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In re Estate of duPont

February 12, 2009

IN RE: ESTATE OF JOHN E. DUPONT, AN ALLEGED INCAPACITATED PERSON
APPEAL OF: MARK ANTHONY DEHAVEN



Appeal from the Order entered February 27, 2008 In the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Orphans' Court, Case No. 0563-1996.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klein, J.

BEFORE: STEVENS, KLEIN and CLELAND, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 Mark Anthony DeHaven appeals from a trial court order denying his petition to open sealed incapacitation proceedings from 1996 involving John E. duPont. We affirm.

¶ 2 DeHaven claims he should be allowed to open sealed records of duPont's incapacitation proceedings, to prove his interest in a trust in the estate, because those seeking to seal the records must again meet the burden of proof of showing the necessity of sealing the records. The respondents claim that once the records are properly sealed, it becomes the obligation of the person seeking to unseal them to show good cause to open them. The trial judge found that it was DeHaven's burden to show good cause to open the properly sealed records, and he did not meet that burden. We agree.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

¶ 3 John E. duPont, one of the heirs of the duPont fortune, was involved in highly publicized proceedings after he was charged with the murder of David Schultz. DuPont was the sponsor of a wrestling program called Team Foxcatcher in which Schultz participated. The incapacitation proceedings were brought on September 11, 1996 by the duPont family to preserve duPont's significant assets. The basis for sealing the records was a need for privacy regarding the extensive detail of duPont's physical and mental health as well as financial affairs. The court entered an order sealing the record.

¶ 4 DeHaven had been a member of Team Foxcatcher and also claims to have carried out some other duties for the team. DeHaven alleges that duPont told him that he would never have to worry about health care or retirement, as duPont had set up a trust for him.

¶ 5 At this point, DeHaven has not filed any action against duPont or the trust. His claim is that if he and his counsel had access to all the trust documents, they might be able to establish a claim based on the fact that there should be a trust carved out for him. The trial court held that even assuming there is a valid claim, the prior order sealing the records should not be upset. Alternatively, the trial court proposed viewing all the records in camera, and if there was any mention of DeHaven and a trust for him in the records, this then could be turned over to DeHaven or his counsel. This solution was rejected by DeHaven.

DISCUSSION

¶ 6 DeHaven claims that there is a public right of access to judicial proceedings and records, and the burden is on the party seeking closure to overcome the presumption of access. DeHaven claims there was no evidence presented at this hearing that would justify closure.

¶ 7 In general, "[i]n order to justify closure or sealing the record a party must overcome the common law presumption of openness. The existence of a common law right of access to judicial proceedings and inspection of judicial records is beyond dispute." R.W. v. Hampe, 626 A.2d 1218, 1220 (Pa. Super. 1993), citing Publicker Industries, Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059 (3d Cir. 1984). However, this rule has its limitations, as this Court has also stated:

[T]he public may be excluded, temporarily or permanently, from court proceedings or the records of court proceedings to protect private as well as public interests: to protect trade secrets, or the privacy and reputations of innocent parties, as well as to guard against risks to national security interests and to minimize the danger of an unfair trial by adverse publicity. These are not necessarily the only situations where public access can properly be denied. A bright line test has yet to be formulated. Meanwhile, the decision as to public access must rest in the sound discretion of the trial court.

Zdrok v. Zdrok, 829 A.2d 697, 700 (Pa. Super. 2003), citing Katz v. Katz, 514 A.2d 1374 (Pa. Super. ...


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