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Rich v. Shrader

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 13, 2013

FOSTER RICH, Plaintiff,
v.
RALPH W. SHRADER, et al., Defendants.

ORDER: (1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO FILE PREVIOUSLY FILED DOCUMENTS UNDER SEAL, (Doc. No. 113); and 2) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE JOINT MOTION TO SEAL DOCUMENTS ATTACHED TO PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION, (Doc. No. 114).

ANTHONY J. BATTAGLIA, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Seal Confidential Documents Previously Filed. (Doc. No. 113.) Defendants seek leave of this Court to seal certain confidential documents attached to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, previously filed on October 3, 2013. (Doc. No. 108). Moreover, the parties have also jointly filed a Motion to Seal Confidential Documents attached the Plaintiff's Opposition to Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 114.)

I. BACKGROUND

On October 3, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 108.) Attached to that motion were documents that contain "confidential and proprietary information, " which Defendants "inadvertently filed publicly rather than under seal." (Greenfield Decl., Doc. No. 113.) Defendants now seek a retroactive order from this Court to seal those portions (the "Confidential Materials"). In addition, Plaintiff's Opposition to Summary Judgment was due by November 12, 2013. Plaintiff has lodged the Opposition with the Court and it will be filed and docketed after the issuance of this Order.

The Court incorporates by reference the factual and procedural background of the instant action set forth by Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal's Order Determining Discovery Dispute. (Doc. No. 99.)

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Courts have historically recognized a "general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents." Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 & n. 7 (1978). "Unless a particular court record is one traditionally kept secret, ' a strong presumption in favor of access' is the starting point. Kamakana v. City and Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003)). In order to overcome this strong presumption, a party seeking to seal a judicial record must articulate justifications for sealing that outweigh the public policies favoring disclosure. See id. at 1178-79. In turn, the court must "conscientiously balance [] balance the competing interests" of the public and the party who seeks to keep certain judicial records secret. Id. After considering these interests, if the court decides to seal certain judicial records, it must "base its decision on a compelling reason and articulate the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture." Id. (citing Hagestad v. Tragesser, 49 F.3d 1430, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995)).

A strong presumption of access to judicial records applies fully to dispositve pleadings, including motions for summary judgment and related attachments. Thus compelling reasons must be shown to seal judicial records attached. See id (internal citations omitted). Relevant factors include the "public interest in understanding the judicial process and whether disclosure of the material could result in improper use..." Pintos v. Pacific Creditors Ass'n, 605 F.3d 665, 659 (9th Cir. 2010)(citations omitted). In general, "compelling reasons" sufficient to outweigh the public's interest in disclosure and justify sealing court records exist when such "court files might have become a vehicle for improper purposes, " such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets. Id. (citing Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598).

B. Defendant's Motion to File Previously Filed Documents Under Seal

Defendants requests that certain documents and excerpts of depositions attached as exhibits to the Motion for Summary Judgment be sealed on the grounds that they contain confidential and proprietary information and if disclosed, would allow Booz Allen competitors access to operational and personnel information. Defendants group the documents into two sets: (1) Booz Allen employee appraisals and documents describing the appraisal process and (2) deposition testimony that contain information regarding Mr. Rich's appraisals, Booz Allen's internal policies and procedures, as well as financial performance metrics. Although some of the materials have already been declared confidential pursuant to Discovery Protective Orders (Doc. Nos. 82 and 94), the Court must make an independent review to determine if the high standard of "compelling reason" has been met to warrant sealing.

Although these exhibits have been public since the Summary Judgment motion was filed on October 3, 2013, the Court may grant relief to mitigate continuing harm if warranted.

(1) Booz Allen Employee Appraisals and Documents Describing Booz Allen Appraisal Process

Having reviewed the listed exhibits described as Booz Allen appraisals and documents describing the appraisal process, the Court finds Exhibits 4-6 and 11-14 do contain sensitive information and could be used for improper purposes by Booz Allen's competitors. The documents listed contain internal partnership evaluations, management expectations and performance reviews, financial information, as well as company strategies to improve employee performance and experience. If disseminated, Defendants argue that Booz Allen's competitors would gain access to operational and personnel information, projections and modeling, and strategic positioning vis-a-vis its competitors. Magistrate Judge Skomal's findings also inform the Court's analysis. The Magistrate Judge determined that some ...


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