United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING SEALING CONFIDENTIAL
Clifford Shirley, Jr. 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.'” Id.
(quoting Joy v. North, 692 F.2d 880, 893 (2d Cir.
Shane Group, Inc., 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.
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. 710 F.2d 1165, 1179 (6th Cir.
1983). 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
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 ...