Williams & Cochrane, LLP v. Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation et al

Filing 9

ORDER Granting 6 Motion to File Documents Under Seal. Signed by Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel on 11/7/2017. (lrf)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 WILLIAMS & COCHRANE, LLP, Case No.: 3:17-cv-01436-GPC-MDD Plaintiff, 12 13 v. 14 ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO FILE DOCUMENTS UNDER SEAL QUECHAN TRIBE OF THE FORT YUMA INDIAN RESERVATION, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe; ROBERT ROSETTE; ROSETTE & ASSOCIATES, PC; ROSETTLE, LLP; RICHARD ARMSTRONG; KEENY ESCALANTI, SR.; MARK WILLIAM WHITE, II, also known as WILLIE WHITE; and DOES 1 THROUGH 10, 15 16 17 18 19 20 [ECF No. 6] Defendants. 21 22 Before the Court is Plaintiff’s ex parte motion to seal select portions of its 23 complaint and certain exhibits attached to the complaint. (ECF No. 6.) The Court denied 24 a previous motion by Plaintiff to seal this case and the complaint. (See ECF No. 3.) For 25 the reasons explained below, the Court now GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion to file its 26 complaint with redactions, and ACCEPTS the complaint filed at ECF No. 5. 27 // 28 1 3:17-cv-01436-GPC-MDD 1 I. 2 Plaintiff first filed this action on July 16, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) The case arises out Background 3 of an attorney-client fee agreement that Plaintiff entered into with Defendant Quechan 4 Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation (“the Tribe”). (ECF No. 3 at 2.) Plaintiff’s 5 claims arise from the Tribe allegedly terminating Plaintiff as the Tribe’s counsel three 6 days prior to the date on which the Tribe was set to sign a compact with the State of 7 California. (Id.) Plaintiff moved to file the case and the complaint under seal. (ECF No. 8 2.) The court denied the motion on August 17, 2017, explaining that sealing the case and 9 or the entire complaint was unwarranted. (ECF No. 3.) While the Court agreed that it 10 was appropriate to seal privileged attorney-client information, attorney work-product, and 11 confidential information about the Tribe’s negotiations with the State of California, it was 12 not persuaded that the existence of such information within the complaint warranted 13 sealing the entire complaint, let alone the case. (Id. at 4.) The Court explained that 14 “Plaintiff has offered no compelling reason why every paragraph in its 91-page complaint 15 and why each of its thirty-nine exhibits must be filed under seal.” (Id.) The Court 16 explained, however, that “to the extent that Plaintiff wishes to protect the confidential and 17 privileged information contained within the complaint, it must redact those portions of 18 the complaint (and those portions of the exhibits).” (Id.) 19 On September 19, 2017, Plaintiff refiled its complaint with several redactions. 20 (ECF No. 5.) Along with the complaint, Plaintiff has filed a motion to seal in which it 21 asks the Court to approve the redacted complaint as filed (ECF No. 6), and lodged with 22 the Court an unredacted version of the complaint (ECF No. 7). The Court finds that the 23 redactions are appropriate to prevent the disclosure of confidential attorney-client 24 communications, attorney work-product, and confidential negotiations between the Tribe 25 and the State of California. 26 II. 27 Under common law and the First Amendment, there is a presumptive right of 28 Legal Standard public access to court records. See Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 2 3:17-cv-01436-GPC-MDD 1 (1978). “Unless a particular court record is one traditionally kept secret, a strong 2 presumption in favor of access is the starting point.” Kamakana v. City & Cty. of 3 Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178–80 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. 4 Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003)). A party seeking to seal a judicial record 5 must articulate justifications that outweigh the historical right of access and the public 6 policies favoring disclosure. Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178–79. 