South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Documents Sealed During Discovery May Remain Sealed Unless Compelling Public Interest Requires Publication
Description Appeals court held that information provided by a defendant under a protective order would remain sealed after the case was settled. While there is a general right of public access to court documents, if the parties have agreed to seal certain information during discovery, the right of access is limited unless there is a compelling public interest, which was not shown in this case.
Topic Court Procedure
Key Words Confidential Settlement; Sealed Discovery Documents; Right of Access
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Byrds sued GM for damages allegedly caused by a defect in the gas tank of a GM pickup. During the proceedings, GM was ordered to provide information about settlements in similar cases against the company. At GM's request, the information was put under protective order. While the information was available to the plaintiffs, the records were sealed from the public. The case was settled before trial. The Los Angeles Times moved for public access to the information about settlements in the cases. The district court held that the newspaper could have access; GM appealed.
Decision

Reversed. The common law right of access to information filed with courts creates a strong presumption in favor of access to judicial documents. That can be overcome only by showing sufficiently important countervailing interests. The materials in this instance were provided to the court under a valid protective order. When a party attaches a sealed discovery document, the usual presumption of the public's right of access is rebutted. There is no compelling public interest in the release of the information.

Citation Phillips v. General Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206 (9th Cir., 2002)

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