United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER REGARDING THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S REQUEST
FOR SEALED DOCUMENTS
M. CHEN, United States District Judge.
November 27, 2019, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal
made a request with the Court to make certain sealed
documents in this criminal matter available for
public view. The Court took the request under submission
after receiving a response from the parties but did not
invite further briefing. Upon re-reviewing the redacted
material, and in light of the Court imposing the maximum
criminal penalty, as well as the parties' argument in
open court, the Court rules as follows.
November 14, 2018, Defendant StarKist Co.
(“StarKist”) pleaded guilty to violating the
Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. All parties agreed
the guideline fine would be $100 million. However, StarKist
sought a downward departure relying on United States
Sentencing Guideline Section 8C3.3, which states that the
“court shall reduce the fine below [the guideline
range] to the extent that imposition of such fine would
impair its ability to make restitution to victims.” The
Court construed the civil damages in the pending civil cases
in the Southern District of California as restitution for
purposes of U.S.S.G. § 8C3.3.
reviewing the sentencing memoranda and the briefs related to
StarKist's request for a downward departure, the Court
refused to grant a downward departure and imposed the full
recommended $100 million criminal fine. Docket No. 181.
Courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect
and copy public records and documents . . . . The interest
necessary to support the issuance of a writ compelling access
has been found, for example, in the citizen's desire to
keep a watchful eye on the workings of public agencies . . .,
and in a news paper publisher's intention to publish
information concerning the operation of government . . .
.” Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435
U.S. 589, 597-98 (1978).
“treat judicial records attached to dispositive motions
differently from records attached to non-dispositive motions.
Those who seek to maintain the secrecy of documents attached
to dispositive motions must meet the high threshold of
showing that ‘compelling reasons' support
secrecy.” Kamakana v. City & Cty. of
Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1180 (9th Cir. 2006). Pursuant
to the Local Rules of this District, “[u]nless
otherwise ordered by the Court, any document filed under seal
shall be kept from public inspection, including inspection by
attorneys and parties to the action.” Crim. L. R.
56-1(e). However, “[t]he judge need not document
compelling reasons to unseal;
rather the proponent of sealing bears the burden with respect
to sealing. A failure to meet that burden means
that the default posture of public access
prevails.” Kamakana, 447 F.3d at
1182 (emphasis added).
STREET JOURNAL'S REQUEST FOR SEALED
Government and StarKist proffered the same or similar
arguments in their motions to seal. Those arguments are
summarized as follows:
• Presentence reports and related documents are
“confidential records of the Court” and
“shall be disclosed only to the Court, court personnel,
the defendant, defense counsel and the attorney for the
government in connection with sentencing.” N.D. Cal.
Crim. L.R. 32-7(a); see United States v. Rubycon
Corporation, No. 4:16-CR-0367-JD, (N.D. Cal. Oct. 12,
• The sensitive financial data (e.g., future
projections, status of debt, etc.) contained in the sealed
documents “could result in improper use by business
competitors.” Bauer Bros. LLC v. Nike, Inc.,
No. 09CV500-WQH-BGS, 2012 WL 1899838, at *2 (S.D. Cal. May
• StarKist's financial condition is not information
that would serve the “public interest in understanding
the judicial process.” Kamakana v. City & Cty.