7 Parties seeking to seal documents in a dispositive motion must meet the high 8 threshold requiring “compelling reasons” with specific factual findings to support a 9 sealing. Id. at 1178–80. However, for non-dispositive motions, the parties must show a 10 lesser “particularized showing” under the “good cause” standard pursuant to Federal Rule 11 of Civil Procedure 26(c). Id. at 1180. The “compelling reasons” test requires showing 12 more than just “good cause.” Id. Documents filed under seal will be limited to only 13 those documents, or portions thereof, necessary to protect such sensitive information. 14 Although the “Ninth Circuit has yet to specify whether a party seeking to seal a 15 complaint . . . must meet the ‘compelling reasons’ or ‘good cause’ standard,” see Harrell 16 v. Cal. Forensic Med. Grp., Inc., No. 2:15-cv-00579-KJN-P, 2015 WL 1405567, *1 (E.D. 17 Cal. Mar. 26, 2015), district courts generally conclude that the “compelling reasons” 18 standard applies because the complaint initiates the civil action. See, e.g., Robert Half 19 Int’l v. Ainsworth, 2015 WL 4394805, *3 n.2 (S.D. Cal. July 15, 2015). The Court 20 agrees and applies the “compelling reasons” standard to Plaintiff’s request to redact 21 portions of its complaint. 22 III. 23 Plaintiff asserts that its redactions in the filed complaint are limited to confidential Discussion 24 information arising from confidential attorney-client communications, attorney work- 25 product, and confidential negotiations between the Tribe and the State of California. 26 After reviewing the voluminous complaint and its exhibits, the Court confirms that the 27 proposed redactions are limited to these three types of information. 28 The Court agrees with Plaintiff that protection against disclosure of these three 3 3:17-cv-01436-GPC-MDD 1 types of information is a compelling reason that rebuts the presumption of public access. 2 First, privileged attorney-client communications are considered “archetypical examples 3 material that has traditionally been kept secret for important policy reasons.” Lambright 4 v. Ryan, 698 F.3d 808, 820 (9th Cir. 2012). Because such information is one that has 5 “traditionally been kept secret for important policy reasons,” redacting such information 6 from the complaint is warranted. Id.; see also Hanson v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc., 7 2013 WL 5674997, *3 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 17, 2013) (“Courts generally accept attorney- 8 client privilege and the work-product-doctrine as a ‘compelling reason’ justifying a 9 motion to seal.”). 10 Second, preventing the disclosure of attorney work-product is also a compelling 11 reason to prevent public access to such information. “The purpose of the work product 12 doctrine is to protect an attorney’s mental processes so that the attorney can analyze and 13 prepare for the client’s case without interference from an opponent.” 6 Moore’s Fed. 14 Prac., Civil § 26.70(1). The Court follows the lead of other district courts in this circuit 15 who have found that preventing disclosure of work-product is a compelling reason to 16 restrict public access to court documents. See, e.g., Hanson, 2013 WL 5674997, at *3; 17 Asdale v. Int’l Game Tech., No. 3:04-cv-703-RAM, 2010 WL 2161930, at *5 (D. Nev. 18 May 28, 2010). 19 Finally, Plaintiff asserts that preventing the disclosure of confidential negotiations 20 between the Tribe and the State of California is a compelling reason to restrict public 21 access to its complaint. The Court agrees. See Kalinauskas v. Wong, 151 F.R.D. 363, 22 365 (D. Nev. 1993) (“The secrecy of a settlement agreement and the contractual rights of 23 the parties thereunder deserve court protection.”). As indicated by the declaration 24 attached to Plaintiff’s motion to seal, the State of California had always maintained that 25 the negotiations between it and the Tribe were to be kept “strictly confidential.” (ECF 26 No. 6-1 at 2–3 ¶ 4.) 27 IV. 28 The Court concludes that Plaintiff has offered sufficient reason to warrant its Conclusion 4 3:17-cv-01436-GPC-MDD 1 proposed redactions to its complaint and attached exhibits. As a result, the Court 2 GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion to seal and accepts Plaintiff’s redacted amended complaint. 3 The Clerk of Court is respectfully requested to file, under seal, the lodged unredacted 4 copy of Plaintiff’s amended complaint. (ECF No. 7.) 5 IT IS SO ORDERED. 6 7 Dated: November 7, 2017 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5 3:17-cv-01436-GPC-MDD

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