Hart et al v. ITC Service Group, Inc. et al
ORDER denying 71 motion to seal document. Signed on 6/23/17 by Chief District Judge Greg Kays. (Strodtman, Tracy)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MICHAEL HART, et al., individually and
On behalf of classes of similar employees,
ITC SERVICE GROUP, INC., et al.,
ORDER DENYING LEAVE TO FILE UNDER SEAL MOTION FOR ORDER
CONFIRMING ARBITRATOR’S ORDER APPROVING SETTLEMENT
This case arises out of Plaintiffs’ employment as installation and service technicians with
Defendant ITC Service Group, Inc. Plaintiffs allege ITC Service Group along with the other
Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., by
willfully failing to pay them overtime compensation. Defendants deny the allegations. On June
2, 2016, the Court granted the parties’ cross-motions to compel arbitration (Doc. 63).
Now before the Court is the parties’ “Joint Motion for Leave to File Under Seal Joint
Motion for Order Confirming Arbitrator’s Order Approving of Settlement of FLSA Claims,
Attorney’s Fees, and Incentive Fees” (Doc. 71). The parties report they have reached a proposed
settlement agreement as to Plaintiffs Jesse Allen and Cody Hickcox and seek leave to file the
arbitrator’s order approving settlement of claims, attorney’s fees, and incentive fees under seal.
For the reasons below, the motion is DENIED.
There is a common law presumption that judicial records are open to the public. Nixon v.
Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978); Jessup v. Luther, 277 F.3d 926, 928-930 (7th
Cir. 2002) (Posner, J.) (“The general rule is that the record of a judicial proceeding is public.”).
This presumption is based not only on the values underlying the free-speech and free-press
clauses of the First Amendment, but also on the fact that the public cannot adequately monitor
the judiciary’s performance if records of judicial proceedings are kept secret. Jessup, 277 F.3d at
928. Of course, “[i]n most cases when the parties settle, the court does not examine or approve
their agreements” because the settlement is a private contract and not part of the court’s record.
Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F. Supp. 2d 1260, 1263 (M.D. Ala. 2003) (ordering FLSA
settlement agreement to be unsealed). But, an FLSA settlement must be approved by the court,
and once approved it becomes part of the judicial record and is presumptively open to the public.
Jessup, 277 F.3d at 928-30; In re Sepracor Inc. FLSA Litigation, MDL No. 2039-DGC, 2009
WL 3253947, at *1-2 (D. Ariz. Oct. 8, 2009) (unsealing FLSA settlement agreement, noting
strong presumption for keeping FLSA settlement agreements unsealed and available for public
view); Stalnaker, 293 F. Supp. 2d at 1263 (noting the presumption in favor of openness is
strongest when the document at issue is an FLSA wage-settlement agreement).
In practice, this right to public records creates a presumption in favor of disclosure. In re
Neal, 461 F.3d 1048, 1053 (8th Cir. 2006).
This presumption even extends to private
settlements, such as this one, which require court approval. See LEAP Sys., Inc. v. MoneyTrax,
Inc., 638 F.3d 216, 220 (3d Cir. 2011). But the right of access is not absolute; a party may
overcome the presumption of openness by showing a compelling need to seal documents. In re
Neal, 461 F.3d at 1053.
A compelling need exists, for example, if the settlement agreement compromises
personal safety, reveals trade secrets, or identifies a minor. See, e.g., Goff v. Graves, 362 F.3d
543, 550 (8th Cir. 2004) (recognizing the protection of a confidential informant as a compelling
government interest justifying the reception of evidence under seal); IDT Corp. v. eBay, 709 F.3d
1220, 1223-24 (8th Cir. 2013) (finding a company’s “confidential and competitively sensitive
information” warranted sealing the complaint); Eugene S. v. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of
N.J., 663 F.3d 1124, 1135 (10th Cir. 2011) (granting an appellant’s request to file under seal an
appendix to the appellate record that contained personal information about a minor). A court,
however, will not seal documents that were integral to its approval of a settlement simply
because the parties agreed to keep the material terms confidential. See Goesel v. Boley Int’l
(H.K.) Ltd., 738 F.3d 831, 834–35 (7th Cir. 2013) (Posner, J., in chambers). Ultimately, in
determining whether to seal documents, the court must balance “the interests served by the
common-law right of access . . . against the salutary interests served by maintaining
confidentiality of the information sought to be sealed.” IDT Corp., 709 F.3d at 1223.
In support of their motion the parties argue: (1) a confidentiality provision is part of the
proposed settlement; (2) courts routinely permit FLSA settlements to be filed under seal; and (3)
the parties’ interests and public’s interest weigh in favor of sealing the settlement documents.
These arguments are unavailing.
The parties have not rebutted the presumption of openness. There is no claim that the
proposed settlement concerns any highly sensitive matter that would rebut the presumption in
favor of openness and justify sealing the record. See Jessup, 277 F.3d at 928; In re Sepracor,
2009 WL 3253947, at *1 (holding confidentiality provision insufficient interest to overcome
presumption in unsealing FLSA settlement). This is an ordinary FLSA settlement, thus it should
be open to the public. While sealing the record may encourage one or both parties to settle, the
public’s access to judicial records is not a bargaining chip the parties may trade away in their
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the parties’ motion (Doc. 71). No later
than July 3, 2017, the parties must file—but not under seal—a copy of the Arbitrator’s order
approving the settlement, including any attachments. The parties may not redact any portion of
the filings, except as permitted by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(a).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: June 23, 2017
/s/ Greg Kays
GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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