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Scott v. City of Sioux City

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

April 6, 2015

BRITTANY SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SIOUX CITY, IOWA, and PAUL ECKERT, Individually, Defendants

Decided March 17, 2015.

As Amended April 13, 2015.

Page 899

For Brittany Scott, Plaintiff: Stanley E Munger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, Sioux City, IA.

For City of Sioux City, Iowa, Defendant: Randall H Stefani, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lindsay Ann Vaught, Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, IA.

For Paul Eckert, Defendant: Stacey Laurene Hall, Nyemaster Goode, Cedar Rapids, IA.

Page 900

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING UNSEALING OF THE COURT'S EVIDENTIARY RULING

MARK W. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Procedural Background

B. Arguments Of The Parties

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Applicable Standards

1. General principles

2. Balancing tests and pertinent factors

a. The Eighth Circuit test

b. Other courts' tests

c. The applicable test

B. Application Of The Standards

1. The step one inquiry

2. The step two inquiry

3. Consideration of less drastic measures

III. CONCLUSION

Page 901

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Procedural Background

On March 17, 2015, in anticipation of trial, I entered a sealed Memorandum Opinion And Order Regarding The Parties' Pre-Trial Evidentiary Motions (Evidentiary Ruling) (docket no. 93). At the conclusion of that Evidentiary Ruling, I stated,

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, to avoid exposure of potential jurors to information about challenged evidence and to avoid disclosure of private information subject to a protective order, this ruling shall remain sealed, unless the court, on the motion of a party, directs that it be unsealed.

Evidentiary Ruling, 37.

On March 25, 2015, the parties advised me that this case had settled. Shortly thereafter, I reconsidered my decision to keep the Evidentiary Ruling sealed, so I notified the parties by e-mail that, if they wanted to try to convince me that the Evidentiary Ruling should remain sealed, they should notify me by e-mail by noon on March 27, 2015. By e-mail dated March 26, 2015, counsel for the City requested a short telephonic hearing to express the City's views on why the Evidentiary Ruling and documents pertaining to it should remain sealed. I agreed to set a telephonic hearing on the matter and requested a list of citations to pertinent cases, in lieu of briefing. By e-mail dated March 31, 2015, the City provided a list of five citations with parenthetical explanations of what the City believed the import of the cited cases to be. By Text Order (docket no. 103), filed April 2, 2015, I set a telephonic hearing for April 6, 2015, on the question of whether the Evidentiary Ruling should remain sealed.

B. Arguments Of The Parties

Prior to the telephonic hearing, I e-mailed the parties a copy of a draft of this ruling and a copy of a proposed redacted version of the Evidentiary Ruling. At the telephonic hearing, all parties agreed that filing of a redacted version of the Evidentiary Ruling was an acceptable solution to address their interests. The City proposed some additional redactions, which I adopted. I then e-mailed the parties a revised redacted version of the Evidentiary Ruling to confirm that no redactions had been overlooked. After reviewing the revised redacted version, the plaintiff belatedly requested that I also redact Section I.B. of the Evidentiary Ruling, so that it would not be apparent that she was the person who had the relationship that was the subject of her Motion In Limine.

After the hearing and consideration of pertinent authorities, I now enter this ruling regarding whether or not the Evidentiary Ruling should remain sealed.

Page 902

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Applicable Standards

Unfortunately, most of the cases cited by the City do not squarely address the central question, here, of whether or not the Evidentiary Ruling, itself, as opposed to other documents pertinent to the parties' evidentiary motions, should remain sealed.[1] Nevertheless, some of the cases cited by the City are instructive.

1. General principles

In one of the cases cited by the City, Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1978), the United States Supreme Court explained, " It is clear that the courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents," but " [i]t is uncontested . . . that the right to inspect and copy judicial records is not absolute." 435 U.S. at 597-98 (footnotes omitted). The Court identified interests supporting access to judicial records as including " the citizen's desire to keep a watchful eye on the workings of public agencies" and " a newspaper publisher's intention to publish information concerning the operation of government." Id. at 598. On the other hand, the Court identified interests that might warrant keeping judicial records sealed as a court's duty to prevent court files from " becom[ing] a vehicle for improper purposes," because courts have the power " to insure that its records are not 'used to gratify private spite or promote public scandal' through the publication of 'the painful and sometimes disgusting details of a divorce case. Id. at 598 (quoting In re Caswell, 18 R.I. 835, 836, 29 A. 259 (1893)). Similarly, the Court found that " courts have refused to permit their files to serve as reservoirs of libelous statements

Page 903

for press consumption, or as sources of business information that might harm a litigant's competitive standing." Id. ...


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