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PCT International Incorporated v. Holland Electronics LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 23, 2014

PCT International Incorporated, Plaintiff,
Holland Electronics LLC, Defendant.


JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

I. Background

On the eve of the dispositive motion deadline, the parties filed a flurry of documents. Defendant Holland Electronics LLC ("Holland") moves for summary judgment on infringement, or alternatively partial summary judgment on damages, against Plaintiff PCT International Incorporated ("PCT"). (Doc. 175). Holland also seeks to preclude PCT from arguing any theory of indirect infringement against Holland. ( Id. at 2). PCT moves to exclude Holland from relying upon the opinions of Holland's expert witnesses David A. Haas and Daniel J. Whittle. (Doc. 157; Doc. 169).

The parties seek to seal most of their filings relating to Holland's summary judgment motion and PCT's motions to exclude. Accordingly, for each document desired to be sealed, the filing party has filed a redacted version of the document, lodged the complete version under seal, and filed a motion to file under seal the lodged version. See, e.g., (Doc. 156; Doc. 157; Doc. 158). In many cases, the opposing party does not contest the motion to file under seal. See, e.g., (Doc. 182). These motions principally rely upon the parties' prior designations of documents as confidential pursuant to the Court's Protective Order for Confidential Information ("Protective Order") (Doc. 53).

The Protective Order applies only to discovery, however, and states:

Any Designated Material which becomes part of an official judicial proceeding or which is filed with the Court is public. Such Designated Material will be sealed by the Court only upon motion and in accordance with applicable law. See Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu , 447 F.3d 1172, 1179-80 (9th Cir. 2006). This Protective Order does not provide for the automatic sealing of such Designated Material.

(Doc. 53 at 6).

The Court now rules on the motions to file under seal.

II. Legal Standard

A. The Public's Right of Access

It has long been recognized that the public has a general right of access "to inspect and copy... judicial records and documents." Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). This right extends to all judicial records except those that have "traditionally been kept secret for important policy reasons, " namely grand jury transcripts and certain warrant materials. Kamakana v. City & Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006). "Unless a particular court record is one traditionally kept secret, ' a strong presumption in favor of access' is the starting point." Id. (citing Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003)). "[T]he strong presumption of access to judicial records applies fully to dispositive pleadings, including motions for summary judgment and related attachments, " because "the resolution of a dispute on the merits, whether by trial or summary judgment, is at the heart of the interest in ensuring the public's understanding of the judicial process and of significant public events.'" Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179 (quoting Valley Broadcasting Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for Dist. of Nev., 798 F.2d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1986)).

"A party seeking to seal a judicial record then bears the burden of overcoming this strong presumption by meeting the compelling reasons' standard." Id. at 1178 (citing Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1135). The party must "articulate compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings that outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring disclosure, such as the public interest in understanding the judicial process." Id. at 1178-79 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A court deciding to seal judicial records must "base its decision on a compelling reason and articulate the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture." Id. at 1179 (quoting Hagestad v. Tragesser, 49 F.3d 1430, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995)).

The presumption of public access is not rebutted merely because "documents subject to a protective order are filed under seal as attachments to a dispositive motion." Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1136. A party seeking to seal a judicial record must still meet its heavy burden of demonstrating compelling reasons exist for sealing. See Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179.

"In general, compelling reasons' sufficient to outweigh the public's interest in disclosure and justify sealing court records exist when such court files might have become a vehicle for improper purposes, ' such as the use of records to gratify private spite, promote public scandal, circulate libelous statements, or release trade secrets." Id. (quoting Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598). "The mere fact that the production of records may lead to a litigant's embarrassment, incrimination, or exposure to further litigation will not, without more, compel the court to seal its records." Id.

Accordingly, a party's allegations that material is "confidential" or "business information" are insufficient to justify sealing court records containing such material unless the party proves the existence of compelling reasons for sealing. Krause v. Nev. Mut. Ins. Co., 2013 WL 3776146, at *5 (D. Nev. July 16, 2013) (citing Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1179). Moreover, because "confidentiality alone does not transform business information into a trade secret, " a party alleging trade secret protection as a basis for sealing court records must show that the business information is in fact a trade secret. St. Clair v. Nellcor Puritan Bennett LLC, 2011 WL 5335559, at *2 (D. Ariz. Nov. 7, 2011). Thus, only in extremely limited circumstances will confidential information actually merit the sealing of court ...

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