CUTTIC v. CROZER-KEYSTONE HEALTH SYSTEM
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE EDUARDO C. ROBRENO ON 6/20/12. 6/21/12 ENTERED AND COPIES EMAILED.(rf, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CHARLES E. CUTTIC,
CROZER-CHESTER MEDICAL CENTER,:
M E M O R A N D U M
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
June 20, 2012
Before the Court is the parties’ joint request for an
in camera review and approval of their proposed settlement.1 For
the following reasons, the Court will deny the parties’ joint
motion for an in camera review.
Plaintiff Charles E. Cuttic (“Plaintiff”) commenced
The Court received a letter from the parties on June 5, 2012
and treated the letter as a joint request for an in camera review
and approval of their proposed settlement agreement. After
receiving the letter, the Court heard oral argument on the
request on June 12, 2012. See ECF Nos. 54, 55. After the oral
argument concluded, Defendant submitted a letter bringing to the
Court’s attention certain further authorities, which it argued
supported its position.
this action as a putative collective action2 against Defendants
Crozer-Chester Medical Center (“CCMC” or “Defendant”), CrozerKeystone Health System, Delaware Memorial Hospital, Taylor
Hospital, Springfield Hospital, Community Hospital, and CrozerKeystone Health Network.
Pursuant to this Court’s Order dated
December 27, 2010, all claims have been dismissed as to CrozerKeystone Health System, Delaware Memorial Hospital, Taylor
Hospital, Springfield Hospital, Community Hospital, and CrozerKeystone Health Network. Consequently, the only Defendant
remaining in this case is CCMC.
In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant
violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C.
§ 207(a) (2006), by not compensating him at a rate of one-and-ahalf times his regular hourly pay for all hours worked in excess
of forty hours. Defendant, however, contended that Plaintiff is
not entitled to overtime payment because he falls into the FLSA’s
bona fide professional exemption as a Physician’s Assistant
(“PA”). At the summary judgment phase, the Court ruled that
Plaintiff is not an exempt bona fide professional and, therefore,
is entitled to overtime pay. See Cuttic v. Crozer-Chester Med.
Ctr., 760 F. Supp. 2d 513, 519 (E.D. Pa. 2011).
Notices of the putative collective action were sent to all
putative collective action members, but no additional members
opted in to the lawsuit. Accordingly, only Plaintiff’s particular
circumstances are before the Court.
On June 4, 2012, Defendant and Plaintiff sent a joint
letter reporting that they had reached an agreement to settle
this matter pending the Court’s approval. The letter requests
that the Court undertake an in camera review of the confidential
settlement agreement, and that the Court enter the enclosed
Stipulation of Dismissal. There are two issues before the Court.
The first is whether the Court should review the FLSA settlement
without making the settlement agreement part of the public
record. The second is whether the proposed settlement agreement
is a fair and reasonable resolution of the dispute. This
memorandum will address only the first issue.
IN CAMERA REVIEW REQUEST
The Third Circuit has recognized a right of access to
judicial proceedings and judicial records, and has expressed that
this right of access is “‘beyond dispute.’” Littlejohn v. Bic
Corp., 851 F.2d 673, 677–78 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Publicker
Indus., Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1066 (3d Cir. 1984)). A
settlement agreement deemed a judicial record is accessible under
the right of access doctrine. Bank of Am. Nat’l Trust & Sav.
Ass’n v. Hotel Rittenhouse Assocs., 800 F.2d 339, 344 (3d Cir.
1986) (holding that the strong presumption of access outweighed
the generalized interest in promoting settlements). In Pansy v.
Borough of Stroudsburg, the Third Circuit held that where a
settlement agreement is filed with, interpreted by, or enforced
by a district court, it is a “judicial record.” 23 F.3d 772, 777
(3d Cir. 1994) (citing Enprotech Corp. v. Renda, 983 F.2d 17, 2021 (3d Cir. 1993)). Therefore, if FLSA settlement agreements are
judicial records, they are subject to the right of access
doctrine and available to the public unless the parties make a
showing “sufficing to override the strong presumption of access.”
Rittenhouse, 800 F.2d at 346.
Pursuant to the FLSA, an action “may be maintained . .
. by any one or more employees for and in behalf of themselves
and other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
There are only two ways that claims arising under the FLSA can be
settled or compromised by employees: (1) a compromise supervised
by the Department of Labor pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(c); or (2)
a district court-approved compromise pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
216(b). See also Lynn’s Food Stores Inc. v. United States, 679
F.2d 1350, 1354 (11th Cir. 1982). When parties present to the
district court a proposed settlement, the district court may
enter a stipulated judgment if it determines that the compromise
reached “is a fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide
dispute over FLSA provisions” rather than “a mere waiver of
statutory rights brought about by an employer’s overreaching.”
Lynn’s Food, 679 F.2d at 1354; Bredbenner v. Liberty Travel,
Inc., No. 09-905, 2011 WL 1344745 (D.N.J. Apr. 8, 2011); see also
H.R. Rep. No. 101–644, at 18–19 (1990). The act of reviewing FLSA
settlements for fairness requires interpretation of the
agreement, which is a judicial act. In essence, by being the
subject of interpretation by the Court, FLSA settlement
agreements become judicial records. See Enoprotech, 983 F.2d at
20 (“[W]hen the parties seek interpretative assistance from the
court or otherwise move to enforce a settlement provision, then
the settlement documents can become part of the public component
of a trial.”) (citing Rittenhouse, 800 F.2d at 343-44); cf.
