Harte et al v. Denning et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 559 Plaintiffs' Motion to Permanently Seal certain information contained with the parties' settlement agreement and Exhibit A to that agreement. Plaintiffs shall submit redacted d ocuments to the court via email in PDF format no later than May 1, 2020. The court will then direct the clerk of the court to substitute redacted documents for the documents presently under seal and will also direct the clerk of the court at that time to unseal documents 556 and 562, including the attachments thereto. Signed by District Judge John W. Lungstrum on 04/16/2020. (ses)
Case 2:13-cv-02586-JWL Document 564 Filed 04/16/20 Page 1 of 6
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF KANSAS
Adlynn K. Harte et al.,
Case No. 13-2586-JWL
Mark Burns; Edward Blake;
Michael Pfannenstiel; Larry Shoop;
Lucky Smith; Christopher Farkes;
Thomas Reddin; Tyson Kilbey; and
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
On March 25, 2020, the court conducted a hearing on the parties’ joint motion for approval
of minor settlement and, thereafter, granted the parties’ motion. In advance of that hearing, the
court had permitted the parties to file all settlement documents under seal with the understanding
that the court, at a later date, would revisit whether those documents should remain under seal.
Toward that end, plaintiffs have now filed their motion to permanently seal certain information
contained with the parties’ settlement agreement and Exhibit A to that agreement (doc. 559). 1
Defendants do not oppose the motion.
Plaintiffs seek to permanently seal the following information from the settlement
documents: the minor plaintiff’s name; the gross settlement payment amount made by defendants
The court previously granted that motion in part, to the extent it sought leave to file the signed
settlement agreement under seal pending the court’s ruling on the issue of whether to permanently
seal the documents.
Case 2:13-cv-02586-JWL Document 564 Filed 04/16/20 Page 2 of 6
to plaintiffs; amounts spent on medical treatment and therapy by all plaintiffs; and the final dollar
amounts to be allocated to each plaintiff. As will be explained, the motion is granted in part and
denied in part.
Resolving plaintiffs’ motion begins with the broad legal standard adopted by the Supreme
Court and refined by our Circuit. “It is clear that the courts of this country recognize a general
right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and
documents.” Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (footnote omitted). This
right is based on the public’s “desire to keep a watchful eye on the workings of public agencies.”
Id. at 597–98. Moreover, the “common law right to access court records ‘is an important aspect
of the overriding concern with preserving the integrity of the law enforcement and judicial
processes.’” United States v. Walker, 761 Fed. Appx. 822, 834 (10th Cir. 2019) (quoting United
States v. Hickey, 767 F.2d 705, 708 (10th Cir. 1985)).
In light of these principles, there exists a “strong presumption in favor of public access,”
particularly when the court has used the sealed documents to determine litigants’ substantive legal
rights.” United States v. Pickard, 733 F.3d 1297, 1302 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks
omitted). But the right of public access to judicial records is “not absolute” and the strong
presumption in favor of public access “can be overcome where countervailing interests heavily
outweigh the public interests in access.” Walker, 761 Fed. Appx. at 834. Thus, “[t]he party
seeking to seal any part of a judicial record bears the heavy burden of showing that the material
is the kind of information that courts will protect and that disclosure will work a clearly defined
and serious injury to the party seeking closure.” Id. (quoting Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 16 F.3d 549,
551 (3d Cir. 1994)). And, “any denial of public access to the record must be narrowly tailored to
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serve th[e] interest being protected by sealing or restricting access to the records.” Walker, 761
Fed. Appx. at 835 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted).
As the court noted during the settlement hearing, the redaction of the minor plaintiff’s name
is clearly appropriate. The court also agrees that the amount spent for medical treatment and
therapy by all plaintiffs is appropriately redacted from Exhibit A. With respect to these issues,
plaintiffs have met their burden to show that disclosure “will work a clearly defined and serious
injury” to the minor plaintiff. See Walker, 761 Fed. Appx. at 834; see also Eugene S. v. Horizon
Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J., 663 F.3d 1124, 1135–36 (10th Cir. 2011) (approving the filing
under seal of files containing private medical information); Russell v. Lanier, 404 Fed. Appx. 288,
289 n.2 (10th Cir. 2010) (recognizing the “sensitive nature” of medical information and granting
leave to file appendix under seal).
But plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that the gross amount of the settlement or
the specific amounts allocated among the plaintiffs should be sealed. Plaintiff’s primary reason
for sealing this information—the fact that the parties agreed to keep the terms of the agreement
confidential—does not overcome this burden. See Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1241–
42 (10th Cir. 2012) (parties’ interest in preserving the confidentiality of the contract does not
necessarily constitute a sufficiently substantial justification for sealing terms of the contract).
Plaintiffs have not explained to the court (or even argued) why the confidentiality of the contract
outweighs the presumption of public access. Id. at 1242. Thus, plaintiffs have not shown that
their interest in preserving the confidentiality of the contract constitutes a sufficiently substantial
justification for denying the public access to the terms of the agreement. See Sacchi v. IHC Health
Servs., Inc., 918 F.3d 1155, 1160 (10th Cir. 2019) (fact that contract contained confidentiality
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clause was insufficient to overcome presumption of public access in the absence of any specific
argument or facts indicating why confidentiality outweighed presumption).
The court is also not persuaded by plaintiffs’ reliance on Adkins v. TFI Family Services,
Inc., 2017 WL 4338269 (D. Kan. Sept. 29, 2017). In that case, Judge Crabtree, in a written order
granting the parties’ joint motion to approve the settlement of the minor plaintiff’s claims, omitted
any reference to gross settlement amounts in recognition of the “role that confidential settlement
negotiations often plays in the efficient and fair resolution of disputes.” Id. at *3. Without
elaboration, Judge Crabtree held that “the interest served by preserving the specific results of
confidential settlement negotiations outweighs the public interest in access to the settlement
agreement.” Id. at *3. A review of the docket in that case reveals that the case involved state law
claims for negligence and fraud arising out of a private adoption of several siblings, one of whom
had numerous undisclosed behavioral problems and mental health challenges. Very likely, the
settlement documents contained highly sensitive information and medical information of a purely
private nature and, as such, presented circumstances under which a district court would exercise
its discretion to seal that information. Conversely, plaintiffs here have settled a highly publicized
dispute with deputies employed by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office who were working for
the Sheriff’s Office during the search and seizure that gave rise to plaintiffs’ claims. In such
circumstances, the public has a strong interest in reviewing the court’s decision-making with
respect to the settlement of the minor plaintiff’s claims. And, of course, the public cannot assess
the fairness of that decision without also reviewing the gross settlement amount and how that
amount was allocated among the plaintiffs. In short, plaintiffs have come forward with no
evidence or compelling argument that refusing to seal the settlement agreement would cause
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significant damage or prejudice to plaintiffs. Consequently, the court declines to seal the gross
amount of the settlement or the specific amounts allocated to each plaintiff.
The court turns, then, to the specific sealed documents in the record. Document 554 is
essentially moot because updated drafts of the joint motion to approve and the settlement
agreement were later filed. This document, then, need not be unsealed because the court did not
rely on those documents in approving the settlement. See New Jersey & its Div. of Inv. v. Sprint
Corp., 2010 WL 5416837, at *1 (D. Kan. 2010) (where court did not make any decision with
respect to sealed documents, need for public monitoring was nonexistent and unsealing was
unnecessary). Document 556 and Attachment A to that document are the documents the court
reviewed in analyzing the motion to approve minor settlement and should be unsealed after
appropriate redactions consistent with this order. Document 562 is the final, signed agreement
with Exhibit A and should be unsealed after appropriate redactions consistent with this order.2
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED BY THE COURT THAT plaintiffs’ motion to
permanently seal certain information contained with the parties’ settlement agreement and Exhibit
A to that agreement (doc. 559) is granted in part and denied in part.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED BY THE COURT THAT plaintiffs shall submit redacted
documents to the court via email in PDF format no later than May 1, 2020. The court will then
If any party or nonparty orders a transcript of the March 25, 2020 hearing at any time in the
future, that transcript must contain appropriate redactions consistent with this order. The court
will have the court reporter notify the court if a transcript is ordered so that the court can assure
compliance with this order.
Case 2:13-cv-02586-JWL Document 564 Filed 04/16/20 Page 6 of 6
direct the clerk of the court to substitute redacted documents for the documents presently under
seal and will also direct the clerk of the court at that time to unseal documents 556 and 562,
including the attachments thereto.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 16th day of April, 2020, at Kansas City, Kansas.
s/ John W. Lungstrum
John W. Lungstrum
United States District Judge
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