United States District Court, D. Maryland
ISATU T. KANU, et al.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, USA, INC.
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, United States District Judge
pending and ready for resolution in this product liability
action are: (1) a consent motion to seal the motion to
approve settlement filed by Plaintiffs Isatu T. Kanu, Isha
Kanu, Patrick Kanu, Aminata Kanu, and P.K. (collectively,
the "Plaintiffs") (ECF No. 89); and (2) a
supplemental motion to approve settlement filed under seal by
Defendant Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.
("Defendant") (ECF No. 92). The issues have been
briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed
necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, both
motions will be denied.
commenced this action after a defective power window master
switch on the driver's door of Plaintiffs' Toyota
Corolla allegedly caused a fire. Plaintiffs were injured
while exiting the vehicle. The parties entered into
settlement discussions and eventually filed a status report
with the court indicating that they reached an agreement (the
"Settlement Agreement"). (ECF No. 83). According to
the status report, "the parties have settled their
disputes, and are currently working to finalize the
settlement. Among other things, the mediation agreement
requires the execution of a mutually agreeable Settlement
Agreement, and [c]ourt approval of the resolution as it
concerns [Plaintiff P.K.], the minor child of Plaintiff Isatu
T. Kanu." (Id.).
filed an amended complaint to include claims brought on
behalf of Plaintiff P.K., who was not named in the prior
pleadings. (ECF No. 85). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs moved
to seal the parties' forthcoming motion to approve
settlement. (ECF No. 86). The court denied the motion,
The motion to approve the [Settlement Agreement], however,
has not yet been filed. To the extent that Plaintiffs wish to
file a forthcoming motion to approve the [Settlement
Agreement] under seal, in whole or in part, Plaintiffs should
file a motion to seal that comports with Local Rule 105.11
along with the motion to approve the [Settlement Agreement].
(ECF No. 87, at 2-3). Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed a second
motion to seal the forthcoming motion to approve settlement.
(ECF No. 89, at 1 ("Plaintiffs intend to file a
[c]onsent [m]otion to [a]pprove [s]ettlement. In order to
protect the confidential nature of the settlement, and the
interests of all parties involved, Plaintiffs move this
[c]ourt to enter an order directing that the [m]otion to
[a]pprove [s]ettlement be filed under seal.")). At the
same time, Plaintiffs filed under seal the parties'
confidential Settlement Agreement. (ECF No.
88).The court then advised the parties to
"file a motion to approve settlement setting forth the
court's authority for doing so as well as the standard to
be applied. Furthermore, a full explanation of why the
settlement meets the applicable standard must be
provided." (ECF No. 90).
filed under seal a motion to approve settlement. (ECF No.
92). Plaintiffs responded in opposition, arguing that
"the [c]ourt does not have authority to approve
[Plaintiff P.K.'s] settlement." (ECF No. 93, at 1).
Defendant has not replied, and the time to do so has expired.
Instead, Defendant requested a hearing regarding the
court's authority to approve the Settlement Agreement as
to the minor. (ECF No. 94).
Plaintiffs' Consent Motion to Seal
motion to seal must comply with Local Rule 105.11, which
Any motion seeking the sealing of pleadings, motions,
exhibits or other papers to be filed in the Court record
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 protections. The Court will not rule upon the
motion until at least 14 days after it is entered on the
public docket to permit the filing of objections by
interested parties. Materials that are the subject of the
motion shall remain temporarily sealed pending a ruling by
the Court. If the motion is denied, the party making the
filing will be given an opportunity to withdraw the
Local Rule 105.11 endeavors to protect the common-law right
to inspect and copy judicial records and documents, Nixon
v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597
(1978), while recognizing that competing interests sometimes
outweigh the public's right of access. In re Knight
Publ'g Co., 743 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir.
1984). If the court determines that sealing is appropriate,
it must issue an order stating "the reasons (and
specific supporting findings) for its decision and the
reasons for rejecting alternatives to sealing." Va.
Dep't of State Police v. Wash. Post, 386
F.3d 567, 576 (4th Cir. 2004); see In re
Knight, 743 F.2d at 235.
Plaintiffs filed a consent motion to seal the motion to
approve settlement. (ECF No. 89). According to Plaintiffs,
are pursuing the least drastic alternative under the
circumstances by requesting that only the [m]otion to
[a]pprove [s]ettlement be sealed. The public will have access
to all of the information contained in the other documents
filed in this case and, therefore, will know that an action
was filed, the specific allegations raised in the action, and
that the action was ultimately settled. The only ...