Thompson Automotive Labs, LLC v. Illinois Tool Works, Inc.
ORDER granting 83 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. 83) filed by
defendant/counter-plaintiff Illinois Tool Works Inc. (“defendant”) to maintain under seal certain
portions of the memorandum (D.E. 80) filed by plaintiff/counter-defendant Thompson Automotive
Labs, Inc. (“plaintiff”) in support of its motion to compel (D.E. 79) and redacted portions of Exhibit
7 (D.E. 80-7) and all of Exhibits 9 to 13 (D.E. 80-9 through 80-13) filed in further support of its
motion to compel. Defendant filed with its motion to seal redacted versions of the memorandum
of law (D.E. 84-1) and Exhibit 7 (D.E. 84-2). No response to the 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
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 memorandum of
law and exhibits sought to be maintained under seal were filed in connection with a motion to
compel, and not in support of any motion that seeks dispositive relief. Therefore, the right of
access at issue arises under the common law. See Covington v. Semones, No. 7:06cv00614, 2007
WL 1170644, at *2 (W.D. Va. 17 April 2007) (“In this instance, as the exhibits at issue were filed
in connection with a non-dispositive motion, it is clear there is no First Amendment right of
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 memorandum of law
and exhibits because they contain 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 13
June 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
UNITED STATES DISTRlCT COURT
specific findings and theEASTERN DISTRlCT OF NORTH CAROLINA
to provide an adequate
reasons for rejecting alternatives to sealing in order
record for review.” Id. Because, as discussed, the unredacted memorandum and exhibits have
been redacted to theOF AMERICA, to preserve ) confidential information contained therein, the
UNITED STATES extent possible
court finds that alternatives to sealing the unredacted versions do not exist at the present time.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that defendant’s motion to seal (D.E. 83) is
ALLOWED. The Clerk shall retain the filings at Docket Entries 80, 80-7, and 80-9 through 80This matter is before the Court on "EI-Gamal's Motion to Release Property Bond."
13 under seal in accordance with Local Civil Rule 79.2, E.D.N.C., except as may otherwise in the
FOR GOOD CAUSE SHOWN, the Motion is ALLOWED. The Clerk is directed to release
future be ordered by the court. The filings at Docket Entries 80-1 through 80-6, 80-8, and 8-14
the Bond placed on Dr. EI-Gamal's property.
through 8-16 shall be unsealed.
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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