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Estate of Nunez v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 24, 2019

THE ESTATE OF RUBEN NUNEZ by and through its successor-in-interest LYDIA NUNEZ, ALBERT NUNEZ, and LYDIA NUNEZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTIONS TO FILE UNDER SEAL [DOCS. 353, 356, 361, 367, 391, 397]; DENYING EX PARTE MOTION TO INTERVENE [DOC. 403]

          HON. ROGER T. BENITEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are several groups of motions to file documents under seal and the ACLU's ex parte motion to intervene to oppose several of those motions to seal. [Docs. 353, 356, 361, 367, 391, 397, 403.] For the following reasons, the motions are DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court assumes familiarity with the facts and procedural posture of this case. There are two sets of motions to file under seal related to the briefing and exhibits for two substantive motions. CPMG offers the same policy arguments in support of sealing both sets of documents. The first set of documents contains the parties' briefing on Plaintiffs' Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing and Sanctions against CPMG and associated exhibits. [Docs. 353, 356, 361.] The second set of documents contains the parties' briefing on Plaintiffs' Motion to Reconsider the Court's Summary Judgment Order in Favor of CPMG on Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims and prayer for punitive damages. [Docs. 391, 397.]

         Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Reconsider on April 22, 2019. They supported their motion with substantial newly acquired evidence, including recent deposition testimony of three CPMG employees. Two days letter, CPMG sent a letter to the parties' court reporting company, stating that it was designating the entire transcript of each of the three witnesses as “confidential.” CPMG then requested that Plaintiffs withdraw numerous exhibits they had filed in support of their motion and re-file them under seal. As a result, Plaintiffs withdrew their April 22, 2019 filings, re-filed with redactions their Motion to Reconsider and their exhibits, and filed an accompanying motion to seal the exhibits and motion, as required by the local rules. In their accompanying motion to seal, however, Plaintiffs reasserted their position that compelling reasons did not exist for sealing any of the documents. CPMG then filed under seal its opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Reconsider and numerous exhibits, as well as filed its own motion to seal the documents. On May 14, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) filed an ex parte Motion to Intervene to oppose CPMG's motions to seal. For the following reasons, the motions to seal and the ACLU's motion to intervene are DENIED.[1]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         There is a strong presumption in favor of public access to court records. See Nixon v. Warner Comm'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597-99 (1978). Thus, a party seeking to seal a judicial record bears the burden of overcoming this strong presumption by meeting the “compelling reasons” standard. Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003). That is, the party must “articulate[ ] compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings, ” id., that outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring disclosure, such as the “public interest in understanding the judicial process, ” Hagestad v. Tragesser, 49 F.3d 1430, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995). “Simply mentioning a general category of privilege, without further elaboration or any specific linkage with the documents, [also] does not satisfy the burden.” Id. at 1184. A party's failure to meet the burden of articulating specific facts showing a “compelling reason” means that the “default posture of public access prevails.” Id. at 1182.

         Where the party states compelling reasons to seal, the court must “conscientiously balance[ ] the competing interests” of the public and the party who seeks to keep certain judicial records secret. Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1135. 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.” Hagestad, 49 F.3d at 1434 (citing Valley Broadcasting Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 798 F.2d 1289, 1295 (9th Cir. 1986)).

         B. Motions to Seal

          The “compelling reasons” standard applies fully to dispositive motions like the ones at issue here. Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006). As compelling reasons, CPMG contends that (1) the documents are marked “CONFIDENTIAL” under their protective order, and (2) filing the documents publicly would hamper the intent behind California's peer review privilege. Among the documents CPMG contends should remain under seal are the following:

• Plaintiffs' Points and Authorities in Support of the Motion to Reconsider the Court's Order Granting Summary Judgment as to CPMG;
• CPMG's Opposition Memorandum;
• Exhibit 4: a binder of email chains and documentation produced from CPMG as a supplemental response to ...

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