Morris et al v. Tyson Chicken Inc et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER signed by Senior Judge Joseph H. McKinley, Jr. on 9/14/20 ; granting in part and denying in part 212 Motion to Seal Document re: 210 MOTION for Summary Judgment , 206 MOTION for Summary Judgment , 208 MOTION for Summary Judgment cc: Counsel(DJT)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO: 4:15-CV-00077-JHM
CHARLES MORRIS, et al.
TYSON CHICKEN, INC., et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Leave to Place Exhibits to their
Statements of Uncontroverted Facts Under Seal. [DN 212]. Fully briefed, the matter is ripe for
When Defendants moved for summary judgment [DN 206, DN 208, DN 210], they attached
Statements of Uncontroverted Facts to their motions. Defendants now seek to seal exhibits attached
to the Statements of Uncontroverted Facts.
[DN 206-1 Def. Jim Gottsponer’s Statements of
Uncontroverted Facts; DN 208-1 Def. David Mears’ Statements of Uncontroverted and Material
Facts; DN 210-1 Def. Tyson’s Statement of Facts]. Specifically, Defendants request leave to seal
several broiler contracts, portions of Kyle Stiegert’s expert report, Plaintiffs Calvin Leisure’s and
Morgan Rickard’s settlement information, a letter from Complex Manager Jim Gottsponer to Plaintiff
John Pinkston, and portions of Thomas Elam’s expert report. [DN 219 at 2–4].
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(d) allows courts to order that a filing be made under seal
without redaction. Local Rule 5.6 also permits a party to move to file a document under seal. The
Sixth Circuit “recognize[s] . . . a ‘strong presumption in favor of openness’ as to court records.”
Shane Grp., Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich., 825 F.3d 299, 305 (6th Cir. 2016) (citation
omitted). The party that seeks to seal the records bears the heavy burden of overcoming that
presumption where “[o]nly the most compelling reasons can justify non-disclosure of judicial
records.” Id. (citations omitted).
As such, “[t]o meet this burden, the party must show three things: (1) a compelling interest
in sealing the records; (2) that the interest in sealing outweighs the public’s interest in accessing the
records; and (3) that the request is narrowly tailored. Kondash v. Kia Motors Am., Inc., 767 F. App'x
635, 637 (6th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted). “Where a party can show a compelling reason for sealing,
the party must then show why those reasons outweigh the public interest in access to those records
and that the seal is narrowly tailored to serve that reason.” Id. at 637 (citation omitted). “To do so,
the party must ‘analyze in detail, document by document, the propriety of secrecy, providing reasons
and legal citations.’” Id. (citation omitted). If a district opts to seal court records, “it must set forth
specific findings and conclusions ‘which justify nondisclosure to the public.’” Rudd Equip. Co., Inc.
v. John Deere Constr. & Forestry Co., 834 F.3d 589, 594 (6th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).
A. Broiler Contracts
Defendants seek leave to seal several broiler contracts in their entirety. [DN 219 at 2–4].
Defendants argue that the broiler contracts they seek to seal are identical to Charles Morris’ contract
[DN 180-1], which the Court has already granted leave to seal [DN 218]. [DN 219 at 2]. They
contend that the only difference is the precise figures included in each contract. [Id.]. However, the
broiler contracts Defendants seek leave to seal include documents that Morris’ contract did not
include. For example, some of the contracts include W-9 forms, contract checklists, and business
documents filed with the Kentucky Secretary of State that are publicly available. [See e.g. DN
213-15, DN 214-7, DN 215-5].
The contract checklists and documents filed with the Kentucky Secretary of State that are
publicly available may not be sealed because Defendants have not shown a compelling interest in
sealing those portions of the contracts. The remaining pages of the broiler contracts that Defendants
seek to seal [DN 219 at 2–3] may be sealed for the same reasons that the Court granted leave to seal
Morris’ broiler contract [DN 218 at 5]. Loi Hong’s contract [DN 213-12] may be similarly sealed.
B. Stiegert’s Expert Report
Defendants request that the Court seal paragraphs 19 and 122, and footnote 157. [DN 219
at 3]. They, however, concede that per the Court’s prior Memorandum Opinion and Order [DN 218
at 4], the referenced portions of Stiegert’s report may not be sealed. [DN 219 at 3].
