Smith v. United States of America

Filing 10

ORDER Denying Defendant's Ex Parte Application to File an Administrative Record Under Seal [Doc. 8 ]. The application is denied without prejudice. The sealed lodged proposed document is stricken from the docket. [Doc. 9 ]. Signed by Judge Thomas J. Whelan on 10/27/2017. (lrf) (Additional attachment(s) added on 10/27/2017: # 1 Rejected Document (Part 1 of 3), # 2 Stricken Document (Part 2 of 3), # 3 Stricken Document (Part 3 of 3)) (lrf).

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 TERRY SMITH, Case No.: 17-CV-1380 W (BGS) Plaintiff, 12 13 v. 14 ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S EX PARTE APPLICATION TO FILE AN ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD UNDER SEAL [DOC. 8.] UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant. 15 16 Pending before the Court is Defendant’s ex parte application to file an 17 18 administrative record under seal. [Doc. 8.] Defendant styles the one-page document as a 19 motion, but the Court interprets it as an ex parte application.1 The Court decides the 20 matter on the papers submitted and without oral argument. For the reasons below, 21 Defendant’s application will be denied without prejudice. 22 // 23 // 24 // 25 // 26 27 1 28 If this was intended to be a noticed motion, Civ. L.R. 7.1(b) and Chambers Rule 3(a) would require Defendant to obtain a hearing date prior to filing. Defendant did not obtain a hearing date. 1 17-CV-1380 W (BGS) 1 I. LEGAL STANDARD 2 Federal law creates a strong presumption in favor of public access to court records. 3 But this right of access is not absolute. San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court– 4 N. Dist. (San Jose), 187 F.3d 1096, 1102 (9th Cir. 1999). “Every court has supervisory 5 power over its own records and files[,]” and may provide access to court documents at its 6 discretion. See Hagestad v. Tragesser, 49 F.3d 1430, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting 7 Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 598 (1978)). District courts 8 therefore have authority to seal and unseal court records, a power that derives from their 9 inherent supervisory power. See Hagestad, 49 F.3d at 1434. 10 When a district court is asked to seal court records in a civil case, the presumption 11 in favor of access can be overcome by a showing of “sufficiently important 12 countervailing interests.” See San Jose Mercury News, 187 F.3d at 1102. The factors 13 relevant to determining whether this presumption has been overcome include the 14 “ ‘public interest in understanding the judicial process and whether disclosure of the 15 material could result in improper use of the material for scandalous or libelous purposes 16 or infringement upon trade secrets.’ ” Hagestad, 49 F.3d at 1434 (quoting EEOC v. 17 Erection Co., Inc., 900 F.2d 168, 170 (9th Cir. 1990)). “After taking all relevant factors 18 into consideration, the district court must base its decision on a compelling reason and 19 articulate the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture.” Id. 20 (citing Valley Broad. Co. v. United States Dist. Court, 798 F.2d 1289, 1295 (9th Cir. 21 1986)). 22 As a natural consequence of the public’s right of access to records in civil cases, 23 the presumption of public access cannot be overcome by a mere stipulation of the parties. 24 As Judge Posner recognized, the district judge is duty-bound to scrutinize any request to 25 seal court documents and therefore “may not rubber stamp a stipulation to seal the 26 record.” Citizens First Nat. Bank of Princeton v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 943, 945 27 (7th Cir. 1999); accord City of Hartford v. Chase, 942 F.2d 130, 136 (1st Cir. 1991) 28 2 17-CV-1380 W (BGS) 1 (“[T]he trial court—not the parties themselves—should scrutinize every such agreement 2 involving the sealing of court papers and what, if any, of them are to be sealed . . . .”). 3 4 II. 5 DISCUSSION Defendant seeks to seal an entire administrative record—486 pages—because it 6 “contains private information.” (Def.’s Ex Parte App. [Doc. 8] 1:19–20.) It does not 7 explain what sort of private information might appear in these documents that might 8 serve as the factual basis for a “compelling reason” to seal a court record. See Hagestad 9 49 F.3d at 1434. In fact, it provides no further information of any kind. Without such a 10 compelling reason, the presumptive right of public access controls. See San Jose 11 Mercury News, 187 F.3d at 1102. 12 13 III. CONCLUSION & ORDER 14 The application is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. [Doc. 8.] 15 The sealed lodged proposed document is STRICKEN from the docket. [Doc. 9.] 16 17 18 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: October 27, 2017 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 3 17-CV-1380 W (BGS)

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