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BG, III v. Banks

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

January 23, 2017

BG, III, a minor, by and through his next friend and special guardian, Marion E. Grantham, Jr. PLAINTIFF
v.
ROB BANKS, BRAD CARVER, JERRY CARVER, LEE TAYLOR, and CARROLL COUNTY DEFENDANTS

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO SEAL

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On January 6, 2017, the defendants filed a motion, along with a supporting memorandum, seeking leave to file summary judgment exhibits under seal for review only by the Court and counsel.[1] Doc. #57; Doc. #58. For the reasons explained below, the motion will be granted.

         I Applicable Law

         Rule 79 of the Uniform Local Rules provides that no document may be filed under seal without a court order. L.U. Civ. R. 79(b). In this regard, Rule 79 instructs that “[n]o document may be sealed merely by stipulation of the parties.” Id. at 79(d). Though “[a] confidentiality order or protective order entered by the court to govern discovery will not qualify as an order to seal documents for purposes of this rule, ” “[a] statute mandating or permitting the non-disclosure of a class of documents provides sufficient authority to support an order sealing documents.” Id. at 79(d), (b).

         There is a “presumption in favor of the public's access to judicial records, ” and the decision whether to order judicial records sealed is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, which must “balance the public's common-law right of access against the interests favoring nondisclosure.” SEC v. Van Waeyenberghe, 990 F.2d 845, 848-49 (5th Cir. 1993); accord, Test Masters Educ. Servs. v. Robin Singh Educ. Servs., 799 F.3d 437, 454 (5th Cir. 2015); Casa Orlando Apartments, Ltd. v. Fed. Nat'l Mortgage Ass'n, 624 F.3d 185, 201 & n.70 (5th Cir. 2010). Where, as here, the documents sought to be sealed are exhibits to a dispositive motion, the weight afforded to the public's common law right of access is necessarily greater. United States v. Amodeo, 71 F.3d 1044, 1049 (2d Cir. 1995) (“[T]he weight to be given the presumption of access must be governed by the role of the material at issue in the exercise of Article III judicial power and the resultant value of such information to those monitoring the federal courts.”); Chicago Tribune Co. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 263 F.3d 1304, 1312 & n.11 (11th Cir. 2001) (collecting circuit cases) (“The better rule is that material filed with discovery motions is not subject to the common-law right of access, whereas discovery material filed in connection with pretrial motions that require judicial resolution of the merits is subject to the common-law right ….”).

         II Analysis

         The defendants seek to seal seven exhibits, described as six affidavits and a “Youth Court File.” Doc. #58 at 2. As described, the affidavits “all reference the contents of the Youth Court file” and “directly relate to [BG III's] youth court record, and the actions the individuals took regarding the criminal allegations.”[2] Id. The motion seeks permanent and whole sealing-that is, the sealing of the entirety of each exhibit for an indeterminate time instead of partial redaction.

         A. Relevant Authority

         As grounds for the requested sealing, the defendants cite “Rule 5 of the Uniform Rules of Youth Court in Mississippi, ” which, according to the motion, states that “[r]ecords involving children … shall not be disclosed except as authorized.” Id. at 4. Though not cited by the defendants, a Mississippi statute provides substantially the same protection. But for exceptions not relevant here, Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-251(2) states that “[t]he records of the youth court and the contents thereof shall be kept confidential and shall not be disclosed.” Because BG III's youth court records are sought to be sealed and because the affidavits reference its contents, sufficient authority to seal the documents under Local Rule 79 is provided by both Mississippi rule and statute.

         B. Balancing

         Next, the Court must “balance the public's common-law right of access against the interests favoring nondisclosure.” In this regard, the defendants make two arguments: (1) that an order denying whole and permanent sealing of the exhibits at issue would be inconsistent with Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden's protective order governing discovery; and (2) that “due to the Plaintiff's status as a minor, he is owed additional protections (unlike adults) from having the public review” the summary judgment exhibits.

         1. Interests favoring nondisclosure

         Judge Virden's July 1, 2016, protective order states:

The parties shall file a motion to seal before this Court prior to filing any part of Plaintiff's Youth Court file they obtain, pursuant to L.U.Civ.R. 79. The parties may only file a portion of Plaintiff's Youth Court file after this Court has granted and entered an Order permitting the parties to file certain portions of the Carroll County Youth Court file under seal…. The parties may ...

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