United States District Court, D. Maryland
RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.
Currently pending is Plaintiff Gregory Brown's ("Plaintiff") Motion to Seal (ECF No. 76), which seeks to seal the entire above-captioned case. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion to Seal (ECF No. 76) is DENIED.
On January 17, 2003, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Arvine Lorings Lucent Technologies and two other Defendants (collectively referred to as "Defendants"), alleging, inter alia, that Defendants engaged in employment discrimination based on race and that they failed to pay wages and benefits under the Maryland Fair Wages and Labor Act. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge William Connelly (now Chief Magistrate Judge), who held a settlement conference on November 3, 2003. The parties entered into a settlement agreement whereby the Defendants would pay Plaintiff a specified amount of damages, and Plaintiff would release all claims against Defendants. Later, Plaintiff was dissatisfied with some of the terms of the settlement agreement and submitted a Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 47) of the settlement agreement. On September 10, 2004, this Court issued an order, enforcing the settlement agreement (ECF No. 73). Nearly ten years later, on March 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed a pro se Motion to Seal (ECF No. 76) without a certificate of service. To support his motion, Plaintiff argues that employers are terminating him because they have public access to his past employment discrimination case. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that employers are blacklisting him, which is making it difficult for him to find employment because he cannot make it pass the screening phase of any employer's hiring process.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his motion has been "liberally construed" and is "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (citation omitted).
In ruling on a motion to seal, a district court must: (1) give the public notice that the sealing of documents may be ordered; (2) provide interested parties the opportunity to object to the motion; (3) state reasons on the record if the district court decides to seal the case; and (4) state reasons for rejecting alternatives to closure. Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253-54 (4th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). "The public notice and opportunity to challenge requirements are met when the court allows sufficient time for objections to be made." Bureau of Nat'l Affairs v. Chase, Civ. No. ELH-11-1641, 2012 WL 3065352, at *2 (D. Md. July 25, 2012) (citations omitted). Here, the first and second requirements have been met because the Plaintiff's Motion to Seal (ECF No. 76) has been on the public docket for more than eight months, giving any interested parties ample time to object.
The public and the press have a qualified right of access to judicial documents and records filed in civil proceedings. Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 265 (4th Cir. 2014). The right of access exists even if no objections to a motion to seal are made. See Bureau of Nat'l Affairs, 2012 WL 3065352, at *2 (stating that a presumptive right to access exists after noting that no objections to sealing had been made). This right of access derives from both the "First Amendment and the common-law tradition that court proceedings are presumptively open to public scrutiny." Id. (citations omitted). The common law presumption in favor of access can be rebutted "if countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public interest in access[.]" Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Some of the factors that are relevant in determining whether a party can overcome the presumption include: (1) whether the records are sought for improper purposes; (2) whether release would enhance the public's understanding of an important historical event; and (3) whether the public has already had access to the information contained in the records. Virginia Dep't of State Police v. Washington Post, 386 F.3d 567, 575 (4th Cir. 2004)
The First Amendment also provides substantive protection to the interests of the press and the public in accessing records. Doe, 749 F.3d at 265. The party seeking to restrict access bears the burden of overcoming the First Amendment right of access, and the party must proffer specific reasons why such access should be denied. Virginia Dep't of State Police, 386 F.3d at 575. When determining whether a First Amendment right of access is available, the courts looks at "whether the place and process have historically been open to the press and general public, " and "whether public access plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular process in question." Baltimore Sun Co. v. Goetz, 886 F.2d 60, 64 (4th Cir. 1989) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The right of public access "may be abrogated only in unusual circumstances." Doe, 749 F.3d at 266
This Court's Local Rules also determine how a Motion to Seal should be evaluated. "Any motion seeking the sealing of pleadings... or other documents... shall include (a) proposed reasons supported by specific factual representations to justify the sealing and (b) an explanation why alternatives to sealing would not provide sufficient protection." Local Rule 105.11 (D. Md. 2014).
Plaintiff seeks to seal this employment case due to concerns that employers are using public information against him and terminating him because of their alleged knowledge of his prior employment dispute. After considering Plaintiff's motion under a common-law right-of-access analysis, a First Amendment analysis, and this Court's Local Rules, it is clear Plaintiff has not stated sufficient reasons to overcome the presumption that the press and public have a right to access to the judicial records in this case. Additionally, Plaintiff provides no suitable alternative to sealing the entire case nor does this Court think that imposing any less restrictive alternative would be appropriate.
I. Defendant's Motion to Seal Under Common Law
In order to determine whether Plaintiff can overcome the common law presumption of access, the court must look at (1) whether the records are sought for improper purposes, (2) whether release would enhance the public's understanding of an important historical event, and (3) whether the public already had access to the records. Virginia Dep't of State Police, 386 F.3d at 575. This Court is afforded a ...