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DePari v. Runyon

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 26, 2019

JESSE RUNYON, et al, Defendants.


          Joseph F. Saporito, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the court on the motion to intervene by Christine Rutkowski, Thomas Rutkowski, and Matthew Rutkowski, individually and as administrators of the estate of Thomas Rutkowski (the “Rutkowskis”). (Doc. 77). The sole purpose of the motion is to seek an order unsealing documents filed with the court. Also, before us is the Rutkowskis' motion to unseal court filings. (Doc. 79).

         I. Statement of Facts

         This wrongful death and survival action arises out of the death of plaintiff's decedent, Luigi Depari, as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on November 18, 2016, on Interstate 80 in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiff initiated this action by the filing of a complaint in this court on April 28, 2017. (Doc. 1). Counsel for the defendants informed the court that the parties resolved this case. (Doc. 60). On November 15, 2018, we entered an order dismissing the action with the right to reinstate the action if the settlement was not consummated within sixty days. (Doc. 61). Thereafter, we granted the request of counsel to extend the time for consummation of settlement to one hundred days from December 17, 2018. (Doc. 61; Doc. 62; Doc. 63).

         On January 17, 2019, the plaintiff filed a motion to file a document under seal (Doc. 64), which we granted by order dated January 23, 2019. On January 24, 2019, the plaintiff filed, under seal, a petition for approval of settlement of wrongful death and survival actions and allocation of settlement proceeds. (Doc. 67). On January 29, 2019, the plaintiff filed, under seal, a praecipe to supplement exhibits on petition. (Doc. 71). On February 7, 2019, the parties jointly filed, under seal, an amendment to the petition of the plaintiff for approval of settlement of wrongful death and survival actions and allocation of settlement proceeds and for temporary sealing of the petition. (Doc. 73).

         We entered an order on the parties' joint amended petition for approval of settlement which approved the settlement and granted the motion to seal all petitions for approval of settlement together with the general release executed by the parties. The order sealed these records for the duration of pending related Pennsylvania state court actions or for a period of twenty-four months, whichever first occurs. (doc. 74).

         On March 14, 2019, the Rutkowskis filed a motion to intervene for the sole purpose of seeking to unseal documents filed with the court (Doc. 77), and a motion to unseal court filings (Doc. 79). The plaintiff and the defendants jointly oppose the motions. (Doc. 81; Doc. 82). After the parties and the Rutkowskis filed their respective briefs, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit addressed similar issues in In re Avandia Marketing Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 924 F.3d 662 (3d Cir. 2019). We directed the parties and the Rutkowskis to file supplemental briefs and scheduled oral argument for June 25, 2019. (Doc. 86). The matter has been briefed and oral argument was heard on June 25, 2019, as previously ordered. The matter is now ripe for a decision.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Intervention

         In order to prevail on a Rule 24(b)(1)(B) motion for permissive intervention, the moving party must satisfy two requirements: (1) the motion must be timely; and (2) the moving party must have a claim or defense that shares with the main action a common question of law or fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b)(1)(B); see also Brody v. Spang, 957 F.2d 1108, 1115 (3d Cir.1992). As discussed below, “[t]hese requirements have been interpreted flexibly when a non-party seeks intervention for the limited purpose of modifying a protective [or confidentiality] order.” In re Linerboard Antitrust Litig., 333 F.Supp.2d 333, 339 (E.D. Pa. 2004).

         In Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, the Third Circuit-adopting the reasoning of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Beckman Industries, Inc. v. International Insurance Co.-stated that “the same legal theory [that was raised in the main action], is not required when intervenors are not becoming parties to the litigation. There is no reason to require such a strong nexus of fact or law when a party seeks to intervene only for the purpose of modifying a protective [or confidentiality] order.” 23 F.3d at 772, 778 (3d Cir. 1994)(quoting Beckman, 966 F.2d 470, 474 (9th Cir. 1992)(second alteration added)). The Third Circuit explained that a party seeking intervention meets the requirement of Rule 24(b)(1)(B) by virtue of the fact that it challenges the validity of the confidentiality order entered in the main action. See id.

         The requirement that the motion be timely filed “has also been interpreted broadly in the context of modifying protective [or confidentiality] orders.” Linerboard, 333 F.Supp.2d at 339. In Pansy, the Third Circuit explained that there is a “growing consensus among the courts of appeals that intervention to challenge confidentiality orders may take place long after a case has been terminated” or “after the underlying dispute between the parties has long been settled.” 23 F.3d at 779 (quoting Leucadia, Inc. v. Applied Extrusion Tech., Inc., 998 F.2d 157 (3d Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Motion to Unseal

         The rules which govern this court's consideration of the confidentiality of court documents were recently delineated by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Avandia. 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. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3323. Accordingly, the petition for court approval of this settlement was required to be filed as part of the official court record. We recognize that the presumption in this circuit is that there exists a right of public access to judicial proceedings and judicial records. Bank of Am. Nat'l Tr. & Sav. Ass'n v. Hotel Rittenhouse Assocs., 800 F.2d 339, 344 (3d Cir. 1986); Littlejohn v. Bic Corp., 851 F.2d 673, 677-78 (3d Cir. 1988). The court possesses discretion in deciding whether the presumption of public access has been overcome; however, confidentiality orders cannot be granted capriciously. Calvert v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co., No. Civ. A 99-3599, 2000 WL 124570, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 2, 2000).

         Despite the strong presumption in favor of accessibility of judicial records, our circuit permits the sealing of documents in appropriate circumstances “when justice so requires.” Leap Sys., Inc. v. Moneytrax, Inc., 638 F.3d 216, 221 (3d Cir. 2011). The party seeking the sealing order, bears the burden 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)); 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.”).

         Avandia delineated three distinct standards when considering various challenges to the confidentiality of documents.

         A. Discovery Materials ...

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