Thompson Automotive Labs, LLC v. Illinois Tool Works, Inc.
ORDER granting 111 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 amended consent motion (D.E. 111) filed by
defendant/counter-plaintiff Illinois Tool Works Inc. (“defendant”) to maintain under seal an
unredacted discovery response by it (D.E. 90) filed by plaintiff/counter-defendant Thompson
Automotive Labs, Inc. as an exhibit in opposition to a motion by defendant to compel (D.E. 85).
Defendant initially moved (D.E. 95) to seal the exhibit in its entirety, without attempting to redact
any portion of the exhibit, which was denied without prejudice by the court. See 19 Oct. 2017
Order (D.E. 107). Defendant has now filed with its amended motion to seal a redacted version of
the exhibit (D.E. 112-1). 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 amended motion to
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 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 access.”).
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 original motion was filed
on 21 September 2017 and the amended motion on 2 November 2017. No opposition to either
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
UNITED STATES DISTRlCT COURT
EASTERN DISTRlCT OF NORTH CAROLINA
court decides to seal documents, it must “state the reasons for its decision to seal supported by
No.5:alternatives to sealing in order to provide an adequate
specific findings and the reasons for rejecting IO-mj-OI452-JG
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
record for review.” Id. Because, as discussed, the unredacted exhibit has now been redacted to
the extent possible to preserve the confidential information contained therein, the court finds that
alternatives to sealing the unredacted version does not exist at the present time.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that defendant’s amended motion to seal (D.E.
This matter is before the Court on "EI-Gamal's Motion to Release Property Bond."
111) is ALLOWED. The ClerkSHOWN, thethe filing at Docket Entry 90 under seal in accordance
FOR GOOD CAUSE shall retain Motion is ALLOWED. The Clerk is directed to release
with Local Civil RuleDr. EI-Gamal's property. as may otherwise in the future be ordered by the
the Bond placed on 79.2, E.D.N.C., except
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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