweighs 25 7x7’s interest in maintaining the secrecy of the exhibit. Moreover, the Court notes that unlike other 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 6 1 non-party materials this Court will permit to be filed under seal, these materials are directly relevant 2 to the issues at the very heart of Uber’s summary judgment motion--namely, the level of control 3 Uber exercised over its drivers’ work. Thus, 7x7’s request to seal Exhibit 33 is denied. 4 This order disposes of Docket No. 221. 5 IT IS SO ORDERED. 6 7 Dated: January 27, 2015 8 _________________________ EDWARD M. CHEN United States District Judge 9 11 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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