Court Refuses to Seal File in Libel Lawsuit

This is the motion. Martin v. MarshallThe same case which yielded my Order Staying Case, that I blogged about this morning

Plaintiff files a motion for an order sealing the file. Because the Plaintiff’s file includes sensitive information, the defendant would be supporting it with the following:

[1.]Plaintiff brought a complaint against Patricia Marshall on June 9, 2020. It has been meticulously litigated. Numerous documents and records were filed with the Court. These have been exchanged between the involved parties. Many documents and records are confidential and sensitive. This information must not be revealed and should only be used in this litigation.

[2.]Plaintiff supplied a wide range of documents and information including photographs of herself manipulated by the Defendant and libelous posts about her by the latter, as well as private conversations between herself, third parties, and any other confidential information.

[3.]Information and documents could have a negative impact on the Plaintiff’s reputation and career. The Defendant made false allegations that the Plaintiff engaged in prostitution and other disgusting activities. Incorrectly accusing the Plaintiff of being Nazi-like and others dangerous moral ideas, the Defendant was also wrong. The Plaintiff is not able to trust the various posts made by the Defendant. These documents as well should be sealed.

[4.]The Plaintiff asks the Court to order the sealing of court records and files during the course this litigation. That the documents used or produced in this lawsuit remain confidential and be only used for this particular litigation.

[5.]Plaintiff refers to the court papers, pleadings, and other documents filed in her matter as support for her Motion.

[6.]Plaintiff asks for waiver of the need to brief in support this motion.

PREMISES CONSIDERED Plaintiff requests a Court Order sealing court files and records during this litigation. This order will ensure that all documents produced and used in the litigation are kept confidential and that these documents be only used for the purposes of the litigation.

Today Judge Carlton Reeves rejected the motion, “essentially due to the reasons set forth in the defendant’s opposition brief.”[]”, which refers to procedural flaws in the motion and in particular lack of legal arguments. But I think that the motion was likewise substantively unsound: In our legal system, lawsuits generally can’t take place under seal—and that’s especially so, I think, when the lawsuits are aimed at suppressing defendants’ speech.

The public has the right to observe how the legal systems deal with attempts to limit speech. This is not only a way for the public to check on the content of the material but it’s also a necessity. See here for more information. Fargo v. Tejas, Manhattan Telecommunications Corp. [MetTel]Granite Telecommunications, LLCAnd Parson v. Farley.

Below are Judge Reeves’ general views regarding sealing in a case that is not his:

Jason Anderson, a Halliburton employee who had filed a discrimination complaint against Halliburton with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Halliburton was then willing to mediate between Anderson and Halliburton through the Commission’s alternative dispute settlement program. After mediation, Halliburton reached a settlement in which he agreed to be “rehired”. [Anderson]Project-Specialist Safeguard III, BC503 ESG and similar positions based on [the]Successful completion of pre-employment screening The Commission brought this lawsuit two years after the signing of the agreement, alleging Halliburton had violated the agreement when it refused to hire Anderson.

Halliburton filed for summary judgment after discovery was closed. Halliburton provided documents supporting that motion and requested the Court to seal some. For documents in opposition to Halliburton’s move, the Commission made a similar request.

Common law gives citizens the right to inspect public records, even those that have been submitted to courts. As citizen inspections of court records may reveal abuses, this is an important rights. Southern District of Mississippi judges require the existence of “clear and compelling grounds” in order to keep a document secretive from the general public.

Halliburton wants certain documents sealed as they include Anderson’s sensitive medical data. This is an obvious and persuasive reason for documents to be sealed in the Southern District. As Halliburton has taken great care to designate only relevant portions of its exhibits for sealing, the relevant documents — parts of Exhibits 1, 5, 7, and 11 attached to its motion for summary judgment — will be “sealed from public access only, with CM/ECF access permitted to the litigants’ counsel.”

Halliburton is asking for the sealing of all its memorandum supporting its motion. This is a different matter. Halliburton still has not “fil.”[e a]Properly redacted versio[n]” of the memo in the docket. This is the step most courts in the Southern District require prior to sealing unredacted pleas. Halliburton’s motion for sealing its memo is REFUSED without prejudice to the refiling.

According to the Commission AllThe documents that it filed in opposition to Halliburton should be sealed as they contain “Mr. Anderson’s personal data, such as home address, birthdate, and medical information.” As many of the documents cited in this case do not contain any reference to Anderson or other sensitive information, it is curious. A document may contain screenshots from a website, while another is not. The Commission also moved to seal documents, which is different from Halliburton. After placing them on the Court’s docket. This prior placing of documents in public view indicates that there are not compelling reasons to shield them.

The Commission did not request a surgical seal that balances Anderson’s privacy right against the public’s right of inspection. The Commission has instead asked to seal all documents related its opposition to Halliburton’s motion for summary judgement. The public would be prevented from viewing documents if the Commission granted its request. Anyit opposed Halliburton’s request. This privacy is best for private arbitration and not public adjudication, especially since “the documents sought-to be sealed are exhibits of a dispositive action,” meaning that the “public’s common law right to access is automatically greater.”

To determine what exhibits may need sealing, the Court won’t examine every Commission exhibit. If it feels that the Court has sufficient interests to remove currently public documents, the Commission can file a motion outlining those interests. Without prejudice to the possibility of its refiling, the Commission has denialed its motion to seal.