Eugene Volokh notes another case where public right to know trumps an individual’s request to seal records. Delplanche v. Window Products, Inc., was decided Thursday by Judge Ann Aiken (D. Or.). The plaintiff had asked a court to seal an entire case that had previously been dismissed with prejudice, seal all the electronic records associated with it, and order third-parties to “remove the case filing” currently posted on the internet and “cease and desist from any future internet postings.” Plaintiff’s basis for the request was that case filings online was making it difficult for him to get employment as potential employers would find the case and then question him about it — and he wasn’t able to answer their questions under the terms of the settlement. So he wanted all traces of it sealed and removed from the internet.
Not surprisingly, the court refused. Volokh quotes from the opinion:
Courts have long recognized a “general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” This right is justified by the interest of citizens in “keep[ing] a watchful eye on the workings of public agencies.” Unless a particular court record is one “traditionally kept secret,” [such as grand jury transcripts and warrant materials in the midst of a pre-indictment investigation,] a “strong presumption in favor of access” is the starting point.
When a party seeks to seal an entire case file, as plaintiff does here, courts have required that party to meet the high threshold of showing that “compelling reasons” support the need for secrecy…. In general, “compelling reasons” sufficient to outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure and justify sealing records exist when such “court files might have become a vehicle for improper purposes,” such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets. “The mere fact that the production of records may lead to a litigant’s embarrassment, incrimination, or exposure to further litigation will not, without more, compel the court to seal its records.”
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