Bruning v. Chizek Elevator & Transport, Inc.
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 21 motion to seal document, and ordering unredacted documents be filed under seal. Signed on May 19, 2017, by Chief District Judge Greg Kays. (Law clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MICHAEL P. BRUNING,
as Next Friend for ECB, a minor child,
CHIZEK ELEVATOR & TRANSPORT, INC. )
ORDER CONCERNING MOTION TO FILE DOCUMENTS UNDER SEAL
This case arises from the death of Heather N. Thompson in a motor vehicle accident
involving a tractor-trailer. Now before the Court is Plaintiff’s Unopposed Motion for Leave to
File Under Seal (Doc. 21).
Plaintiff seeks to file under seal exhibits 7 through 13 to its
Plaintiff suggests the documents should be filed under seal because they identify the
names of the decedent’s minor children, they contain attorney work product and the mental
impressions of counsel, and the exhibits contain information about the settlement agreement that
the parties have agreed to keep confidential.
The Court begins by noting“[t]here is a common-law right of access to judicial records”
in civil proceedings. IDT Corp. v. eBay, 709 F.3d 1220, 1222 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing Nixon v.
Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978)). Although this right of access is not
absolute, there is a presumption that judicial records should be publicly accessible. Id. at 1223.
“The reason for this right of public access to the judicial record is to enable interested members
of the public, including lawyers, journalists, and government officials, to know who's using the
courts, to understand judicial decisions, and to monitor the judiciary's performance of its duties.”
Goesel v. Boley Intern. (H.K.) Ltd., 738 F.3d 831, 833 (7th Cir. 2013). Because exhibits 7
through 13 are essential to the Court’s decision whether to approve the minor settlement, which
is a crucial judicial function, they are judicial records to which the right of public access
presumptively applies. See id. at 834-35 (holding a minor settlement requiring court approval is
a judicial record); Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 2006)
(holding that in order to be designated a judicial record, the item must be relevant to the
performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process.)
The reasons given by Plaintiff do not rebut the presumption of public access and justify
sealing the documents. The fact that the parties have agreed to prevent the public from viewing
these exhibits is not a good reason. See Goesel, 738 F.3d at 835 (“[B]ecause there is potential
public value to disclosing settlement terms, including amount, parties have to give the judge a
reason for not disclosing them—and the fact that they don’t want to disclose is not a reason.”).
Sealing these documents—which provide the Plaintiff’s rationale for approving the settlement—
would make it impossible for interested members of the public to judge whether the Court’s
decision to approve or deny the settlement was appropriate. As for the other reasons Plaintiff has
identified, the interests they serve can be met by a less drastic method, selective redaction, which
preserves the public’s right to access these records.
Accordingly, the motion is GRANTED IN PART. The motion to seal is denied with
respect to all seven exhibits. Plaintiff may, however, redact the minor client’s names from all the
exhibits. Plaintiff may also redact paragraphs 6 of exhibit 10 because it contains non-obvious
mental impressions of Plaintiff’s attorney information about his litigation strategy and
assessment of the case’s weakness, as well as paragraph 21 of exhibit 10 because it identifies the
exact amounts the clients would accept in a settlement, information which is protected by the
attorney-client privilege. These redacted exhibits shall be available for public viewing. Plaintiff
should also file an unredacted copy, under seal, for the Court’s viewing.
Finally, the Court notes Plaintiff has not yet filed an unredacted copy of the settlement
documents (that is, document 17 and the exhibits and affidavits attached to it) under seal that will
be viewed only by the Court. As the Court’s previous order (Doc. 18) observed, although
Plaintiff emailed the Court’s courtroom deputy an unredacted copy, Plaintiff did not file an
unredacted copy, so there is no unredacted copy of these documents in the official record for the
To summarize, Plaintiff shall file: (1) an unredacted copy of exhibits 7 through 13 under
seal; (2) a redacted version of exhibits 7 through 13 to be publicly viewable; and (3) an
unredacted copy of the previously filed settlement documents (Doc. 17 and attachments) under
seal. Plaintiff shall file the foregoing on or before May 26, 2017.
Once Plaintiff has filed all of these documents, the Court will rule on the pending motion
to approve settlement.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: May 19, 2017
/s/ Greg Kays
GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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