C. Leisure’s and Rickard’s Settlement Information
Defendants want to seal Leisure’s “Settlement Sheet” [DN 213-2] and Rickard’s “Settlement
Sheet and Grower Recap” [DN 213-3] in their entirety. [DN 219 at 4]. Keeping private financial
data from public view can be a compelling interest. “Courts have recognized the strong interest in
keeping personal financial records from public view.” Goodman v. J.P. Morgan Inv. Mgmt., Inc.,
301 F. Supp. 3d 759, 784 (S.D. Ohio 2018), aff'd, 954 F.3d 852 (6th Cir. 2020) (collecting cases); see
Wedgewood Ltd. P'ship I v. Twp. of Liberty, Ohio, No. CIV.A. 2:04-CV-1069, 2008 WL 4273084, at
*2 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 11, 2008) (finding “testimony relating to plaintiff's private income and financial
data is also deserving of protection if not otherwise publicly disclosed”). Additionally, “[c]ourts can
deny access to court records that could be used ‘as sources of business information that might harm
a litigant's competitive standing.’” Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co., Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas Inc.,
No. 13-cv-82, 2017 WL 3220470, at *2 (W.D. Ky. July 28, 2017).
Regarding Leisure’s “Settlement Sheet,” the following boxes of information may be
sealed: “Grower Pay Summary,” “Average Daily Gain Performance Pay Band,” “Livability
Performance Pay Band,” and “Feed Conversion Performance Pay Band.” This information is
confidential business information that could harm Tyson’s competitive standing because it contains
pay figures. The remaining portions of Leisure’s “Settlement Sheet” may not be sealed. Next, the
following boxes of information in Rickard’s “Settlement and Grower Recap” sheet may be
sealed: “Grower Pay Summary,” “Ind NPV Value,” “Feed Description,” “Summary of Value
(Points),” and the table containing “Flock Type Totals.” The information may be sealed sealed for
the similar reason that portions of Leisure’s “Settlement Sheet” may be sealed. The remaining
portions of Rickard’s “Settlement Sheet and Grower Recap” sheet may not be sealed.
D. Letter from Gottsponer to Pinkston
Defendants seek to seal only the precise references to pay in the letter. [DN 212 at 8]. As
previously discussed, there is compelling interest in sealing personal financial information and
records that could be used as a source of business information that might harm a litigant’s competitive
standing. Goodman., 301 F. Supp. 3d at 784 (collecting cases); see Wedgewood Ltd. P'ship I, 2008
WL 4273084, at *2; Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co., Inc., 2017 WL 3220470, at *2.
There is a compelling interest in sealing the references to pay in the letter. It is confidential
business information where the interest in sealing outweighs the public’s interest in accessing the
record because it is information that might harm Tyson’s competitive standing. However, Pinkston’s
handwritten notes on the letter may not be sealed because Defendants merely argue that the notes
are “dollar figures affecting him personally.” [DN 212 at 8]. Defendants have not met their burden
of showing a compelling interest in sealing that information. Therefore, all portions of the letter that
Defendants seek to seal, except the handwritten notes, may be sealed.
E. Elam’s Expert Report
Defendants seek leave to seal several portions of Elam’s expert report: Paragraph 1 of Section
XI; Tables 1, 7–9, 18, 20, 25, 36, 45; Figures 5 and 8. [DN 219 at 4]. Defendants argue that the
information that they seek to seal is “clearly private” and that Tyson “has a ‘justifiable expectation of
privacy’ in the data it collects regarding its growing operations” [DN 212 at 9]. They also contend
that Elam’s “charts showing the effects of condemnation or breed on a grower’s performance . . . is
intricate analysis and summarization of Tyson’s processes, inputs, and methods by which it operates
under its contracts.” [DN 219 at 9].
First, Table 1 of Elam’s report shall remain sealed per the Court’s prior Memorandum
Opinion and Order. [DN 218 at 6]. Next, the Court finds that Tyson has not met its burden of showing
a compelling interest in sealing the remaining information that they seek to seal in Elam’s expert
report much less that that any interest in sealing outweighs the public’s interest in accessing the
records. Thus, the remaining information may not be sealed.
For the reasons set forth above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for
Leave to Place Exhibits to their Statements of Uncontroverted Facts Under Seal [DN 212] is DENIED
IN PART AND GRANTED IN PART.
September 14, 2020
cc: counsel of record
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