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Sophia & Chloe, Inc. v. Brighton Collectibles, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 8, 2014

SOPHIA & CHLOE, INC., a California Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIGHTON COLLECTIBLES, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Defendant.

ORDER: 1) DENYING BRIGHTON'S MOTION TO FILE UNDER SEAL, [Doc. No. 42]; and 2) DENYING REQUEST FOR LEAVE TO MANUALLY LODGE PHYSICAL EXEMPLARS, [Doc. No. 45]

ANTHONY J. BATTAGLIA, District Judge.

The two matters before the Court are (1) Brighton Collectibles, LLC's ("Brighton" or "Defendant") motion to file under seal its motion for summary judgment and attached documents and (2) Brighton's request for leave to manually lodge physical exemplars of the jewelry at issue. For the following reasons, both motions are DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

This is a copyright and trade dress infringement action brought by Plaintiff Sophia & Chloe, Inc. ("Sophia" or "Plaintiff") against Brighton for alleged infringement of Sophia's copyrighted jewelry designs and trade dress. (Doc. No. 1.) Sophia alleges that Brighton manufactured, advertised and sold, without their permission, jewelry that used Sophia's copyrighted designs. ( Id. at 6-8). Sophia brought this action alleging four causes of action: (1) Copyright Infringement; (2) Trade Dress Infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a); (3) Unfair Competition under California Common Law; and (4) Unfair Competition Under California Business & Professions Code §§ 17200 et seq. & 17500 et seq. ( Id. at 10-14.)

On March 28, 2014, Brighton filed a motion for summary judgment, or, in the alternative summary adjudication. (Doc. No. 46.) Brighton now seeks to file under seal, an unredacted version of that Motion as well as an unredacted version of the Declaration of Robert Wunderlich in support of Brighton's Motion. (Doc. No. 45.) Brighton also requests leave to lodge physical exemplars of the jewelry at issue with the Court. (Doc. No. 45.)

II. MOTION TO FILE UNDER SEAL

A. Legal Standards

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 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 dispositive pleadings, including motions for summary judgment and related attachments. Thus, to warrant the Court's grant of the request to seal, Brighton must show "compelling reasons." Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179. 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.

B. Discussion

In its motion to file under seal, Brighton provides barely any details for the Court to make an informed and reasoned analysis in accordance with Ninth Circuit standards. Brighton seeks to seal portions of its motion for summary judgment that references: (1) Sophia's total annual sales revenue from 2007-2013; (2) the quantity of sales of Sophia's jewelry at issue; and (3) Sophia's advertising expenditures. Additionally, the Declaration of Robert Wunderlich discloses details that have been stipulated by the Parties as "Confidential" or "attorney's eyes only." Brighton also notes that Sophia's counsel also request this information to be filed under seal.

However, with such sparse information, the Court is unable to "conscientiously balance the competing interests of the public and the parties who seeks to keep certain judicial records secret, " let alone base its decision on a compelling reason and articulate the factual basis for its ruling. Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178-79. Though the Parties themselves may have stipulated to the confidential nature of this information, the "compelling reasons" standard is invoked even if the motion, or its attachments, were previously filed under seal or protective order. Id. at 1179.

Accordingly, Brighton has failed to meet its burden to justify sealing the information listed. The Court DENIES the motion to file under seal without prejudice. Brighton may refile its motion to seal, articulating details that will allow the Court to make a reasoned decision grounded on a factual basis. Further, as the information sought to be sealed appears to be solely related to Sophia's business and proprietary interests, the Court recommends the Parties file a Joint Motion to Seal so that Sophia may put forth its reasons to seal the "confidential" information.

II. REQUEST TO LODGE PHYSICAL EXEMPLARS

Brighton asks for leave to manually lodge with the Court physical exemplars of the jewelry at issue in this case. The Court is aware that photographs alone are inadequate for a full and fair evaluation of Brighton's Motion and the Court understands the need for a physical examination of the actual jewelry itself given that this is a copyright and trade dress infringement action.

However, the Court is unable to grant Brighton's request. Practically speaking, the Court simply does not have the capability to store a party's physical evidence. Though the exemplars may be small, the Court does not have a secure space that will safely store the jewelry for period of time requested by Brighton. As stated above, the Court is mindful of Brighton's concern that mere photographic representations will not adequately convey the best evidence for the issues on summary judgment. The Court finds the best solution is to allow Brighton to bring the jewelry and present it to the Court at the time of the hearing for this matter, currently scheduled for June 26, 2014. The Court will make a detailed examination of the physical exemplars then.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reason Brighton's Motion to File Under Seal and Request to Lodge Physical Exemplars are DENIED.

The Clerk of Court is instructed to maintain the currently sealed lodged proposed documents under seal. (Doc. Nos. 43, 44). The Parties must refile a Motion to File Under Seal, addressing the deficiencies noted herein, on or before April 18, 2014. If the Parties fail to do so, or fail to meet their burden of showing compelling reasons to warrant sealing, the Court will order the sealed lodged documents unsealed.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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