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Chester v. King

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 23, 2019

AUDREY KING, et al., Defendants.



         I. BACKGROUND

         Raymond D. Chester (“Plaintiff”) is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case now proceeds with Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint filed on August 31, 2016, against defendants Audrey King (Executive Director), Jagsir Sandhu, M.D. (Chief Medical Officer), Bradley Powers, M.D. (Unit Physician), and Robert Withrow, M.D. (Medical Director of CSH) for failing to provide adequate medical care to Plaintiff in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 10.)

         On June 21, 2019, all of the defendants filed a Stipulation and [proposed] Protective Order regarding disclosure of confidential health information and personal information. (ECF No. 30.) On July 2, 2019, the court approved the stipulated Protective Order (ECF No. 32.)

         On August 19, 2019, defendants King, Sandhu, and Withrow (“Defendants”) filed a motion for summary judgment, together with a Notice of Request to Seal Exhibits in support of their motion for summary judgment.[1] (ECF No. 37-11.) On October 15, 2019, Defendants submitted a proposed Order Granting Defendants' Request to Seal Exhibits. Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to the Request to Seal.

         Defendants King, Sandhu, and Withrow's Request to Seal Exhibits is now before the court. Local Rule 230(l).


         Federal courts have recognized a strong presumption that judicial records are accessible to the public. Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006). “Unless a particular court record is one ‘traditionally kept secret,' a ‘strong presumption in favor of access' is the starting point.” Id. (quoting Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2(d), a court “may order that a filing be made under seal without redaction, ” and the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the decision to seal documents is “one best left to the sound discretion of the trial court, a discretion to be exercised in light of the relevant facts and circumstances of the particular case, ” Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 599, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 1312 (1978). Courts should consider “the interests [of] the parties in light of the public interest and the duty of the courts.” Hagestad v. Tragesser, 49 F.3d 1430, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Nixon, 435 U.S. at 602). Generally, if a party seeks to seal a judicial record, the party bears the burden of overcoming this presumption by articulating “compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings” to justify sealing the records at issue. Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178.

         There are two standards for a party to consider when it seeks to file a document under seal: the compelling reasons standard and the good cause standard. See Center for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group. LLC, 809 F.3d 1092, 1096-97 (9th Cir. 2016). Under the compelling reasons standard, “a court may seal records only when it finds ‘a compelling reason and articulate[s] the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture.” Id. (quoting Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179). “The court must then ‘conscientiously balance[ ] the competing interests of the public and the party who seeks to keep certain judicial records secret.” Id. The Ninth Circuit has clarified that the key in determining which standard to apply in assessing a motion for leave to file a document under seal is whether the documents proposed for sealing accompany a motion that is “more than tangentially related to the merits of a case.” Center for Auto Safety, 809 F.3d at 1101. If that is the case, the compelling reasons standard is applied. If not, the good cause standard is applied.

         Center for Auto Safety described the good cause standard, on the other hand, as the exception to public access that had been applied to “sealed materials attached to a discovery motion unrelated to the merits of a case.” Id. (citing Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v. Gen. Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (9th Cir. 2002)). “The ‘good cause' language comes from Rule 26(c)(1), which governs the issuance of protective orders in the discovery process: ‘The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.'” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)). However, “[t]he mere fact that the production of records may lead to a litigant's embarrassment, incrimination, or exposure to further litigation will not, without more, compel the court to seal its records.” Id. (citing Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1136.


         Defendants seek to seal the unredacted version of Exhibit “B” to Robert Withrow's declaration in support of Defendants' motion for summary judgment because it is “Confidential” under the terms of the Stipulated Protective Order entered by the court on July 2, 2019. Defendants also assert that Exhibit “B” contains protected health information as defined by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1320d, et seq. and Article I, Section 1 of the California Constitution.


         Here, Defendants seek to file exhibits under seal in connection with their motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 37), which is unquestionably “more than tangentially related to the merits of a ...

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