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Hausfeld v. Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll

October 14, 2009

HAUSFELD, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COHEN MILSTEIN SELLERS & TOLL, PLLC DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy R. Rice U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Although evidence of private litigants' financial information may not be critical to resolving a lawsuit, see Joint Motion to Redact Private Financial Information from Post-Hearing Briefs and Hearing Transcripts at 2-3, Hausfeld v. Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, No. 06-826 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 5, 2009) [hereinafter Joint Brief], that fact cannot deprive the public of its right to review evidence admitted at a public evidentiary hearing. Similarly, the parties' post-hearing agreement to redact portions of a trial record cannot abrogate my obligation to safeguard the public's right of access "to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents." In re Cendant Corp., 260 F.3d 183, 192 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Leucadia, Inc. v. App. Extrusions Techs., Inc., 998 F.2d 157, 161 (3d Cir. 1993)).

The underlying dispute involves the capital account calculations of departing partners from the law firm, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC*fn1 ("CMST"), and the distribution of attorneys' fees awarded in class-action litigation. The parties have requested I redact all financial information that has minimal or no probative value to resolution of the case. See Joint Brief at 2. For the following reasons, I find the interests they assert do not outweigh the public right of access, and I shall permit only a limited redaction.*fn2

The public's right of access is firmly rooted in our nation's jurisprudence. It promotes public respect for the judicial process and helps assure judges perform their duties in an honest and informed manner. Leucadia, 998 F.2d at 161. "The public's exercise of its common law access right in civil cases [encourages] public confidence in the judicial system by enhancing testimonial trustworthiness and the quality of justice dispensed by the court. . . . [T]he bright light cast upon the judicial process by public observation diminishes the possibilities for injustice, incompetence, perjury, and fraud. Furthermore, the very openness of the process should provide the public with a more complete understanding of the judicial system and a better perception of its fairness." Littlejohn v. Bic Corp., 851 F.2d 673, 678 (3d Cir. 1988).

The public's right of access, however, is not absolute. Id. at 678. Although the presumption of public access to judicial records is strong, id., I may limit access where public disclosure would "work a clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking closure," Cendant, 260 F.3d at 194. The party seeking redaction must show the need for secrecy outweighs the presumption of access by specifying the serious injury to be prevented. Id. Broad allegations of harm to a party, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning, fail to overcome the presumption of access. Id.; see Leucadia, 998 F.2d at 166; see, e.g., Gaul v. Zep Manuf. Co., 2003 WL 22352567, at *2-3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 16, 2003) (Hutton, J.) (broad allegations that public access to documents "implicates privacy rights of individuals who are not parties to this action," "may cause undue and severe embarrassment," and "could have a negative effect on the competitive position of [d]efendant" failed to overcome the public access presumption).

In determining whether to redact portions of the record, I must consider several factors, such as:

(1) whether disclosure will violate any privacy interests;

(2) whether the information is being sought for a legitimate purpose or for an improper purpose;

(3) whether disclosure of the information will cause a party embarrassment;

(4) whether confidentiality is being sought for information important to public health and safety;

(5) whether the sharing of information among litigants will promote fairness and efficiency;

(6) whether a party benefitting from the order of confidentiality is a public entity or official; and

(7) whether the case involves issues important to the public.

Century Indem. Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London, 592 F. Supp. 2d 825, 827-28 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (Robreno, J.) (citing Shingara v. ...


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