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Moore v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 11, 2018

BRYAN MOORE, ET AL.
v.
RANDY SMITH

         SECTION: “J” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Vacate Order (Rec. Doc. 70) filed by intervenors Capital City Press, LLC, doing business as The Advocate, and WWL-TV, Inc. (“Movants”). Plaintiffs filed an opposition (Rec. Doc. 82) that was untimely per the local rules, although it was filed before the Motion was submitted before the Court. Rather than filing a reply to the opposition, Movants filed a Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' opposition as untimely (Rec. Doc. 88), which Plaintiffs opposed (Rec. Doc. 94). Considering the Motions, the legal memoranda, the record, and the law, the Court finds that the Motion to Strike should be DENIED and the Motion to Vacate Order should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs in this case are several former sheriff's deputies who allege they were illegally terminated by the elected sheriff of St. Tammany Parish for supporting the candidate who lost the election. On July 30, 2018, three of the ten plaintiffs, David Hanson, Sr., David Hanson, Jr. and Tammy Hanson, moved for leave to file under seal (Rec. Doc. 52) a motion to sever and stay claims (Rec. Doc. 67). On August 15, 2018, the Court held a status conference, at which it granted the motion and allowed the parties to brief the motion to sever and stay under seal. (Rec. Doc. 57). The Court ultimately denied the motion to sever and stay in an unsealed order with reasons. (Rec. Doc. 69).

         Movants intervened and now argue that this Court's August 15, 2018 order sealing the motion to sever and stay violates the public's right of access to court records and proceedings under the United States Constitution and federal precedent. (Rec. Doc. 70-1 at 3). Following this Court's denial of the motion to sever and stay, David Hanson, Sr., David Hanson, Jr. and Tammy Hanson voluntarily dismissed their case.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS AND APPLICABLE LAW

         The core of Movants' argument is that there is a presumption in favor of access to court filings that the Plaintiffs have failed to rebut. Indeed, “the public has a common law right to inspect and copy judicial records.” S.E.C. v. Van Waeyenberghe, 990 F.2d 845, 848 (5th Cir. 1993) (quoting Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978)). “However, the public's common law right is not absolute.” Id. District courts enjoy supervisory power over their own records and files, see Nixon, 435 U.S. at 597, and the public's interest in transparency is sometimes outweighed by the other factors relevant to a particular case. Thus, district courts must balance competing interests. Van Waeyenberghe, 990 F.2d at 848. While engaging in balancing, the Court keeps in mind that from the start, the scales tip in favor of access. See Federal Savings & Loan Ins. Corp. v. Blain, 808 F.2d 395, 399 (5th Cir. 1987) (“The district court's discretion to seal the record of judicial proceedings is to be exercised charily.”).

         Movants urge a public interest in the motion to sever and stay based on a series of reports published by Movants. In one article, The Advocate reported that a Grand Jury had served a subpoena on the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office seeking documents relating to a work-release facility that had been privatized by former Sheriff Jack Strain.[1] According to the article, among the documents sought were the calendars or planners and personnel records of David Hanson, Sr., one of the plaintiffs who moved to sever and stay his claims against Sheriff Smith. Id. Thus, “[w]ith a Grand Jury Investigation occurring and the public's interest in that investigation, extremely high, Movants aver that the Motion to Sever and Stay should be unsealed.” (Rec. Doc. 70-1 at 3).

         Plaintiffs argued in their original motion to seal that the common law right of access was must give way to the specific prejudice Plaintiffs would suffer if the content of the motion to sever and stay were to be revealed. (Rec. Doc. 52-1). In opposition though, Plaintiffs do not attempt to argue that balancing weighs in their favor. They argue first that any public interest in in the motion to sever is moot because the plaintiffs who filed the motion have dismissed their claims. Second, they argue that Movants improperly delayed in intervening and opposing the sealing the motion to sever and stay. If they had timely done so, say Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs could have taken advantage of Local Rule 5.6, which provides procedural requirements for parties who request that documents or exhibits be filed under seal. In relevant part, Local Rule 5.6(D) states:

If the motion to file under seal is denied, the movant may file another motion to remove the document(s) from the record within seven days. If no such motion is timely filed, the document(s) must be filed as a public record.

         Plaintiffs argue that, given the alleged newsworthiness of the case, intervenors must have had notice of Plaintiff's filings but did not timely intervene when the motion to seal was pending. Plaintiffs argue that the Movants' later intervention therefore deprives them of a right they have under the local rules.

         Movants argue that the opposition should be stricken from the record as untimely. (Rec. Doc. 88-2). They point out that Local Rule 7.5 states that a memorandum in opposition must be filed at least eight days in advance of a contested motion's submission date, which was ...


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