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Advanced Steel Recovery, LLC v. X-Body Equipment, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 19, 2014

ADVANCED STEEL RECOVERY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
X-BODY EQUIPMENT, INC. and JEWELL ATTACHMENTS, LLC, Defendants. AND RELATED COUNTERCLAIMS.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' REQUEST TO SEAL DOCUMENTS AND REDACT INFORMATION

GARLAND E. BURRELL, Jr., Senior District Judge.

On September 8, 2014, Defendants submitted for in camera consideration a "Request to Seal Documents and Redact Information in Connection with [Their] Motion for Attorney's Fees, " a proposed sealing order, and the documents sought to be sealed or redacted.

The documents sought to be sealed comprise Defendants' attorneys' billing statements for services rendered in this case and settlement communications between the parties. (Defs.' Sealing Req. 1:1-10.) Defendants also seek to redact from their attorney's fees motion and supporting documents the "rates billed by Defendants' attorneys" and "settlement terms proposed by the parties." (Id. at 1:11-17.)

Defendants argue: "[s]ince the[ billing] statements were correspondence between Defendants and their attorneys, they fall squarely within the attorney client privilege. They were also attorney work product containing not only the hours, rates, and fees incurred, but descriptions of the matters and tasks performed by each attorney." (Id. at 3:4-7.) Defendants also argue "the parties' settlement [communications] qualify as confidential commercial information' that is protected from disclosure[, ]" and "the parties would [be put] at a severe disadvantage in future settlement negotiations if the terms of their settlement discussions were available to competitors in the marketplace." (Id. at 3:24-25, 4:2-4.) Lastly, Defendants contend "[t]he rates charged by Defendants' attorneys are trade secret information, the disclosure of which would likely harm Defendants and their attorneys in their future negotiations of similar engagements." (Id. at 4:7-9.)

Defendants' sealing request fails to comply with Local Rule 141(b), which prescribes in relevant part:

If a party seeks to seal documents, the party shall [file]... a "Notice of Request to Seal Documents[, ]"...
The Notice shall describe generally the documents sought to be sealed, the basis for sealing, the manner in which the "Request to Seal Documents, " proposed order, and the documents themselves were submitted to the Court, and whether the Request, proposed order, and documents were served on all other parties.

Defendants did not file a Notice of Request to Seal Documents on the public docket in connection with their sealing request.

Further, Defendants neither discuss the applicable sealing standard in their Request to Seal Documents, nor demonstrate that it has been met. "Two standards generally govern motions to seal documents...." Pintos v. Pac. Creditors Ass'n , 605 F.3d 665, 677 (9th Cir. 2010). "[T]he resolution of a dispute on the merits, whether by trial or summary judgment, is at the heart of the interest in ensuring the public's understanding of the judicial process and of significant public events.'" Kamakana v. City and Cnty. of Honolulu , 447 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Valley Broad. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. , 798 F.2d 1289, 1295 (9th Cir. 1986)). "Accordingly, a party seeking to seal a judicial record attached to a dispositive motion or one that is presented at trial must articulate compelling reasons' in favor of sealing." Williams v. U.S. Bank Ass'n, 290 F.R.D. 600, 604 (E.D. Cal. 2013) (quoting Kamkana, 447 F.3d at 1178). Conversely, "a party seeking to seal a document attached to a non-dispositive motion need only demonstrate good cause' to justify sealing." Id . (citing Pintos , 605 F.3d at 678).

"Even under the good cause' standard..., however, a party must make a particularized showing' with respect to any individual document in order to justify [its] sealing...." Ferrington v. McAfee, Inc., No. 10-CV-01455-LHK, 2013 WL 3814474, at *1 (N.D. Cal. July 22, 2013) (quoting Kamakana , 447 F.3d at 1180); accord Muench Photography v. Pearson Edu., Inc., No. 3:12-cv-01927 , 2013 WL 6698465, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 18, 2013). "Broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning, " are insufficient. Ferrington, 2013 WL 3814474, at *1 (quoting Beckman Indus., Inc. v. Int'l Ins. Co. , 966 F.2d 470, 476 (9th Cir. 1992)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[A] party that offers tepid and general justifications' necessarily fail[s] to demonstrate any specific prejudice or harm." Muench Photography , 2013 WL 6698465, at *1 (quoting Kamakana , 447 F.3d at 1186).

Here, Defendants "ha[ve] not articulated a sufficient basis, under either the good cause standard or the compelling reason standard, for sealing" and/or redacting the subject documents/information. Ferrington, 2013 WL 3814474, at *2 (denying request to seal attorney billing records); see also Muench Photography , 2013 WL 6698465, at *1 ("Billing rates for legal services... are not entitled to be sealed."). Defendants' conclusory arguments why the documents should be sealed and information redacted do not satisfy the "particular showing" required. For example, Defendants argue they would be prejudiced in future settlement negotiations if their settlement communications with Plaintiff were made public without providing any "specific examples or articulated reasoning" to support that conclusory argument. Ferrington, 2013 WL 3814474, at *1.

For the stated reasons, Defendants' sealing request is DENIED. Since Local Rule 141(e)(1) prescribes that if a sealing "[r]equest is denied in full or in part, the Clerk will return to the submitting party the documents for which sealing has been denied, " the documents emailed to the courtroom deputy clerk for judicial in camera consideration are treated as having been returned to the moving parties. United States v. Baez-Alcaino , 718 F.Supp. 1503, 1507 (M.D. Fla. 1989) (indicating that when a judge denies a sealing request the party submitting the request then decides how to proceed in light of the ruling).


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