United States v. Amodeo, 44 F.3d 141, 145 (2d Cir. 1995) (finding
that a judicial document, subject to the right of public access,
is one that is relevant to the performance of a judicial function
and useful in the judicial process). Thus, FLSA settlements
presented to the district court for review are judicial records
to which the right of access attaches.
Further support for public access to settlement
agreements in FLSA cases derives from the private-public
character of employee rights under the FLSA. Cf. Hens v.
Clientlogic Operating Corp., No. 05-381S, 2010 WL 4340919, at *2
(W.D.N.Y. Nov. 2, 2010) (finding that with respect to FLSA
settlements there is “general public interest in the content of
documents upon which a court’s decision is based, including a
determination of whether to approve a settlement”); Tabor v. Fox,
No. 09–338, 2010 WL 2509907, at *1 (E.D.N.C. June 17, 2010)
(holding that in FLSA cases, “there is no doubt that the common
law presumption of access applies” to settlement agreements);
Dees v. Hydradry, Inc., 706 F. Supp. 2d 1227, 1244–45 (M.D. Fla.
2010) (“Sealing an FLSA settlement agreement between an employer
and employee, reviewing the agreement in camera, or reviewing the
agreement at a hearing without the agreement’s appearing in the
record . . . thwarts Congress’s intent both to advance employees’
awareness of their FLSA rights and to ensure pervasive
implementation of the FLSA in the workplace.”). Under the FLSA,
“the public has an ‘independent interest in assuring that
employees[’] wages are fair and thus do not endanger ‘the
national health and well-being.’” Hens, 2010 WL 4340919, at *2
(quoting Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F. Supp. 2d 1260, 1263-64
(M.D. Ala. 2003)). Therefore, there is a strong presumption in
favor of keeping settlement agreements in FLSA wage-settlement
cases unsealed and available for public view. Id.
Having found that the right of access doctrine
attaches, the Court must now balance this presumption against
factors militating against access. In their letter to the Court,
the parties assert that case law demonstrates that courts
routinely approve FLSA settlements where the settlement agreement
is reviewed in camera or filed under seal. All of the cases
parties cite are unhelpful because they appear to assume without
discussing whether the right of access applies to FLSA
settlements. Moreover, none of the cases identify or discuss
policy justifications for the FLSA settlement to be filed under
seal or to be reviewed only in camera. See e.g., Sabol v. Apollo
Grp., Inc., No. 09-3439, slip op. at 1 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2011);
Malloy v. Pentec Health Inc., No. 09-5974 (E.D. Pa. July 16,
2010) (order approving settlement as fair following in camera
review); Freyre v. Tin Wai Hui DMD, P.A., No. 08–22810, 2009 WL
89283, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 13, 2009) (noting only that the
court determined that the settlement was fair and reasonable
after an in camera review); Goudie v. Cable Commc’ns, Inc., No.
08–507, 2009 WL 88336, at *1 (D. Or. Jan. 12, 2009) (same).
The parties additionally orally argued that the
presumption of public access is outweighed by two counter policy
arguments. Specifically, that confidentiality was a material term
of the settlement and that public disclosure “might attract
negative attention” to Defendant. Although these arguments were
invoked, the parties neither spelled out their concerns nor
provided substantiation for the Court to conclude that these
justifications were sufficient to override the public’s right of
access.3 See Joo v. Kitchen Table, Inc., 763 F. Supp. 2d 643, 648
The parties also aver that this case differs from other cases
because it does not involve a collective action, but only
concerns the rights of the two private parties. However, a review
of the federal cases that consider the question of whether the
presumption of public access attaches to FLSA settlements
demonstrates that no language in these cases indicate that the
presumption of public access depended in any way on the case’s
(S.D.N.Y. 2011) (rejecting parties’ argument of confidentiality
being an integral component of the agreement as a sufficient
justification for sealing the FLSA settlement agreement); Hens,
2010 WL 4340919, at *4 (“‘Preventing the employee’s co-workers or
the public from discovering the existence or value of their FLSA
rights is an objective unworthy of implementation by a judicial
seal.’” (quoting Dees, 706 F. Supp. 2d at 1246)); Huntsinger v.
Roadway Specialty Devices, Inc., No. 09–1798, 2009 WL 3697989, at
*1 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 3, 2009) (rejecting argument that “the
confidentiality of the Parties’ agreement is an integral
provision of the overall settlement” in support of in camera
review of FLSA settlement); see also Scott v. Memory Co., No. 09290, 2010 WL 4683621, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 10, 2010) (“The fact
that the settlement agreement contains a confidentiality
provision is an insufficient interest to overcome the presumption
that an approved FLSA settlement agreement is a judicial record,
open to the public.”).
Accordingly, the Court declines to hold a hearing in
camera because this is not a case where it is necessary or
appropriate to have the settlement documents reviewed only in
camera, and the parties have not made a sufficient showing to
override the public’s right of access to review judicial records.
status as a collective action. See Joo, 763 F. Supp. 2d at 647
The parties have until July 2, 2012, to elect to withdraw their
settlement agreement or to request a hearing in open court on the
fairness of the settlement.
An appropriate order will follow.
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