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DOE v. SHAPIRO

May 23, 1994

JOHN DOE, (a pseudonym), Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM SHAPIRO, ESQUIRE, P.C., WALNUT EQUIPMENT LEASING COMPANY, EQUIPMENT LEASING COMPANY OF AMERICA, WELCO SECURITIES, KENNETH SHAPIRO, and WILLIAM SHAPIRO, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BY THE COURT; ROBERT S. GAWTHROP, III

 Gawthrop, J.

 The filing of a document with the court gives rise to a presumptive right of public access. Leucadia, Inc. v. Applied Extrusion Technologies, Inc., 998 F.2d 157, 161-62 (3d Cir. 1993); see also Miller v. Indiana Hosp., 16 F.3d 549, 551 (3d Cir. 1994). The decision whether to grant a request that such a record be sealed lies within the sound discretion of the district court, after balancing the need for public access to the record and the parties' desire for confidentiality. Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, slip op. at 25 (3d Cir. 1994), Bank of America Nat'l Trust & Sav. Ass'n v. Hotel Rittenhouse Assocs., 800 F.2d 339, 344 (3d Cir. 1986). The burden is on the party or parties seeking confidentiality to overcome the presumption of access by demonstrating that the interest in secrecy outweighs the presumption of access. Hotel Rittenhouse, 800 F.2d at 344. Among the considerations bearing on this issue are the parties' interest in privacy, whether the information bears on public health or safety, whether the parties seeking secrecy are public entities or officials, whether the settlement involves issues of a public nature, and the judicial policy of encouraging settlements. Pansy, No. 93-7396, slip op. at 26-28. With these factors in mind, I turn to the case at bar.

 The nature of this case raises genuine privacy concerns. That the plaintiff was permitted with the consent of all to proceed under pseudonym speaks tellingly to the sensitivity of a case of this ilk. While the record sought to be sealed does not explicitly reveal the plaintiff's identity, it includes a great deal of personal information which may make it more likely that a reader would recognize the plaintiff. In addition, the information, in and of itself, is of a personal nature, disclosing details of the plaintiff's work history and past legal problems. To disclose to the public the contents of the defendants' summary judgment motion, which relied in large part on a legal theory that involved digging up details of the plaintiff's personal life, would subject a critically ill individual to unnecessary embarrassment and, perhaps, revelation of his persona.

 No serious issues of public health and safety are implicated by an order sealing the summary judgment motion. Although the plaintiff suffers from AIDS, the motion does not include any information which would bear on public health concerns. In addition, Mr. Doe was not engaged in a profession which even arguably would have created a health risk to his clients. Nor would sealing this motion shield from public scrutiny information about a dangerous consumer product or drug. Rather it would serve only to preserve the privacy and dignity of an individual.

 When a case involves a government entity or issues of a public nature, such factors weigh against granting a confidentiality order. Pansy, No. 93-7396, slip op. at 27 & n.18 (citing cases). Here, however, this is not the case. This litigation concerned allegations of employment discrimination against a private employer by a private individual. No public entities are involved as parties, nor are there any allegations touching on the conduct of public officials. The parties to this lawsuit resolved their dispute through a settlement agreement, which has not been filed with the court, and which they have agreed among themselves to keep confidential. The summary judgment motion they seek to seal contains purely personal information regarding the plaintiff. As the Third Circuit has stated, "if a case involves private litigants, and concerns matters of little legitimate public interest, that should be a factor weighing in favor of granting or maintaining an order of confidentiality." Pansy, No. 93-7396, slip op. at 28.

 Having considered all of the above factors, and balancing the parties' interest in sealing the defendants' summary judgment motion against the public's interest in keeping this judicial record available, the court concludes that the presumption of public access is overridden by the need for keeping confidential this judicial record. Accordingly, the parties' request shall be granted.

 An order follows.

 ORDER

 AND NOW, this 23rd day of May, 1994, it is hereby ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall place under seal the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (paper number 29, filed May 10, 1994), and all copies thereof filed with the court.

 BY THE COURT:

 Robert S. Gawthrop, III, ...


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