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Baker v. Seaworld Entertainment, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 3, 2017

LOU BAKER, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SEAWORLD ENTERTAINMENT, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR RULING ON OBJECTIONS TO DEFENDANTS' CONFIDENTIALITY DESIGNATIONS [DOC. NO. 194[1]]

          HON. MICHAEL M. ANELLO United States District Judge

         Lead Plaintiffs Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and Pensionskassen for Børne-Og Ungdomsp√ɬ¶dagoger (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) move to unseal certain documents filed in support of their pending motion for class certification and previously designated as confidential by Defendants SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., The Blackstone Group L.P., James Atchison, James M. Heaney, and Marc Swanson (collectively, “Defendants”). See Doc. No. 214. Defendants filed an opposition to Plaintiffs' motion, to which Plaintiffs replied. See Doc. Nos. 216, 217. The Court found the matter suitable for determination on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1. See Doc. No. 205. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' motion.

         Background

         On January 12, 2017, the assigned magistrate judge granted the parties' joint motion and entered the Protective Order in this action. See Doc. No. 158. The Protective Order permits a producing party to “designate as ‘Confidential' information that has not been made public and that the Disclosing Party believes in good faith constitutes a trade secret or other confidential research, development or commercial information, specifically including any information for which applicable federal, state or foreign law requires confidential treatment.” Id. ¶ 4. Once a party designates a document or information as confidential, the party must file such information under seal if the party wishes to present the evidence to the Court. Id. ¶ 16.

         The Protective Order allows for a party to object to another's designation of information as “Confidential” at “any stage in the proceedings” by providing written notification to counsel for the designating party. Id. ¶ 15. “If the dispute is not resolved consensually between the parties within fifteen (15) days of receipt of such notice of objection, the objecting party may move the Court for a ruling on the objection.” Id.

         Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Class Certification on May 19, 2017, and in support of their motion, Plaintiffs attached eighteen (18) exhibits, which have all been designated as “Confidential” under the Protective Order. See Doc. No. 213. Pursuant to the procedure set forth in the Protective Order, Plaintiffs moved to file under seal certain documents and exhibits in support of their Motion for Class Certification and Motion for Ruling on Objections to Defendants' Confidentiality Designations. See Doc. Nos. 187, 195, 203. In light of the Protective Order, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motions, subject to either party's right to object. See Doc. No. 212.

         Plaintiffs now object to Defendants' confidentiality designations as to Exhibits 1- 18 (hereinafter “Confidential Materials”), and argue that these exhibits do not qualify for confidential treatment. See Doc. No. 214 at 4. Pursuant to the Protective Order, Plaintiffs served Defendants with objections to Defendants' confidentiality designations on June 16, 2017. See Doc. No. 214-2. Because the parties were unable to resolve the dispute within fifteen (15) days of Plaintiffs' objections, Plaintiffs filed the instant motion. Plaintiffs request the Court issue an order: 1) sustaining Plaintiffs' objections; 2) requiring Defendants to de-designate the Confidential Materials and reproduce them with the “Confidential” bates-stamps removed; and 3) directing the Clerk of Court to docket Plaintiffs' motion for class certification “in an unrestricted and publicly accessible manner on the Court's public docket.” Doc. No. 214 at 12.

         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)). “The presumption of access is ‘based on the need for federal courts, although independent- indeed, particularly because they are independent-to have a measure of accountability and for the public to have confidence in the administration of justice.” Ctr. for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 809 F.3d 1092, 1096 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Amodeo, 71 F.3d 1044, 1048 (2d Cir. 1995)).

         When a party moves to file under seal a motion or documents attached to a motion, the focus is on the underlying motion and whether it is “more than tangentially related to the underlying cause of action.” Ctr. for Auto Safety, 809 F.3d at 1099. If the motion is more than tangentially related to the merits, the movant must show compelling reasons for overcoming the presumption in favor of public access. See Id. at 1096-99. Otherwise, a party need only show good cause. See Id. The party must present “articulable facts” identifying the interests favoring continued secrecy, and show that these specific interests overcome “the presumption of access by outweighing the public interest in understanding the judicial process.” Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1181.

         Discussion

         1. Whether the Confidential Materials are Integral to the Merits of Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification

         As an initial matter, Defendants argue the Confidential Materials are irrelevant to Plaintiffs' motion for class certification and “serve exclusively as extraneous information in the background section of a brief.” Doc. No. 216 at 6. As such, Defendants claim they need only satisfy the “good cause” standard in order to keep the Confidential Materials under seal. See Id. In response, Plaintiffs contend that in the Ninth Circuit, as long as the documents “speak to the elements of the underlying causes of action, ” the documents at issue need not be integral to the merits of the pending motion. Doc. No. 217 at 10.

         Here, the Court finds that Defendants' relevance argument is misplaced. Notably, the cases Defendants rely upon from the Northern District of California pre-date the Ninth Circuit's decision in Center for Auto Safety. In G&C Auto Body Incorporated v. Geico General Insurance Company, a case heavily relied upon by Defendants, the district court found that the information “at issue constitutes extraneous material attached to a dispositive motion, and should not be considered a judicial document subject to the heightened ‘compelling reasons' standard.” 2008 WL 687372, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 11, 2008) (citing McConnell v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 251 F.Supp.2d ...


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