Cooksey v. Simmons et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER. The defendant's motion to redact certain portions of the Amended Complaint is granted. The Clerk is directed to file the defendant's proposed redacted version of the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 29-1) in lieu of the Amended Complaint in its unredacted form. The Clerk is also directed to close ECF No. 28. re: 28 MOTION Redact Certain Portions in the Amended Complaint filed by Global Grind Digital. (Signed by Judge John G. Koeltl on 1/25/2016) (rjm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
CALVIN EDWARD COOKSEY,
- against -
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND
GLOBAL GRIND DIGITAL ,
JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:
The defendant has moved to redact certain portions of the
Amended Complaint and to file the unredacted Amended Complaint
For the reasons that follow, the defendant’s motion
The defendant, Global Grind Digital, runs a website largely
devoted to celebrity news.
In August 2014, the plaintiff,
proceeding pro se, filed an initial complaint against Global
Grind, its former CEO Russell Simmons, and Interactive One, the
company that acquired Global Grind in late 2014.
In the initial
complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants libeled and
defamed him by publishing an article on Global Grind’s website
referring to him as a “deadbeat dad.”
On November 5, 2014,
Chief Judge Preska dismissed the initial complaint sua sponte
for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction.
The Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that the
plaintiff, a citizen of California, should be permitted to amend
his complaint to eliminate the non-diverse defendants, Russell
Simmons and Interactive One.
See Cooksey v. Simmons, et al.,
No. 15-1087 (2d Cir. July 6, 2015) (summary order).
In September 2015, the plaintiff, again proceeding pro se,
filed an Amended Complaint only against Global Grind, which is
based in New York.
The plaintiff repeated many of the same
allegations from his initial complaint but added a series of
allegations directed at Global Grind and its counsel that are
the subject of this motion.
In short, the plaintiff takes umbrage to an article by
Brittany Lewis that appeared on Global Grind on December 19,
2012 entitled “Black American Dad Story! Frank Ocean Says His
Father Threatened to Sue Him (DETAILS).”
The article describes
an allegation by the plaintiff’s son, Frank Ocean, and includes
a reference to the plaintiff being a “deadbeat dad.”
The plaintiff alleges that he is not a “deadbeat dad,” and
that Global Grind committed libel and defamation, among other
torts, by publishing the story about the allegation by the
plaintiff’s son without conducting more diligent research.
generally Amended Compl. at 5, 13, 16. 1
He seeks damages of $142
million from Global Grind, claiming that the article’s
The pagination of the Amended Complaint is difficult to
follow. The citations here refer to the page numbers of the ECF
characterization of him as a “deadbeat dad” hurt his reputation
and deprived him of lucrative professional opportunities in the
See, e.g., id. at 12, 15.
alleges emotional and mental distress from the alleged
Id. at 27.
According to counsel for the defendant, beginning in June
2015, the plaintiff began communicating by email with the
defendant’s counsel and leveled increasingly outlandish
accusations, alleging that Global Grind and its counsel
destroyed evidence by removing the article from the Global Grind
The defendant’s counsel informed the plaintiff that
the article was not destroyed and that Global Grind had
preserved a screenshot of what had appeared on its website on
December 19, 2012, including the article.
See Amended Compl.,
The defendant has also enclosed a copy of the article
with papers filed in this action, showing that the allegedly
libelous article has been preserved.
The defendant moves to seal those portions of the Amended
Complaint that contain allegations by the plaintiff that the
defendant and/or its counsel destroyed evidence and committed
In late-September 2015, the Court ordered the original and
Amended Complaints sealed.
The defendant subsequently filed a
motion to file a redacted Amended Complaint in lieu of the
Amended Complaint in its unredacted form.
See Declaration of
Lisa M. Buckley, Ex. 1, ECF No. 29-1 (proposed redacted version
of Amended Complaint).
The public has a qualified right of access to judicial
proceedings and documents, under both the common law and the
Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns, 435 U.S. 589, 597-98
(1978) (common-law right of access to judicial documents);
Press–Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 3 (1986)
(First Amendment right of access to preliminary hearings). The
Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has recognized both of
these rights with respect to judicial documents.
Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 119–20 (2d Cir. 2006).
The common law right of access to judicial proceedings and
documents creates a presumption in favor of public access to,
and against sealing of, judicial documents.
Amodeo, 71 F.3d 1044, 1047-48 (2d Cir. 1995).
United States v.
A court must
undertake a three-part inquiry to determine whether there is a
common-law right of access to a document submitted to the court.
First, a court must determine whether the document is a
“judicial document,” such that a presumption of access attaches.
Second, if the document is indeed a “judicial document,” the
court must determine the weight to be accorded the presumption
Finally, after determining the weight of the
presumption of access, the court must balance any countervailing
factors against the presumption.
Id. at 1050-51; see also
United States v. Sattar, 471 F. Supp. 2d 380, 384 (S.D.N.Y.
The Supreme Court has also recognized a presumptive right
of access to judicial proceedings and documents under the First
Determination of this right involves an inquiry
referred to as the “experience and logic” test.
Enterprise, 478 U.S. at 8–9; see also Lugosch, 435 F.3d at 124
(holding qualified First Amendment right exists for access to
documents submitted in support of and in opposition to a summary
The “experience” prong requires a court to
determine “whether the place and process have historically been
open to the press and the general public,” and the “logic”
component requires the court to ascertain “whether public access
plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the
particular process in question.”
Press–Enterprise, 478 U.S. at
If the “experience and logic” test is satisfied, there is a
presumption of access, which can be overcome “only by an
overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential
to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that
Press–Enterprise, 478 U.S. at 9 (citation omitted);
see also Sattar, 471 F. Supp. 2d at 384-85.
Applying the three-part common law inquiry to the facts at
hand, the Court concludes, first, that the Amended Complaint is
a judicial document.
Second, an Amended Complaint, like other
documents that “directly affect an adjudication” typically would
be “entitled to the strongest presumption of public access.”
Sattar, 471 F. Supp. 2d at 385 (citation omitted).
However, in this application, the defendant moves only to
redact those portions of the Amended Complaint that allege the
defendant or its counsel destroyed evidence or violated legal or
The evidence in the record plainly
contradicts the plaintiff’s claims of spoliation and
Accordingly, the portions of the Amended Complaint
at issue do not directly affect the adjudication because they
are frivolous and could not affect the decisions in the case.
The public has no substantial interest in accessing baseless
allegations especially where, as here, the redactions are
narrowly tailored to redact a small part of the Amended
Third, the countervailing factors weigh strongly against
the presumption of access to the unredacted Amended Complaint.
The defendant and its counsel have an interest in protecting
their reputations and privacy interests, which courts have
recognized constitute sufficiently substantial interests so as
to overcome a presumption of access.
See Amodeo, 71 F.3d at
1050-51 (quoting Application of Newsday, Inc., 895 F.2d 74, 7980 (2d Cir. 1990)); Sattar, 471 F. Supp. 2d at 388 (presumption
of common-law public right of access overcome with respect to
private, personal matters).
In short, the public presumption in
favor of access should not be “used to gratify private spite or
promote public scandal,” as it would here.
See Nixon, 435 U.S.
at 598 (citation omitted)
It is unnecessary to decide whether the First Amendment
right of access applies to the Amended Complaint because, even
assuming that the right does apply, the interest in personal
privacy for the frivolous allegations redacted from the Amended
Complaint provides a sufficiently compelling interest to
overcome that right.
The Court has carefully reviewed the
redacted Amended Complaint to assure that the redactions are
narrowly tailored to redact only the allegations as to which
there is a sufficiently compelling interest in privacy.
Sattar, 471 F. Supp. 2d at 389.
The defendant’s motion to redact certain portions of the
Amended Complaint is granted.
The Clerk is directed to file the
defendant’s proposed redacted version of the Amended Complaint
(ECF No. 29-1) in lieu of the Amended Complaint in its
The Clerk is also directed to close ECF No.
New York, New York
January 25, 2016
John G. Koeltl
United States District Judge
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