O'Donnell v. Financial American Life Insurance Company
ORDER denying without prejudice to re-filing #95 Motion to File Document Under Seal. Signed by Magistrate Judge Kimberly A. Jolson on 2/16/2017. (agm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
SHEELA K. O’DONNELL,
Civil Action 2:14-cv-1071
Judge George C. Smith
Magistrate Judge Jolson
FINANCIAL AMERICAN LIFE
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Documents Under
Seal. (Doc. 95). Specifically, Plaintiff seeks to file an unredacted Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment, an unredacted Memorandum in Support, and an exhibit in support for Partial
Summary Judgment under seal. (Id. at 1). The deadline for Defendant to file a Response in
Opposition has passed; therefore the Motion is treated as unopposed. However, for the reasons
that follow, that Motion is DENIED without prejudice.
A district court may enter a protective order during discovery on a mere showing of
“good cause.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1). “[V]ery different considerations apply” when a party
seeks to seal documents “[a]t the adjudication stage,” which applies “when the parties place
material in the court record.” Shane Grp., Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich., 825 F.3d 299,
305 (6th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted). “Unlike information merely exchanged between the
parties, ‘[t]he public has a strong interest in obtaining the information contained in the court
record.’” Id. (quoting Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. F.T.C., 710 F.2d 1165, 1180 (6th
Cir. 1983)). For this reason, the moving party owns a “heavy” burden of overcoming a “‘strong
presumption in favor of openness’ as to court records.” Id. (quoting Brown & Williamson, 710
F.2d at 1179); see id. (“Only the most compelling reasons can justify non-disclosure of judicial
records.” (quotation omitted)). “[T]he seal itself must be narrowly tailored to serve that reason,”
which requires the moving party to “analyze in detail, document by document, the propriety of
secrecy, providing reasons and legal citations.” Id. at 305-06 (quotation omitted). Similarly, the
court “that chooses to seal court records must set forth specific findings and conclusions which
justify nondisclosure.” Id. at 306 (quotation omitted).
The Sixth Circuit’s recent decision in Shane Group, Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of
Michigan provides guidance for Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal.
There, “[n]umerous court filings,” including Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, the motion for class
certification, and 194 exhibits, were filed under seal. Graiser v. Visionworks of Am., Inc., No.
1:15-CV-2306, 2016 WL 3597718, at *1 (N.D. Ohio July 5, 2016). The sole justification was
that the filings “contained materials designated as confidential under [a joint] protective order.”
Id.; see Shane, 825 F.3d 299 at 306.
The Sixth Circuit held that such reasoning was
“inadequate” to seal the documents at issue because it was “brief” and “perfunctory.” Id.
Here, Plaintiff seeks leave to file an unredacted Motion for Partial Summary Judgment,
an unredacted Memorandum in Support, and an exhibit in support for Partial Summary Judgment
under seal. (Doc. 95). In support of the Motion, Plaintiff states that “[t]he document Plaintiff
moves to file under seal, referenced in the Motion and the Memorandum, was produced to
Plaintiff in this case with a ‘Confidential’ designation pursuant to the terms of the Stipulated
Protective Order and Confidentiality Agreement.” (Id. at 1). As was the case in Shane, this
explanation is similarly “brief” and “perfunctory,” and thus does not meet the heavy burden to
justify sealing an entire set of documents at the adjudication stage. Shane, 825 F.3d at 306. The
Shane Court also emphasized that, “[i]n delineating the injury to be prevented, specificity is
essential.” Id. at 307-08 (quoting In re Cendant Corp., 260 F.3d 183, 194 (3d Cir. 2001)).
Plaintiff’s explanation, based only on the general assertion that the documents were designated
“Confidential” pursuant to a protective order, does not “demonstrate—on a document-bydocument, line-by-line basis—that specific information in the court record meets the demanding
requirements for a seal.” Id. at 308; see Blasi v. United Debt Servs., LLC, No. 2:14-CV-83, 2016
WL 3765539, at *1 (S.D. Ohio July 14, 2016) (applying Shane to reach a similar conclusion);
Graiser, 2016 WL 3597718, at *2 (N.D. Ohio July 5, 2016) (same).
Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal (Doc. 95) is therefore
DENIED without prejudice to re-filing. The redacted version of Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment (Doc. 96), as well as the redacted Memorandum in Support (Doc. 96-1) and
exhibit in support for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 96-3) shall remain on the docket for
fourteen (14) days from the date of this Order, during which time Plaintiff may re-file a more
detailed and narrowly-tailored motion to seal. See Blasi, 2016 WL 3765539, at *1 (noting that a
proper motion to seal must “demonstrate a compelling reason for filing under seal, . . . must be
narrowly tailored to serve that reason,” and must “analyze in detail, document by document, the
propriety of secrecy, providing reasons and legal citations”).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: February 16, 2017
/s/ Kimberly A. Jolson
KIMBERLY A. JOLSON
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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