Thompson Automotive Labs, LLC v. Illinois Tool Works, Inc.
ORDER granting 113 Motion to Seal Document. Counsel is reminded to read the order in its entirety for critical deadlines and information. Signed by District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan on 11/21/2017. (Collins, S.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
THOMPSON AUTOMOTIVE LABS, INC.,
ILLINOIS TOOL WORKS INC.,
This case comes before the court on the consent motion (D.E. 113) filed by
defendant/counter-plaintiff Illinois Tool Works Inc. (“defendant”) to maintain under seal an
unredacted discovery response by defendant (D.E. 108) filed by plaintiff/counter-defendant
Thompson Automotive Labs, Inc. (“plaintiff”) as an exhibit in opposition to defendant’s motion
for leave to file a second set of amended affirmative defenses and counterclaims (D.E. 101).
Defendant has filed with its motion to seal a redacted version of the exhibit (D.E. 114-1). No
response to the amended motion to seal has been filed, and the time to do so has expired. For the
reasons set forth below, the court will allow the motion to seal.
The Fourth Circuit has directed that before sealing publicly filed documents the court must
determine if the source of the public’s right to access the documents is derived from the common
law or the First Amendment. Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 265-66 (4th Cir. 2014); Stone
v. Univ. of Md., 855 F.2d 178, 180 (4th Cir. 1988). The common law presumption in favor of
access attaches to all judicial records and documents, whereas First Amendment protection is
extended to only certain judicial records and documents, for example, those filed in connection
with a summary judgment motion. Doe, 749 F.3d at 267. Here, the unredacted discovery response
was filed in connection with a motion for leave to file amended affirmative defenses. While there
is not a clear consensus as to the appropriate level of protection to be afforded to a document filed
in connection with a motion to amend, because the exhibit does not play a substantial role in the
adjudicative process or determination of substantive rights, it appears that the right of access at
issue arises under the common law. See ATI Indus. Auto., Inc. v. Applied Robotics, Inc., No. 1:09CV-471, 2014 WL 2607364, at *4-5 (M.D.N.C. 11 Jun. 2014) (noting lack of consensus in Fourth
Circuit as to which standard applies for sealing of documents related to a motion to amend
pleadings); see also In re U.S. for an Order Pursuant to U.S.C. Section 2703(D), 707 F.3d 283,
290 (4th Cir. 2013) (“[D]ocuments filed with the court are ‘judicial records’ if they play a role in
the adjudicative process, or adjudicate substantive rights.”).
The presumption of access under the common law is not absolute and its scope is a matter
left to the discretion of the district court. Virginia Dep’t of State Police v. Washington Post, 386
F.3d 567, 575 (4th Cir. 2004). The presumption “‘can be rebutted if countervailing interests
heavily outweigh the public interests in access,’ and ‘[t]he party seeking to overcome the
presumption bears the burden of showing some significant interest that outweighs the
presumption.’” Id. (quoting Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir.
1988)). “Some of the factors to be weighed in the common law balancing test ‘include whether
the records are sought for improper purposes, such as promoting public scandals or unfairly
gaining a business advantage; whether release would enhance the public=s understanding of an
important historical event; and whether the public has already had access to the information
contained in the records.’” Id. (quoting In re Knight Publ. Co., 743 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984)).
Here, defendant seeks the sealing of the aforementioned unredacted discovery response
because it contains confidential and commercially sensitive proprietary business information
protected by an amended protective order entered in this case. See D.E. 75. The court agrees that
the material is of a confidential nature. See Doe, 749 F.3d at 269 (“A corporation may possess a
strong interest in preserving the confidentiality of its proprietary and trade-secret information,
which in turn may justify partial sealing of court records.”). It therefore finds that the presumption
of access has been overcome.
In addition, the public must be given notice of a request to seal and a reasonable opportunity
to challenge it. In re Knight Publishing Co., 743 F.2d at 235. Here, the motion was filed on 3
November 2017. No opposition to the motion has been filed by any non-party despite a reasonable
opportunity to do so.
Finally, the court is obligated to consider less drastic alternatives to sealing, and where a
court decides to seal documents, it must “state the reasons for its decision to seal supported by
specific findings and the reasons for rejecting alternatives to sealing in order to provide an adequate
record for review.” Id. Because, as discussed, the unredacted exhibit has been redacted to the
extent possible to preserve the confidential information contained therein, the court finds that
alternatives to sealing the unredacted version do not exist at the present time.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that defendant’s motion to seal (D.E. 113) is
ALLOWED. The Clerk shall retain the filing at Docket Entry 108 under seal in accordance with
Local Civil Rule 79.2, E.D.N.C., except as may otherwise in the future be ordered by the court.
FOR GOOD CAUSE SHOWN, the Motion is ALLOWED. The Clerk is directed to release
the Bond placed on Dr. EI-Gamal's property.
SO ORDERED, this 21st day of November 2017.
This the ~ day of June, 2011.
James E. Gates
United States Magistrate Judge
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