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Michael B. Jacobs, Individually and As Administrator of the Estate v. the Center For Organ Recovery and Education

November 6, 2012

MICHAEL B. JACOBS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF GREGORY JACOBS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CENTER FOR ORGAN RECOVERY AND EDUCATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District J.,

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Presently pending before me is a joint motion [215] and supporting brief [216] by the parties requesting leave to file under seal the Plaintiffs' petition for court approval of the settlement reached in the above-captioned matter. On September 11, 2012 this Court granted the motion of Times Publishing Company ("TPC") to intervene [217]. TPC subsequently filed a brief in opposition to the parties' joint motion to seal [218]. Defendant Coleman has filed a reply to TPC's brief in opposition [222], and TPC has responded to Coleman's reply brief [226]. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332 due to the parties' diverse citizenship.

Because the settlement of this case involves the resolution and/or compromise of claims filed on behalf of the decedent's estate, court approval of the settlement is statutorily required. See 20 Pa. C.S.A. §3323. Accordingly, the petition for court approval of the settlement will have to be filed as part of the official court record.*fn1

Our Court of Appeals has recognized a right of access to judicial proceedings and judicial records which is "beyond dispute." Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, 780-81 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting Littlejohn v. Bic Corp., 851 F.2d 673, 677-78 (3d Cir. 1988)). "The common law right of access antedates the Constitution, and its purpose is to "promote[ ] public confidence in the judicial system by enhancing testimonial trustworthiness and the quality of justice dispensed by the court." Leap Systems, Inc. v. Moneytrax, Inc., 638 F.3d 216, 220 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Littlejohn, supra, at 677-78) (alteration in the original). Thus, there is a "'strong presumption' in favor of accessibility [which] attaches to almost all documents created in the course of civil proceedings." Id. (citing authority).

Despite this strong presumption in favor of accessibility of judicial records, our circuit permits the sealing of documents in appropriate circumstances "when justice so requires." Leap Systems, Inc., 638 F.3d at 221. However, "[t]he burden is on the party who seeks to overcome the presumption of access to show that the interest in secrecy outweighs the presumption." Id. at 221-22 (quoting In re Cendant Corp., 260 F.3d 183, 190 (3d Cir.2001)).

The movants concede that they bear the burden of establishing "good cause" for filing the subject petition under seal. See Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, 786 (3d Cir. 1994)("[W]hether an order of confidentiality is granted at the discovery stage or any other stage of litigation, including settlement, good cause must be demonstrated to justify the order."). See also E.E.O.C. v. Kronos Inc., 620 F.3d 287, 302 (3d Cir. 2010) ("The burden of justifying confidentiality remains at all times on the party seeking the order.") (citation omitted). "Good cause is established on a showing that disclosure will work a clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking closure. The injury must be shown with specificity." Pansy, 23 F.3d at 786 (quoting Publicker Indus., Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1071 (3d Cir. 1984)). See also Leap Systems, Inc., 638 F.3d at 222 ("'(B)road allegations of harm, bereft of specific examples or articulated reasoning,' are insufficient, on their own, to establish a strong interest in maintaining confidentiality.") (quoting In re Cendant Corp., 260 F.3d at 194).

In determining whether good cause exists to seal the petition to approve the settlement agreement, this Court "must balance the requesting party's need for information against the injury that might result if uncontrolled disclosure is compelled." Pansy, supra, at 787 (quoting Confidentiality, Protective Orders, and Public Access to the Courts, 105 Harv. L. Rev. 427, 432--33 (1991)). Our Court of Appeals has recognized numerous factors that may be considered as part of the "good cause balancing test," namely:

1) whether disclosure will violate any privacy interests;

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

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

4) whether confidentiality is being sought over 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 ...


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