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Laura Laaman & Associates, LLC v. Davis

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 7, 2019

LORI DAVIS Defendant.


          Michael P. Shea United States District Judge.

         I. Background

         Upon the settlement of this case, the court denied as moot Davis's motion to unseal certain documents previously filed under seal. However, pursuant to its independent obligation to ensure that documents relevant to the judicial function are accessible to the public, the court notified the parties that it would unseal the documents identified by the motion absent objection by either party. Laaman filed a timely objection requesting that some documents on the docket remain sealed in their entirety and that other documents be made available to the public only in redacted form. The court assumes familiarity with the history of this case and the court's previous rulings.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To obtain approval to file a document under seal, and thereby block a court document from public view, a party must make a particularized showing of good cause why the Court should depart from the strong presumption against sealing court records from public inspection. See Nixon v. Warner Comm., Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597-99 (1978) (directing lower courts to “weigh[] the interests advanced by the parties in light of the public interest and the duty of the courts”); Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 120-22 (2d Cir. 2006); U.S. v. Amodeo, 44 F.3d 141, 146 (2d Cir.1995). The public and the press have a “qualified First Amendment right . . . to access certain judicial documents, ” including inspecting and making copies of judicial documents and docket sheets. Lugosch, 435 F.3d at 120 (quoting Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 91 (2d Cir. 2004)). “[D]ocuments used by parties moving for, or opposing, summary judgment should not remain under seal absent the most compelling reasons.” Id. at 123 (quoting Joy v. North, 692 F.2d 880, 893 (2d Cir. 1982)); Brown v. Maxwell, 2019 WL 2814839 at *5 (2d Cir. 2019) (“[E]vidence introduced at trial or in connection with summary judgment enjoys a strong presumption of public access.”). However, upon a showing of compelling circumstances, the Court may order certain records to be sealed. Hartford Courant Co., 380 F.3d at 96 (the presumption of open access to judicial records is rebuttable only “upon demonstration that suppression is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest” (internal quotations omitted)).

         “In most cases, a judge must carefully and skeptically review sealing requests to insure that there really is an extraordinary circumstance or compelling need.” In re Orion Pictures Corp., 21 F.3d 24, 27 (2d Cir.1994) (citation omitted); see SEC v., 273 F.3d 222, 232 (2d Cir.2001). Moreover, ordinarily, a court must make that determination on the basis of a careful review of the particular portions of each document a party wishes to file under seal and after considering whether the requested order is no broader than necessary to serve the interests that require protection. See Amodeo, 71 F.3d at 1050-51; see also Brown, 2019 WL 2814839 at *1 (vacating District Court's order for failure to conduct a particularized review of the documents to be sealed).

         Courts nonetheless often limit access to confidential business documents to protect litigants from unfair competitive disadvantage. See In re New York Times Co. to Unseal Wiretap & Search Warrant Materials, 577 F.3d 401, 410 n.4 (2d Cir. 2009) (“When litigation requires disclosure of trade secrets, the court may disclose certain materials only to the attorneys involved.”); Encyclopedia Brown Productions, Ltd. v. Home Box Office, Inc., 26 F.Supp.2d 606 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (“Potential damage from release of trade secrets is a legitimate basis for sealing documents and restricting public access during trial.”). Commonly sealed documents include those containing “trade secrets, confidential research and development information, marketing plans, revenue information, pricing information, and the like.” Cumberland Packing Corp. v. Monsanto Co., 184 F.R.D. 504, 506 (E.D.N.Y.1999); see also Int'l Info Sys SEC Cert. Consortium v. Security Univ., 2014 WL 3891287 at *12 (D. Conn. 2014) (permitting the sealing of revenue figures); Go SMiLE, Inc. v. Dr. Jonathan Levine, D.M.D. P.C., 769 F.Supp.2d 630, 649-50 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (permitting the sealing of materials that include trade secrets alleged to have been misappropriated by the defendant); Hesse v. SunGard Systems Intern., 2013 WL 174403 at *2-3 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (permitting the sealing of “billing rates and project pricing, as well as details of specific projects completed for several clients”); CSL Silicones, Inc. v. Midsun Group, Inc. 2017 WL 4750701, at *3 (D. Conn. 2017) (“[C]onfidential ‘commercial information' of a business-including trade secrets, confidential research, internal business documents and information about a business's operations-has been recognized repeatedly as a proper subject for sealing.”) (citations omitted). In order for sealing to be justified, a movant must make a particularized showing “that disclosure would harm movant's competitive position and that the asserted harm outweighs the presumption of public access.” Encyclopedia Brown Productions, 26 F.Supp.2d at 613; see also In re Document Technologies Litigation, 282 F.Supp.3d 743, 747 (S.D.N.Y. 2017).

         B. The Sealed Materials

         Laaman requests that several documents remain entirely or partially sealed, including (1) documents filed by both parties in connection with Davis's motion for summary judgment, (2) a document filed by Laaman in connection with Davis's motion in limine, and (3) an exhibit to the parties' joint trial memorandum, also filed by Laaman. The specific materials Laaman requests to remain sealed fall into several broad categories: (1) resources that Laaman provides to paying clients in connection with her services, (2) Davis's alleged copies of these same resources, (3) descriptions of the resources, (4) Laaman's revenue figures, and (5) the identity of Laaman's clients. I analyze each of these categories in turn.[1]

         1. Resources Laaman Provides to Clients

         As part of the consulting services it offers to pet-care facilities, Laaman provides various resources intended to help them increase their profitability. These include, for example, customer service training materials, telephone scripts, and tools to track and optimize profitability. At issue in this suit was whether Davis had misappropriated these materials from Laaman. Consequently, many of these resources were filed with the court in their entirety.

         Laaman has succeeded in making a particularized showing that disclosure of these materials would cause Laaman competitive harm that outweighs the presumption of open access. Laaman appears to be a successful business with significant revenue. Access to these materials, which are voluminous and appear to represent a substantial portion of Laaman's suite of services, would be of significant value to competitors, who could adopt them in whole or in part and use them to compete with Laaman (indeed, as Davis is plausibly alleged to have done). This would impose significant competitive harm on Laaman.

         Moreover, the public interest in these documents is modest, as their content does not affect the general public. “Financial records of a [private] business, family affairs, illnesses, embarrassing conduct with no public ramifications, and similar matters will weigh more heavily against access than conduct affecting ...

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