United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING SEALING CONFIDENTIAL
CHRISTOPHER H. STEGER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Memorandum and Order Regarding Sealing Confidential
Information enunciates the specific standards that must be
met and the procedures that must be followed in order to file
anything in the Court record under seal.
Required to File Information Under Seal
Court regularly signs agreed protective orders which permit
the parties to designate the discovery they wish to keep
confidential among themselves. “‘Secrecy is fine
at the discovery stage, before the material enters the
judicial record.'” Shane Group, Inc. v. Blue
Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, 825 F.3d 299, 305
(6th Cir. 2016). (quoting Baxter Int'l,
Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 297 F.3d 544, 545 (7th Cir.
2002)). “‘At the adjudication stage, however,
very different considerations apply.'” Shane
Group, Inc., 825 F.3d at 305 (quoting Joy v.
North, 692 F.2d 880, 893 (2d Cir. 1982)).
Shane Group, Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of
Michigan, the Sixth Circuit recently discussed the very
high barrier a party must hurdle to file information under
seal in the Court's record:
The courts have long recognized … a “strong
presumption in favor of openness” as to court records.
Brown & Williamson, 710 F.2d at 1179. The burden
of overcoming that presumption is borne by the party that
seeks to seal them. In re Cendant Corp., 260 F.3d
183, 194 (3d Cir. 2001). The burden is a heavy one:
“Only the most compelling reasons can justify
non-disclosure of judicial records.” In re
Knoxville News-Sentinel Co., 723 F.2d 470, 476 (6th Cir.
1983). Moreover, the greater the public interest in the
litigation's subject matter, the greater the showing
necessary to overcome the presumption of access. See
Brown & Williamson, 710 F.2d at 1179.
Shane Group, Inc., 825 F.3d at 305-06.
reasons for this “heavy burden” are examined
thoroughly in Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v.
FTC wherein the court began its discussion by
recognizing this country's longstanding tradition of
public access to court proceedings based upon the First
Amendment and common law. Brown & Williamson Tobacco
Corp, 723 F.2d at 1177. The court articulated three
reasons for this right of public access. First, “public
trials play an important role as outlets for community
concern, hostility and emotions. When judicial decisions are
known to be just and when the legal system is moving to
vindicate societal wrongs, members of the community are less
likely to act as self-appointed law enforcers or
vigilantes.” Id. at 1178 (internal citations
omitted). Second, “public access provides a check on
the courts. Judges know that they will continue to be held
responsible by the public for their rulings. Without access
to the proceedings, the public cannot analyze and critique
the reasoning of the court.... One of the ways we minimize
judicial error and misconduct is through public scrutiny and
discussion.” Id. Third, “open trials
promote true and accurate fact finding.” Id.
(external citation omitted.)
right of access is not absolute, however. Id. at
1179. There are two categories of exceptions to the right of
public access. The first category is the need to keep dignity
and order in the courtroom. In such an instance, the
legitimate societal interest in protecting the adjudicatory
process from disruption outweighs the interest of unfettered
public access to the proceedings. Id. The second
category consists of restrictions based on the content of the
information to be disclosed to the public. Id.
Certain content-based exceptions outweigh the right to public
access. Some of these exceptions include:
1) a defendant's right to a fair trial,
2) trade secrets,
3) national security, and
4) certain privacy rights of participants and ...